It’s one of the most commonly used guitar techniques, but what is a hammer on?
When learning to play, there are some terms that you’ll come across regularly, which, as beginner may make very little sense. Whether it relates to the guitar itself, (nut, lower bout, trem….?), or to technique, it can sometimes seem like it’s written in a different language.
The term ‘hammer on’ is one that you’ll hear regularly, or see notated in tablature. This is because it is one of the most commonly used guitar techniques. But what is a hammer on?
Take it smoothly…
The hammer on relates to ‘legato’ playing styles. Legato translates as ‘tied together’, and in musical terms, means that notes are played without any gaps between, resulting in a smoother sounding performance. With wind instruments, this is achieved by slurring, and using a single, continuous breath.
On a guitar, playing each note separately makes legato very difficult. This is because, if notes occur on the same string, the action of playing a note will stop the string vibrating, introducing a pause (albeit very small). This is where the hammer on proves its worth…
The hammer on effectively allows more notes to be played after a single string pluck. Here’s how it works.
1. Fret a note, and play it.
2. Whilst the note is ringing, and with this note still fretted, quickly another note on the same string with a different finger.
3. If done cleanly and with enough force, the string will change in pitch to the second note. The result is a completely smooth changeover with no gaps.
This has an advantage other than smooth legato, too. By only having to pluck one note, then relying on the faster, fretting hand, it makes it a lot easier to play fast passages.
In addition, it opens up other techniques, such as trilling, when used in association with the hammer on’s direct opposite, the pull off (more of that another time).
In Tablature, it is most commonly notated as below – in the below example a note is played at the 5th fret, with a hammer on to the 7th fret.
This is a technique that will revolutionise your playing. Give it a try- you’ll be amazed at how easy it is…
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.