How to Play Pull-Offs on the Bass

bass guitar
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Your right hand doesn't have to pluck every single note you play. Using hammer-ons and pull-offs, you can play notes with your left hand as well. They are good for bass licks with quick runs of notes, and can be found in many popular songs.

What is a Pull-Off?

A pull-off is a note you play after playing a regular note, by lifting away a finger from your left hand to let a lower note ring out. You don't pluck the new note with your right hand.

Instead, the sound comes from the vibration still going on from the previous note, aided by a slight plucking motion with the finger on your left hand.

Playing a Pull-Off on the Bass

To play a pull-off, begin with an ordinary note. For this first example, play an E at the ninth fret of the first string (the G string), using your fourth finger. In addition to putting down your fourth finger, also put down your first finger on the sixth fret. Now, while the E is still ringing, pull your fourth finger down off the string while leaving your first finger in place. Don't just lift your fourth finger away, also pluck the string a little with your finger as you remove it. If you do it right, you should hear a C♯ ring out with little change in volume.

You could also pull off from your fourth finger to a note played with your second or third finger. You can pull off from any finger to any lower finger, or an open string.

If you didn't seem to pull it off perfectly, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Pluck the string with your left-hand finger as you remove it. If you just lift away, you will lose a lot of volume, especially if you lift away slowly.
  • Keep the lower finger planted firmly in place as you lift away the higher one. It is easy to move the lower finger down while trying to execute the plucking motion, resulting in muting, buzzing, or even slipping the first string over the edge of the fingerboard.
  • If the plucking motion seems difficult, don't use too much force. Imagine "gripping" the string with the pad of your finger prior to plucking it.

Try these exercises to get better at pull-offs on the bass:

  1. Starting anywhere you like, play a note with your fourth finger and pull-off to a note with your first finger three frets down. Repeat, but pull-off to a note with your second finger two frets down, and again to your third finger one fret down.
  2. Play a note with your third finger, than pull-off to your first finger two frets down, then again to your second finger one fret down.
  1. Play a note with your second finger and pull-off to the next fret down with your first finger.
  2. Play a note with your fourth finger, pull-off to a note with your third finger one fret down, then pull-off from there to your second finger another fret down, and finally to your first finger a fret below that.

Once you've learned how to play hammer-ons, try playing a note with your first finger, then hammer-on to a note three frets higher with your fourth finger. Next, pull-off back down to your first finger. Alternate back and forth after plucking only once. Try to sustain the note as long as you can.

Now, try doing the same thing, but alternate between your

  1. first and third fingers two frets apart.
  2. first and second fingers on adjacent frets.
  3. second and fourth fingers two frets apart.
  4. second and third fingers on adjacent frets.
  5. third and fourth fingers on adjacent frets.