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Hammer-Ons & Pull-Offs

Welcome to video eight in the Lead Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson, you’re going to learn the legato technique, which is made up of two smaller techniques called the hammer-ons and pull-offs. Learning this technique will give your picking hand a break and create a smooth sound to use in your solos. We’ll look at hammer-ons first, followed by pull-offs, and once you’ve mastered those we’ll put them together and use the full-blown legato technique in some of the scales you’ve already learned in this series of lessons.

I’ll teach you how to hammer-on first, so begin with the G minor pentatonic scale. Put your first finger on the third fret of the D string, and pick that note. To hammer-on, you need to come down on the next highest note of this scale on that string with your third finger without actually picking it.

You don’t want to come down or hammer-on the string too hard, otherwise the note will go sharp. You also don’t want to hammer-on too softly otherwise the note may come out too quietly. Try to hammer-on just right so the note comes out at the same volume as the picked note, and watch to make sure you’re hammering-on right behind the fret. Practice this first half of the legato technique to get comfortable with it.

The second half of the legato technique is pull-offs. Put your first finger on the third fret of the D string again, but put your third finger on the fifth fret at the same time. Pick the D string so the note from the fifth fret rings out, and then pull-off that note using your third finger to lightly pluck the string with your fretting hand.

Just like the hammer-ons, be careful to pull-off just right. If you pull-off too hard, the note will go out of tune, and if you pull-off too softly, the note may not play at all. Keep a good balance so the note you pick and the note you pull-off have the same volume.

Go ahead with practicing these techniques. It’s okay if it takes weeks or even months to master hammer-ons and pull-offs, because it does take a while to develop these techniques.

Now let’s combine hammer-ons and pull-offs for the full legato technique. Head back to the same two frets we were playing. First finger on the third fret of the D string, pick that note, hammer-on to the fifth fret with your third finger, and right after you hammer-on, pull-off the note. So that’s a quick pick, hammer-on, and pull-off in a row, and once you have that down, you can keep alternating hammer-ons and pull-offs without needing to pick another note.

You now know the core of the legato technique. Being able to hammer-on and pull-off well saves your picking hand some work, and sounds much smoother as you play. Next, we’ll apply the legato technique to the minor pentatonic scale. If you’re just jumping in the Lead Guitar Quick-Start series here, I’d suggest heading back to the video where we learn the minor pentatonic scale.

When using the legato technique with scales, the aim is to use hammer-ons whenever you’re ascending the scale, and use pull-offs when you’re descending the scale. Looking at the minor pentatonic scale, you pick the first note of the scale and then hammer-on to the second. Because this scale has two notes on every string, you’ll always pick the first note and hammer-on to the second note. When you compare my playing in the video, using legato sounds much smoother than picking every single note.

Trying to play the minor pentatonic scale using legato may be difficult for you because it is a tough workout for your pinky, especially if you don’t have a lot of strength built up yet. Just keep working on it and your fingers will get stronger every time you practice.

Now let’s try descending back through this scale. On the high E string, you’ll need to have both your pinky and index finger on the string. Pick the first note with your pick and then pull-off to the second note. When pulling-off, there are a couple of thoughts on how to do this. You can continue to have both fingers planted on the string as you just did, or you can pick your first note and come down on the next note with your other finger quickly afterwards. Either way is acceptable, so try both and see which works best for you.

Work on the legato technique by practicing ascending and descending through the scale, and keep in mind, you don’t have to go all the through the scale before starting again. Feel free to mix it up by going up a few notes and back down a few. You should feel like you have a new tool to add to your playing skills, so work on this with the three scales you know so far – the major scale, major pentatonic scale, and the minor pentatonic scale.

The major scale will be more difficult than the others because the major scale has more notes, and some of the strings have two notes while other strings have three. Starting with the low E string, you’ll pick the first note and hammer-on the second note. With three notes on the A string, you’ll first pick, then hammer-on the second note, and hammer-on again for the third note. Keep that going all the way up the scale. When you’re coming back down the scale, the high E string will start with a pick, followed by two pull-offs.

Pull up any of the jam tracks we’re gone through so far and practice your legato technique on all three of the scales. To help you even further, I’ve put together a couple of licks for you to try.

The first lick uses the minor pentatonic scale, the second lick uses the major pentatonic scale, and the last lick uses the major scale, so you can practice in all the scales you’ve learned so far. Just like scale shapes in earlier videos, I’ve got tabs for each lick posted in the video so you can follow along as I demonstrate. Feel free to pause and rewind as often as you want.

At the end of the last lick, you’ll use a new technique where you roll your finger on your fretting hand to make two notes on different strings quickly. Here, I use my second finger on the third fret to make a note on the B string and then roll my finger down to the high E string to make the next note right away.

Once you can play these three licks, pull up your jam tracks to practice. Start experimenting and having fun with the legato technique. In the next video, I’m going to give you tips about how to play a guitar solo, and we’ll start bringing together everything we’ve worked on so far. After that, we’ll learn your first guitar solo. If you have any questions about the legato technique, remember to leave a comment below. See you in the next lesson!