The following information on guitar techniques is excerpted from the Berklee Online course Guitar for Beginners, authored by Kim Perlak. 

Let’s explore some key techniques that will add interest to your melodic improvisation on guitar. We’ll look at three techniques: hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. Each of these allows you to connect two consecutive notes in a scale fingering with percussion and nuance.

To try these, fret your modal pattern A Aeolian, C major from the 6th degree, and go to string ④. We’ll use two notes on that string in our pattern, on the 5th and 7th frets.

  • To hammer on, fret the note on string ⓸ 5th fret with your first finger and pick it. While the note is still ringing, and your first finger is still pressing down, use your third finger like a hammer to strike the 7th fret. Keep your third finger pressed on the 7th fret to sustain the second note.
  • To pull off, fret both notes on string ⓸ from the previous example: 5th fret with your first finger and 7th fret with your third finger. Play string ⓸, and then pull your third finger off the string, plucking the second note with your third finger.

To slide between these same two notes, fret the 5th fret note with your third finger. Play that note, and while it is still ringing, slide your third finger up to the 7th fret. Keep the pressure down as you slide, and you’ll hear both notes!

Practice Exercise: Facility and Phrasing Work

To practice hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides, you can use three effective approaches in a short practice session. The first works on the facility of your fretting hand, and the next two hone melodic phrasing. Notice that in the notation, hammer-ons and pull-offs are indicated with a curved line between notes, and a slide with a short straight line.

Facility Work: Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, Slides in Finger-pairs

Hammer-ons

  1. Fret the note of the 5th fret, string ⓺, with your first finger.
  2. Hammer on with your second finger, on the 6th fret.
  3. Move across all six strings in this manner.

Pull-offs

  1. Fret the notes on the 5th and 6th frets on string ⓺, with fingers 1 and 2.
  2. Pull off with your second finger.
  3. Move across all six strings in this manner.

Slides

  1. Fret the note on the 5th fret, string ⓺, with finger 2.
  2. Slide up to the 6th fret.
  3. Move across all six strings in this manner.
  4. Repeat each set of steps with every pair of fingers: 1 & 3, 1 & 4, 2 & 3, 2 & 4, 3 & 4

Phrasing Work, Part 1 – Scale Pattern

Choose a scale pattern, a mode or pentatonic. In this example, we’ll use Aeolian/C major from the 6th degree.

  1. Move across the strings ⓺ – ⓵, using hammer-ons to play each note.
  2. Move across the strings ⓵ – ⓺, using pull-offs to play each note.
  3. Move across the strings ⓺ – ⓵, using slides to play each note.

Hammer-on with C Major from the 6th Degree

Phrasing Work, Part 2 – Musical Example

  1. Choose a musical example. For this exercise, we’ll use the riff from “The Ocean” by Led Zeppelin. 
  2. Take a look at where you could add hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides to smooth the connections and influence which notes are emphasized in your phrasing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about these three techniques that will enhance your guitar improvisation. By combining hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides into the same piece, you can really add some interest to your playing. Keep up the good work and keep practicing!

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 Published February 3, 2022