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Hammer-Ons & Pull-Offs

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are a key part to playing lead guitar. Combining hammer-ons and pull-offs is a technique called legato. Playing legato smooths out your lead guitar playing and allows you to do less work with your picking hand.

Hammer-Ons

The first thing we’ll take a look at is hammer-ons. To learn this technique you’ll want to choose a scale shape to use. In this example, we’ll use the A blues scale.

If you don’t know the blues scale shape, check out this article.

Hammer-ons are usually used when you are traveling upwards (low to high). Start the first note on each string of the scale shape by picking it. For the following note(s) on the same string, you’ll bring your finger down right behind the fret. The harder you “hammer” down on the string, the louder and more aggressive the note will ring out.

You’ll want to work on finding a balance between hammering down on the string too hard and having it go slightly out of tune, and hammering down too lightly and having the string not ring out loud enough. You should be trying to get the picked note and the hammered on note to sound the same.

It takes a fair amount of accuracy and dexterity to get your hammer-ons to sound clean, so be patient and work on building up the muscle memory in your fingers.

Here’s an example of using hammer-ons to play up through an A blues scale.

Hammer-Ons

Pull-Offs

Pull-offs are a little bit tougher. They are usually used when you’re traveling downwards (high to low). You’ll start off on the last note of the scale shape on a string and pick that note. For the following notes, you’ll need to make sure your fingers are already in place before pulling off. To pull-off, you’re essentially plucking the string with your finger as you quickly remove it from the string. As you remove your finger from the string, pull slightly downwards and out so that you pluck the string.

Just like with hammer-ons, you’ll want to try to make the note you’ve pulled off of to sound like the one you picked normally.

Here’s an example of what it looks like to come back down through an A blues scale using pull-offs.

Pull-Offs

Legato Technique

Once you’ve got a hang of both hammer-ons and pull-offs you can combine the techniques. Legato technique is a great way to give your picking hand a break and also create smooth, flowing lead lines.

Try going through an entire scale using legato technique, picking the first note of each string and using either hammer-ons or pull-offs depending on the direction you are moving through the scale.

For more advanced players, experiment with using legato technique in your licks and riffs to smooth out the transition between the notes.

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