Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Introduction to Hammer-Ons & Pull-Offs


   The above guitar riff is a STANDARD BLUEGRASS RIFF in the key of G.  You will hear this type of tag line at the --END-- of many country/bluegrass tunes and whenever and wherever bluegrass players jam together.   It is a fairly --EASY-- riff to learn, but it sounds impressive enough to cause those around you to sit up and take notice.  I think with a little thought and effort, you should be able to master this RIFF and it will give you a great satisfaction in achieving this goal.


    While the notes in this riff can possibly be played individually, it is both easier and better to learn the art of an advanced technique of playing HAMMER-ONS and PULL-OFFS. We may have mentioned or demonstrated these before in our classes or lessons, but haven't really USED them yet.  It is time for you to at least attempt this new technique.  It will NOT necessarily be easy for you at first, but as you relax, take a breath or two, and put in a little time, trying this over and over, eventually it should begin to get easier, and it should begin to sound better to your (and others') ears.

    HAMMER-ONS and PULL-OFFS are designated by the use of a connecting symbol, with an accompanying "H" or "P" to denote one or the other.   One sure way of knowing if a combination is a hammer-on (H) or a pull-off (P) is whether it is ascending or descending.  If a note is ascending, it is a hammer-on.  if a note is descending, it is a pull-off.

   The HAMMER-ON and PULL-OFF techniques involve playing multiple notes with only a single pick stroke.  These two techniques most always are used together in a complimentary way.  They are normally used when executing a RUN or RIFF of some kind, in which a series of notes are played in rapid succession.  The reasoning is that these notes can usually be played faster and easier when using these techniques.   It also involves tone/sound as well as the speed of execution.   HAMMER-ONS and PULL-OFFS have a distinctive "ring" of their own, and are considered a staple of country or bluegrass music.   They are also used distinctively in rock or blues music.

   (1)HAMMER-ON is done by playing an open (or fretted) note and then "hammering" a finger (or fingers) onto one or more fretted notes.  

   It may seem extremely difficult at first.  You may be TRYING too hard, and when you don't get the results you want, you may tense up, and TRY even harder, and this really makes it harder for you.  The idea is to RELAX, and think (but not over-think) about what you're doing.  

   You have to "hammer" hard enough to get the volume you need.  The hammered notes should be as loud, or almost as loud, as your original picked note.   It also involves some degree of dexterity and flexibility, and if you have any disability in your hands or fingers, this may limit or hinder your ability to learn this technique.  Unless it causes you pain, though, you should press on and accept it as a challenge.

   (2) A PULL-OFF is simply the "pulling off" of a fretted note to an open (or other fretted) note.  It is often used in conjunction with playing HAMMER-ON notes, but it does not necessarily have to be.  In this TAG, you are playing an open note, hammering to 2nd fret, and then "pulling off" back to the open note.  While it has its own challenges, I believe that pull-offs are easier to learn and execute than hammer-ons.   

   As you lift your finger off of the note, you should slightly pluck it with that finger. Sometimes you may experience difficulty in actually pulling your finger off of a string or note, and you may find the string vibrating too much, with an accompanying loud ring.  You are then pulling off with too much force.  It should eventually become a more natural movement for you, and while a pull-off note has a distinctive sound, it is not supposed to sound either louder or softer than the other notes.


   This TAG line is made up of eight simple notes on four strings.  It is made up of four FRETTED notes, and four OPEN notes.  It might be helpful to start by saying that HALF of the notes in this RIFF are made up of the notes in the G chord.  Therefore, the easiest way to successfully learn and play this RIFF is to start by using the G chord, and then playing within that context.

   This RIFF begins on "G" (6th/E string, 3rd fret) and ends on "G" (3rd string, Open), an octave higher.  For those of you that would either like to analyze the individual notes, or just find it helpful to know, here are the notes in this RIFF :


   The first G is on the 6th string (3rd fret);  A-Bb-B is on the 5th string (open-1st-2nd);    D-E-D is on the 4th string (open-2nd-open); and finally, the last G is the third string. 

   It may also be helpful to SEE this RIFF, so I found these YouTube videos which you can watch if you get a chance.  I looked at several of them-- these seem to be the easiest to follow.  Most of them involve teaching several RIFFS or LICKS on the same video.  You do not need to get into all of those, unless you just want to do so.   I would really like to create and upload my own video, but haven't been able to do so yet.

   These videos are several minutes long, and unfortunately, involve teaching other licks/ riffs as well as this one, so I have designated the particular times that the video is teaching this lick/ riff.

This guitar player slows down our RIFF/LICK for 20 seconds between the times 0:18 to 0:38
This guy is quite a talented bluegrass player.  He focuses on the RIFF that we are learning in the first three minutes of this 9-minute video.
   It should be noted that the easiest and best way to play this RIFF involves using the SAME fingers as the fret in which it is played.  Therefore, since the fretted notes are in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd frets, then the 1st (index), 2nd (middle) and 3rd (ring) fingers should be used in playing them.

   (1) As you make the G Chord, you will first play the BASS note (6th/E string, 3rd fret), then play a series of two three-note runs on the 5th (A) and 4th (D) strings, and then ending on an open note (3rd/G string). 

   (2) The first three-note run is made up by an ascending HAMMER-ON, on the 5th/A string, going from Open note to 1st and then 2nd fret.  These are consecutive notes/frets.

  Remember our original exercise called "The Spider" in which we played all of the notes on all of the strings, like a ladder, moving up one note at a time?   These three notes would've been three of the notes in that exercise.  You should be using this Exercise (it's page 5.2 in your Class Workbook) as a warm-up whenever you have your daily practice.   

   The only difference here is we are only playing THREE notes, and in rapid succession; that is why we are attempting to use the HAMMER-ON technique.  Try playing these three notes as individual notes, playing them with three different pick strokes.  Then try using the HAMMER-ON technique, picking the open note and then HAMMERING on the next two notes with your 1st and 2nd finger.

   If this is difficult for you (and it probably will be at first), then you may learn this and the rest of the RIFF by playing each note individually with your pick.  But this RIFF is best learned and played by using the HAMMER-ON and PULL-OFF, so whether you grasp and play it at first or not, continue to practice and attempt to "nail it" and "pull it off".  HA HA! (puns intended).

   (3) The next part of our RIFF is the next group of three notes, all on the 4th/D string, and going from Open note to 2nd fret and then back to Open note again.  This is done by using a HAMMER-ON and then a PULL-OFF.  
       (a) First, you play the Open 4th/D string and HAMMER-ON up to the 2nd fret;

       (b) Second, you will PULL-OFF of the 2nd fret note, and again play the Open Note.

   It should be a continuous, fluid motion, not as much like three seperate steps, as in one stream of three notes together.   It will most likely be and sound choppy and sloppy at first.  Don't let this get you down or stop you from mastering this technique and riff.  Keep at it until you eventually are able to attain some degree of smooth flow to these notes.

   (4)  The final part of this RIFF is simply playing the Open G string.   Actually, the last two notes of this RIFF are open notes.  So after you LIFT or PULL-OFF of the fretted note on the last step (4th string/2nd fret), then the last two notes are just playing the 4th and 3rd strings open.   So this will be like the Stretch Run, once you get to the final two notes, you are Home Free.  

   This long, detailed explanation may seem laborious to read through and understand. Just take it one line or step at a time, and you should be able to make sense out of it.  Actually, some of you may be able to master this RIFF without even using these notes.  But other students may like the luxury of having a series of notes to follow.  Either way, "good luck" on this;  actually, it isn't your luck that will help you, as much as it is your persistent effort in practicing.   So-- get to work.  And enjoy playing this cool RIFF.

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