Instructions for Executing a Guitar Hammer-On

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Hammer On Guitar Technique

guitar hammer on

When guitarists begin to learn the instrument, they invariably only play single notes in one way - whenever they play a note, they use a pick to hit that string simultaneously. While this is very common, there are alternate ways to play single notes. The first differing method we'll examine is the hammer-on.

The concept of the hammer-on is fairly simple - you begin by playing a note anywhere on the guitar, then, WITHOUT re-picking, hammering your finger down on another note on a higher fret on the same string. The effect is that two notes have been played in succession, although you've only picked the string once. The hammer-on effect is essentially the opposite of the pull-off and helps create a less staccato, "slippery" sound when playing single notes. Let's examine the hammer-on further:

  • Start by fretting the second fret of the third string with your first (index) finger.
  • Now, without playing anything yet, ready your third (ring) finger - poising it above the fourth fret of the third string.
  • Once you're ready, use your pick to hit the second string - the note on the second fret you're holding down should ring
  • Now WITHOUT re-picking the note, bring the tip of your third finger down firmly on the fourth fret. If you do this with enough force, the note on the fourth fret should sound, even though you didn't re-pick the string.

If you didn't bring your third finger down on the string accurately enough, or with enough force, all that probably happened was that your first note stopped ringing. Try repeating the exercise, and keep doing so, until the second note rings out clearly.

If you're having trouble understanding what a hammer-on should sound like listen to the audio clip of the above example.

Things to Try:

  • If you can't get the second note to ring, be sure you're putting your fingertip down directly on the string. If you're not accurate, you won't get good results.
  • Try repeating this technique on different strings, and on different frets.
  • Hammer two fingers onto a string. For example, start at the fifth fret, then hammer on to the sixth fret, then the seventh.

When to Use Hammer-Ons

This is a technique that gets used constantly - chances are your favorite guitar riffs use them. Many guitarists use hammer-ons as a method of playing faster than their picking hand will allow.

Songs That Use Hammer-Ons

Hey Joe (Jimi Hendrix) - This one might be a challenge to learn for beginners, but there are a couple hammer-ons in the song intro and more throughout. This links to a "Hey Joe" video lesson.

Thunderstruck (AC/DC) - Marty Schwartz goes very slowly through this AC/DC classic in his YouTube instructional video. This one isn't easy, but Marty does a good job of breaking the song down so beginners can learn the song.

Other Resources for Learning Hammer-Ons

Basics of Hammer-Ons (VIDEO) - Jody Worrell walks viewers through a nice, simple lesson dedicated to the hammer-on technique. The focus is on a series of simple exercises that utilize all fingers in your picking hand. This is a great place to begin.

Using Slides, Hammer-Ons, and Pull-Offs (VIDEO) - This quick lesson on acousticguitar.com shows how to utilize three different techniques in a single lick, in order to minimize picking while still playing a lot of notes.