When playing legato passages, these are your friend – but what are pull offs?
When learning to play guitar, once you start to move on from the standard, fretting notes or chords with one hand, and strumming/ plucking with the other, there are some techniques that you read about, or come across in tablature, that may puzzle you. Hammer-ons and pull offs are prime examples.
You’re just coming to terms with how tablature works, and suddenly, there are even more symbols and even more terminology. Don’t panic- most of these are far more straightforward that they seem, both to understand and to play. Once mastered, they’ll open up a world of possibilities, too.
Pull offs are one of the most common of these techniques, and also one of the most useful- particularly when used with the hammer on. But, what is a pull off?
Two notes for the price of one…?
Playing in a legato style is important on all instruments (okay, maybe not drums…) For the uninitiated, legato (meaning ‘tied together’) means playing notes with no gaps in-between, for a very smooth sound.
On a guitar, there are obstacles if the passage involves notes played on the same string. Plucking a string repeatedly will deaden it (if only for fractions of a second), placing tiny gaps between notes. Pull offs (and hammer ons) fix this problem.
This technique allows the player to play ‘extra’ notes after the string has been plucked- and here’s how.
1. Fret a note your second third or fourth finger (middle, ring and pinkie respectively), but with a second note on the same string fretted behind.
2. Pluck the string, then slide the finger at the upper fret off the string, gently pulling it with the finger you are moving at the same time.
3. This will sound the note fretted at the lower fret, with no gap.
Pull offs are very commonly used in association with hammer-ons to create legato effects, and to play fast phrases. The reason for this is that playing notes repeatedly with a pick, and keeping the notes ‘clean’, is trickier than to quickly hammer-on and pull off with the fretting hand. If you hammer on, then pull off repeatedly with a tone or a semitone difference, you can perform trills, too.
Pull offs are typically notated as below within tablature, but sometimes appears with a ‘PO’ instead of ‘P’, and sometimes with nothing above at all.
Master pull offs and hammer-ons, and you’ll have two of the key lead guitar techniques under your belt- so what are you waiting for?
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.