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Guitar Hammer On And Pull Off Techniques

When it comes to soloing, playing notes without any kind of embellishment is boring and sounds bland. So as a beginner you want to learn the easiest guitar techniques that add interest to your licks. The easiest and most common guitar embellishments are the hammer on and pull off techniques.


Guitar hammer on and pull off general notes

The guitar techniques of hammer on and pull, abbreviated as HOPO, have a number of things in common. And in case you don’t know, they are usually played together. Here are characteristics and tips for both guitar techniques:

  • HO and PO complement each other, are extremely common, easy to play, and tend to be played together.
  • They are a great way to play multiple notes without plucking\picking each note. That form of playing notes is known as legato. Other legato techniques are string bends and slides.
  • Both techniques involve playing a single note. Tthen your fretting hand sounds the other note(s) via quick hammer-ons or pull-offs.
  • Try to make the 2nd note equal to or close to the volume of the first note.
  • Both involve sets of notes 1, 2, or 3 frets apart.
  • A trill is a guitar technique of multiple hammer-ons and pull-offs (see the last section).


Guitar Hammer On Technique

Here is the how-to of the guitar hammer on technique:

  • Start by playing one note then using another finger on the fretting hand to play a 2nd note above the first note by “hammering on” the 2nd note.
  • Hammering on the string or note means to bring your finger down hard, like a hammerhead to a nail, to make the 2nd note ring out.
  • Make sure to hammer directly down on the string, not at an angle as that tends to have a lower volume
  • Hammer ons are often abbreviated as HO and shown in guitar TAB as “h” or “H”.
Blues guitar lick starting with hammer ons
The lick starts with hammer ons and goes into pull offs involving the b5


Summary: play a fretted note or open string – then “hammer” strongly onto the same string at a higher fret with one of your fretting fingers.

Guitar Pull Off Technique

Pull-offs are the opposite of the hammer on technique. Here is the how-to of the guitar pull off technique:

  • You fret two notes on the same string, play the higher fretted note and then sound the 2nd note by forcibly pulling your finger off the higher fretted note.
  • Make sure to use the tip of the fretting finger to pluck or pull the string to the side.
  • Note that you have less volume with pull-offs than with hammer sons.
  • Pull offs are abbreviated as PO and notated in TAB with “p” or “P”. Together you get HOPO.
  • You can also do a pull-off to an open string.

Summary: have 2 notes fretted on the same string – play the higher fretted note then pull the string to the side rather than just lifting off.

Hammer ons and pull offs
Here is a series of hammer ons and pull offs that sound good for the I, IV or V chords in a blues tune


Guitar trill technique

A trill is a series of repeated HOPOs as fast as possible. This is truly an ornamental guitar technique. It definitely sounds good, but you don’t see it as often as HOPOs.

What you do is decide which two notes you want as part of your trill. In the example below I’m using the major 3rd and perfect 4th of D (F# and G). It’s typical to start with a hammer on but start with a pull off if you want.

And just repeat the HOPOs for as long as it sounds good to you. In the TAB example below I a Dmaj7 followed by a Dsus and D chord. Try the same over a D add9, D6, D7, etc. The middle measure is an example of a trill as 32nd notes. The last measure shows how it would be notated in sheet music.

An example of a trill is the song Eight Miles High by The Byrds. They use a trill to signal the return to the verse section. I think it’s a trill – might be a tremolo.

Trill and hammer on pull off example in D major



Final Thoughts

The hammer on and pull off guitar techniques are two of the easiest embellishments. You would be crazy not to incorporate them into your playing.

Take a look at the Guitar Legato page on Wikipedia for more information on all legato techniques. Also, check out my article listing all the guitar techniques you should know.