Mastering hammer-ons and pull-offs is one of the best things you can do to take you from a beginning blues player to the level of blues soloist

This month I’d like to take a look at two techniques I hear missing from a lot of players new to blues soloing: hammer-ons and pull-offs. I know this is a technique that most of you know about, and know how to do. But, I also know that most of you don’t do it as well as you would like. I think this is one of the better techniques that take you from a beginning blues player to the level of blues soloist. I’ve developed a few exercises that will get your hammer-ons and pull-offs up to speed. The more confident you feel about a technique, the more you’ll be inclined to use it.

In Example 1, I want you to just get the feel and sound of a hammer-on. Listen and feel the way your third finger hits the string down onto the fretboard. We’ll start with the most common hammer-on—the first finger to the third finger. We’ll play each note as a half note, giving it two beats. This should give you enough time to both listen and digest the feel and the strength that it takes to get the sound of the hammer-on as strong as the picked note. You’ll hear as you listen to the example my third finger hammering down on the string so that the sound is almost like the sound of a pick strike.
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In Example 2, I want you to get a feel for the pull-off. The pull-off is very different from the hammer-on, even though the idea is the same: to play legato (keeping the notes connected). The pull-off technique is like snapping your fingers. Pull the finger off of the string straight down to the string underneath. This is where you’ll rest your finger. On the first string you still want the finger to come straight down, but without a string for it to rest on. Again, listen to the example before trying to play so that you really understand what the pull-off is supposed to sound like.
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Example 3 is a technique builder where I will move with just hammer-ons up all six strings then back down all six strings. I’ll start this very slowly, then, using a metronome to document my progress, I’ll keep trying to build my speed and stamina. I’ll play it twice for you. The first time I’ll play the example where you might start out, then at a speed you might want to take it to.
Download Example Audio: Fast - Slow




In Example 4, I’m going to take the same hammer-on technique—first finger to the third finger—but I’m going to do a string skipping exercise with it. This is a great exercise not just for the hammer-on, but for pick control as well. I will play a slow and fast version of this exercise.
Download Example Audio: Fast - Slow




Example 5 is a pull-off version of Example 3. I’ll move up and back on all six strings using just pull-offs. Listen to both the slow and fast versions. Remember to use a metronome to help you document your progress. Start at a tempo that allows you to do the technique correctly, then slowly move the tempo up faster and faster.
Download Example Audio: Fast - Slow




Example 6 is a pull-off version of Example 4. This is a string skipping exercise using only pull-offs. Again, just as in Example 4, the string skipping will also develop your picking. To develop the pick further, try alternate picking this exercise as well as just picking it with down strokes. For example, to start on the 6th string, pick down, then when you move to the 4th string use an up pick.
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In Example 7 I’m going to hammer-on with all my fingers in order of 1–2–3–4. It’s important that all your fingers develop the strength that it takes to be able to hammer-on. This is also a cool chromatic exercise.
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Example 8 is the reverse of Example 7. Just as it’s important to hammer-on with all your fingers, it’s just as important to be able to pull-off. After you develop both Exercises 7 and 8, try playing them together. Again, use the metronome to develop fluidity.
Download Example Audio: Fast - Slow




Example 9 is a three-note-per-string G major scale. Three-note-per-string scales help to develop speed and allow you to move from one position to another. This one moves from second position into fifth position. We’re going to hammer our way up the scale and without stopping we’ll pull off on our way back down. I’ve recorded both slow and fast versions. As you work on this, try to relax your arms and shoulders—you may have to keep reminding yourself.
Download Example Audio: Fast - Slow




If you work out these exercises and even develop some of your own hammer-on and pull-off exercises you’ll start using them more. I notice that when a player is learning to play something new, they tend to forget the techniques they’ve already developed. So even if these are exercises you’ve done in the past, it’s good to revisit them, and hopefully I’ve given you a new way to look at this technique. Till next time enjoy and have fun with these.

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