Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs (Guitar Lesson)

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David MacKenzie

Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are techniques that enable you to play with a smooth, legato feel.

Taught by David MacKenzie in Basic Electric Guitar seriesLength: 8:27Difficulty: 1.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (00:17) Intro Music Dave MacKenzie wails on some licks derived from the E natural minor scale. These licks utilize many hammer-ons and pull-offs. These techniques are the topic of lesson 16.
Chapter 2: (08:09) Hammer-ons and Pull-offs A hammer-on is one way of performing a "slur" on the guitar. Other types of slurs are pull-offs, slides, and bends. These techniques provide an altogether different texture. They also enable you to play with a smooth legato feel.

Hammer-on Guidelines

Note: The following guidelines are taken from lesson 4 of Steve Eulberg's Phase 2 Bluegrass series.

1. Pay VERY close attention to the rhythm in which a hammer-on is notated. Many inexperienced guitarists cut the first note (the picked note) way too short. Consequently, the hammer-on note is held for too long. For starters, practice all hammer-ons and pull-offs in an even eighth note rhythm.

2. Performing a hammer-on requires a forceful movement with a left-hand finger. The tone of a hammer-on is much clearer and louder when the hammering finger comes down fast and forcefully. If you bring your finger down to slow, the resulting hammer-on will be weak or inaudible.

3. All rules regarding proper left-hand finger placement in relation to the frets become even more crucial when playing hammer-ons. Hammer the finger down right behind the fret. Hammering on top of a fret or too far from it will result in a poor tone.

4. Use the hard calluses on the tips of the fingers when making contact with the strings. This will help generate a louder tone.

The second form of a slur is called the pull-off. A pull-off is essentially a backward hammer-on. For this reason, a hammer-on is frequently referred to as a forward slur, and a pull-off is referred to as a backward slur. Follow these guidelines whenever you play a pull-off.

Pull-off Guidelines

1. The plucked note and the subsequent pull-off must be equal in volume.

2. Pull the finger straight down towards the floor when playing a pull-off. This will create the best tone.

3. Be careful that you do not pull your finger down too far. This may cause one of the adjacent strings to vibrate.

Trill Exercise

When a combination of hammer-ons and pull-offs are played in a rapid succession, a technique called a "trill" is produced. Practicing trills is an excellent way to build up left-hand speed and accuracy. Dave demonstrates a trill exercise that accomplishes this goal at 01:00 in the lesson video. Begin by picking the open first string. Then, hammer onto the note F# at the 2nd fret of this string. Next, pull-off back to the open string note. Continue to alternate hammer-ons and pull-offs between these two notes. This produces the rapid trill that Dave demonstrates in the video. When first learning the trill technique, focus on keeping it controlled and even. Then, gradually try to play it faster. Once you feel comfortable with this exercise, move it to different areas of the fretboard. Also, practice the exercise on all six strings. Do not limit yourself by only using the first finger to play this exercise. Practice trilling between an open string and a note fretted by either the second, third or fourth finger.

Exercise 2

At 01:38 Dave demonstrates a new exercise that involves three notes played on the first string. Once again, this exercise features a combination of hammer-ons and pull-offs. The first note in this sequence is the only note that is picked. First, pick the open first string. Then, hammer-on to the note F# at the second fret. From here, hammer-on to the note G# at the 4th fret. Next, pull-off from G# back to F#. Finally, pull-off from F# back to open E. Loop and repeat this sequence. For extra practice, work through this exercise using fingers two and four instead of one and three. You will need to slow the exercise down at first when using this fingering.

As you have probably noticed, combining hammer-ons and pull-offs within a lick allows you to play much faster than picking each individual note. It also allows you to play with a very smooth and connected sound. Listen to rock players such as Joe Satriani, Eddie Van Halen, and Jerry Cantrell to hear some blistering examples of legato technique.

Van Halen Style Lick

At 02:58, Dave demonstrates a legato lick that he learned from Van Halen. This particular lick features a high level of chromaticism.

Jimmy Page Style Lick

In many rock, country, and blues licks derived from the pentatonic scale, a picked note played on the first string alternates with a hammer-on or pull-off played on the second string. This type of lick occurs at the end of the guitar solo to "Stairway to Heaven." Dave demonstrates a variation on this lick at 04:15. He plays this lick within the context of the E minor pentatonic scale.

Arpeggio Licks

Rapid hammer-ons and pull-offs are also applied to arpeggio patterns. When notes within a chord are played individually, an arpeggio is formed. Dave utilizes pull-offs to play a rapid arpeggio lick of an F major chord at 05:22.

Frequently, a string of arpeggios are added together within a lick. At 06:12, Dave demonstrates an exercise that illustrates this concept. This exercise features E major, A major, and F# major arpeggios played in a rapid sextuplet rhythm.

Angus Young Style Lick

This lesson concludes with a combination hammer-on / pull-off lick played by Angus Young. Only the first note of this lick is picked. Then, the lick alternates between hammer-ons and pull-offs. In the first measure, A B major arpeggio is outlined. This arpeggio resolves to an E minor arpeggio in the second measure.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

Alexander10Alexander10 replied

i can play thunder struck and im only 9

crtangcrtang replied

Im getting frustrated. I like to really pass each test accurately and the first one on the supplemental has 32nd notes at 120 bpm. That would be 960 bpm, I can't find a metronome that even goes that fast and it seems a bit insane for beginner lessons. Any suggestions?

rngdrngd replied

Hi Dave, I just want to tell you that I super enjoy after watching a lesson from you, read in the comments the possitive inspirational answers you give us your students. By the way THE SUPPLEMENTAL CONTENT OF THIS LESSON KICKS ASS!! \m/ (it's material I'm sure I'll practice for a log time :D)

hornet871hornet871 replied

I must be doing something wrong here, because I seem to get no sound out of my guitar/amp, (though, basic they may be) when I attempt hammer-ons and pull-offs. Can anyone shed some light? Thanks

piranhamanxxxpiranhamanxxx replied

I was gonna take a day off guitar lessons today and thank god i didnt. AC/DC Thunderstruck intro.....what more can a fast approaching middle aged rocker such as myself hope for. Awesome lesson and lesson set Dave, thanks

midlifemidlife replied

At first I was struggling with making this sound like music. Try downloading the tabs for The Trooper by Iron Maiden. It has a great hammer-on pull-off riff. I started at 50% speed using Guitar Pro software just to get the rhythm down. After a week or so of playing it over and over about a million times, I am now playing it at full speed. Great classic metal song that is not too difficult play, but is played fairly fast. Great way to practice. Now I am a Metal God! Rock On!

rtangrtang replied

hi, kinda new to guitar but i think i got all the basic chords down, and i was kinda interested in learning hammmer and pulls. how shud i tune my amp settings (gain, treble, base , volume is all i have) so i get the most sound. it seems like im muting every time i put my finger down.

e dawge dawg replied

Sorry D-Mac, all of your other lessons were great. Why are you trilling so fast right at the beginning of the lesson? Going too fast man and not explaining enough details. I had to supplement this lesson with free youtube videos just FYI.

samsplacesamsplace replied

Dave, thanks for the lesson. Was wondering if you could show (or type) the hammer ons and pull offs used near the end of Tom Petty's American Girl. The tabs I found online just don't seem quite right though it very well could be I'm playing it wrong. Thanks again.

martin.baylymartin.bayly replied

yikes - yep - serious reality check here - can't see that I'm going to get these to sound anything like Dave for many many moons - for those who've expressed similar concerns about when to move on - my take on these kinds of things is play with them until you get bored then move on to the next lesson - BUT add some of the more manageable exercises to your daily practice regime - and progressively introduce the more difficult ones as your technique improves over time - great stuff as usual Dave!

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied

hang in there, you'll get it!! understand too that this is an extreme excercise to prove a point of repetition to get better at hammer ons and such. take it bits at a time, and yes, if you get bored move onto other things, and keep exploring the guitar.

pneumapilotpneumapilot replied

I've noticed that if I get my gain up high enough to make these sound really good, that I get a constant ringing from the other strings. Is the gain too high, or are you always muting the other strings with your palm?

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied

it does help to slightly mute the strings with your pick hand and the palm or your hand.

pmarzitellipmarzitelli replied

Dave, I'm starting to experience some frustration. How long should I stay here at this lesson before I can move on in good consicious? I feel like I'm going to be stuck here until I retire...

alexjustdoitalexjustdoit replied

You shouldn't have to stay to long. Hammer Ons are pretty straightforward, the Pull Offs take some getting use to. You just have to remember to kinda pluck it when you pull off. Just get faster and faster at that while keeping a constant pace, and that's about it.

korkkork replied

You can combine this lesson with lesson 15 - try to do the one string exercise with hammer-ons and pull-offs. Two birds in one shot :D

tgood00tgood00 replied

Hey, I seem to really have a problem getting any sorta sound from my hammer on's and pull off's with out picking the string that I am playing unless I have the volume really cranked up. Am I missing something? Can the heavy strings that I'm using make a difference with this? Thanks.

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied

i had the same problems when i started playing. i was very inconsistant, and i had to develop power in my fretting hand. definitely start by using the pick first to create sound by striking the string. then doing your hammer on or pull off. string size should'nt make a big difference, but the string height off of the fretboard can make it more difficult. thats usually referred to as "the action" of the neck. so use your pick to help create sound at first, then after awhile you will see the srenght in your hand increase. be patient, you will get it. it is'nt always an overnight kind of thing. please let me know how you progress with this.

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied

thats "strength", not stength or whatever i put there. sorry for the bad spelling.

tgood00tgood00 replied

Thanks Dave, I've been practicing it a lot and I think I'm getting it down. I must be getting more "srength" in my hand, j/k. Seriously though, thanks for all the great lessons.

edenajbedenajb replied

Hi Dave. i have problems with the pull-offs at the mo. if i try to pull-off from the 5th string i end up touching the string below(4th string). any advice on this please?. i find the only way to get the volume of the string is if i pull the string downwards slightly when pulling off and this does hit the string below.

mastodonrocksmastodonrocks replied

Dave, please explain the technique of how to do a pull-off in order to get the best sound. I understand the basic motion, but there is no sound. I don't understand how to flick my finger off the string to get the right sound. Please explain more in detail on the technique of the pull off. thank you.

adris8adris8 replied

Ty Dave for an insight of Ho's & Po's but i find it quite difficult doing what you just did, kinda got me a little bit frustrated, but ty anyways.

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied

patience my jedi axemaster! all things will come to pass once you submit yourself to dicipline, patience, and motivation!!! go get em!!! you can do it!!!

adris8adris8 replied

Ty for encouragement =-)

bags bunnybags bunny replied

Hey Dave, why is it harder to hammer on/pull-off on the 6th string than it is to do on the 1st.

jboothjbooth replied

The string is heavier so it requires more force, and for some people it's also easier to reach and have proper form on the smaller strings.

el mofongoel mofongo replied

Hey Dave are you pulling off both strings on the 15 fret or just one?

pageiskingpageisking replied

Hi DMac - loved your pull off example at the end of this lesson - sounds like ACDC - was it picking down 4th fret 2nd string, then hammer the 7th. pull off 7th pull off 4th then repeat. Sounded cool but I couldn't quite get it. Cheers and thanks

gdomingosgdomingos replied


david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied

keep after it! you'll get it!!! best of success to you!!

joffajoffa replied

Hey DMac, up until now I've found all your lessons really good and working at a good pace for beginners. This one, though is a little advanced for me, I think maybe you don't spend enough time on your explanations here. Having said that, I've noticed there are more lessons in the series on the same topics, so hopefully I'll be able to understand those a little better.

accordsmagiquesaccordsmagiques replied

Yès thanks jbooth, it really helps! I didn't realize that motion. The sound can be heard now but not as loud as Dave. Moreover, the hammer/pull off sound doesn't last as long as it does in Dave's examples. How can i get close to this sound though? Is there a specific tune or tool? Thanks again for your help.

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied

no real tool man, try working on it without gain, distortion, and all that 1st then. use clean settings. build and work with it until your technique improves, and it will. everyone is slightly different in ability, unfortunately i cant see how your doing it. dont get frustrated, it'll happen!!!!

accordsmagiquesaccordsmagiques replied

Hey Dave, thanks for this lesson. You explained that one must have enough gain and distorsion in order to obtain the researched sound and effect of hammering/pullin off. Sorry, but how? i turned to the max volume the gain on the ampli but there seems to be no improvement. The sound for the pulling off is fading, and cant be heard. Is there a specific tool to buy? which one do you recommend? Thanks for your help. Best regards.

jboothjbooth replied

Are you just pulling your finger off the string, or are you doing a slight downwards motion and catching the string a bit with your finger as you are pulling off? You really need to catch the string a bit to get the sound where you want it, otherwise it will always be very quiet.

Basic Electric Guitar

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In his Phase 1 series, David MacKenzie will walk you through the basics of rock guitar.

About the GuitarLesson 1

About the Guitar

David discusses the parts of the guitar. He also gives you some basic techniques to get you started.

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Power ChordsLesson 2

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David MacKenzie presents a mysterious sounding chord exercise. This exerices is designed to improve right hand technique.

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David covers the basic major chord shapes. Every guitarist must learn these basic chords.

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The Minor ChordsLesson 10

The Minor Chords

David MacKenzie walks you through the basic minor chords. Expand your knowledge of chords with this fun-filled lesson.

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Major ScalesLesson 11

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Major scales are an essential component of all styles of music. They can also be used as a great way to orient yourself with the fretboard.

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Major Scale JamLesson 12

Major Scale Jam

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The Minor ScalesLesson 13

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David MacKenzie proceeds to an in-depth discussion of the minor scales.

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Minor Scale JamLesson 14

Minor Scale Jam

David MacKenzie shows you how to play the natural minor scale over a rockin' JamTrack.

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One String ExerciseLesson 15

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David demonstrates an excellent one-string exercise in this lesson. This exercise will improve your dexterity and knowledge of the fretboard.

Length: 16:48 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Hammer-Ons and Pull-OffsLesson 16

Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are techniques that enable you to play with a smooth, legato feel.

Length: 8:27 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
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Cool Rock LicksLesson 18

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Hammer-On ExerciseLesson 19

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Return to Pull-OffsLesson 20

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Practicing BendsLesson 21

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Full Minor ScaleLesson 26

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Full Major Pentatonic ScaleLesson 27

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David MacKenzie

About David MacKenzie View Full Biography Dave MacKenzie has been playing guitar for 30 of his 45 years on this earth. Starting back when he was 14 years old, Dave picked up the guitar and started to learn from his oldest brother, who had played some guitar as well. Dave was hooked, and couldn't learn fast enough! Everything from the Beatles, Chicago, Ted Nugent, The Eagles, you name it, Dave was trying to play it.

Then as with a lot of players out there, Eddie Van Halen came along and changed the way guitar was played! Dave has been influenced by anyone he has heard play guitar, literally! Always keeping an open mind and a humbleness about him has helped him to keep learning new things on, and about the guitar.

Dave has mostly played in top 40 rock, country, and pop bands. He is most recently playing guitar and keyboards in a 80's metal band called Open Fire. They have opened for Warrant, Firehouse, Winger, and LA Guns within the 3 and a half years they have been together, and are now jumping into original music.

Dave believes you should have internal motivation, and passion to play guitar, and most definitely, it should be fun!

As with his playing, Dave will find new ways to show you how to get the most out of your time learning guitar!

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Mike H.

"I feel like a 12 year old kid with a new guitar!"

I am 66 years young and I still got it! I would have never known this if it had not been for Jamplay! I feel like a 12 year old kid with a new guitar! Ha! I cannot express enough how great you're website is! It is for beginners and advanced pickers! I am an advanced picker and thought I had lost it but thanks to you all, I found it again! Even though I only play by ear, I have been a member a whopping whole two weeks now and have already got Brent's country shuffle and country blues down and of course with embellishments. Thank you all for your wonderful program!

Greg J.

"With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace"

I'm a fifty eight year old newbie who owns a guitar which has been sitting untouched in a corner for about seven years now. Last weekend I got inspired to pick it up and finally learn how to play after watching an amazing Spanish guitarist on TV. So, here I am. I'm starting at the beginning with Steve Eulberg and I couldn't be happier (except for the sore fingers :) Some day I'm going to play like Steve! I'm self employed with a hectic schedule. With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace, rewinding and replaying the videos until I get it. This is a very enjoyable diversion from my work yet I still feel like I'm accomplishing something worthwhile. Thanks a lot, Greg


"I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students."

I am commenting here to tell you and everyone at JamPlay that I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students. I truly enjoy learning to play the guitar on JamPlay.com. Yes, I said the words, ""enjoy learning."" It is by far the best deal for the money.

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