How to Play Hammer-ons and Pull-offs on Guitar

Hammer on’s and pull-offs are one of the most popular techniques to play on guitar. They can be quite tricky, so let’s break things down and master the elements of hammer-ons and pull-offs.

In this article we will:

  • Look at exactly how hammer-ons and pull-offs work.
  • Go over a step-by-step approach on what our fingers should do to play them correctly.
  • Review some exercises to strengthen our understanding of hammer-ons and pull-offs.

Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

Table of Contents

What Are Hammer-ons?

Hammer-ons are when we play a note without plucking the string. There are 2 main types that we can do on guitar.

  1. Pluck a note, then hammer-on to another note.
  2. Hammer-on from “the air.”
hammer-on pull-off guitar how to
Hammer-on in music and TAB

These are the essential types of hammer-ons that you need to know as a guitar player. There are a few other types, but we can save those for the future.

Let’s look at each type of essential hammer-on.

Plucking a note to Hammer-on

A hammer-on can be played (almost) anywhere on the fretboard. Here are the steps to play a successful hammer-on. We are going to use fingers 1 and 2 in this example.

  • Fret a note on the guitar neck with your 1st finger.
  • Pluck that string with your picking hand.
  • We bring down the 2nd finger that is performing the hammer-on.

* Make sure the finger quickly “hammer-ons” to the fret. Think about speed and not strength.

Think of the hammer-on as a transfer of energy from one finger to another. Don’t think of it as another finger coming down with much force. Using too much pressure on the left-hand fingers can lead to injury and we want to avoid that.

Hammer-on from the “air”

A hammer-on from the “air” means that we are hammering-on to a note without having any fingers on the fretboard.

These are only done from the open strings of the guitar.

  • Pluck an open string.
  • Hammer-on with any finger you want.
    *Make sure that the finger that is hammering-on lands on the tip.
  • Repeat this with other fingers.

This type of hammer-on doesn’t need to be plucked with the picking hand. But plucking the string gives us a better sound and more volume.

What Are Pull-offs?

guitar hammer-on pull-off free

Pull-offs are when we pluck a note and “pull off” to another note.

A common mistake that guitarists make with pull-offs is pulling away the string. This is incorrect.

The proper follow-through in a pull-off is to pull the string down (towards the floor) and have a slight “snap.”

pull-off hammer-on guitar how to
Pull-off in music and TAB

A step-by-step breakdown:

  • Place your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the low E string.
  • Place your 2nd finger on the 6th fret of the low E string. (Keeping the 1st finger held on the 5th fret)
  • Pluck the low E string with your picking hand.
  • The 2nd finger pulls the string “down” with a slight “snap” and then moves away from the string.

*The first finger should not move

It might take a few tries to get this right, but once you do you will hear the difference between a pull-off and a pull-away.

*It is important to make sure that the fingers are properly placed on the tip of the finger. This will give you the best sound and make things a little bit easier.

Hammer-on and Pull-off Exercise

Now that we have learned the steps to play hammer-ons and pull-offs , let’s put our new skills into practice.

hammer-ons pull-offs exercises warm-up

In the exercise above, we are going to be using all our fingers to play hammer-ons and pull-offs. Combined with a simple chromatic exercise.

You can try this exercise with many different finger combinations. Here are a few for hammer-ons:

  • 1,2
  • 2,3
  • 3,4
  • 1,4
  • 1,3

For pull-offs:

  • 2,1
  • 3,2
  • 4,3
  • 4,1
  • 4,2

There are more finger combinations you can play with, so feel free to experiment and see what you can come up with. You can also move this exercise all over the neck, so don’t think there is only one place to play this exercise.

Wrapping Up

Hammer-ons and Pull-offs are a wonderful part of guitar technique. They can be tricky for our fingers, but after we take some time to nail the details, we can have a lot of fun with them.

We have covered the essentials today, but there are several possibilities when it comes to hammer-ons and pull-offs.

Use this guide as a starting point, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions.