Ditching Pull-Offs in Favor of All Hammer-on Legato Approach

I’ve always been interested in legato playing, because its smooth tone.  Perhaps because I play single-coils (not compressed like high-output humbuckers), when I try to pick every note, the pick attack just come through too strongly and the resulting sound has a jagged impression.

But it didn’t all make sense to me until the last few months, when I stumbled on this video by Marshall Harrison:

At about 3-minute mark he reveals that this approach relies on notes all hammered-on and no pull-offs.

Aha!  A lightbulb moment there.

All hammer-on approach just makes so much sense, and here are the reasons:

  • As Marshall says, the tone is more uniform.  Pull-offs have a brighter edge that’s hard to control, while hammer-on results in a rounder, smoother tone.
  • Hammer-ons can be executed with a single finger, while pull-offs require more than one.  This is huge when trying to pull off a faster passage, because if you’re gonna do pull-off you have to leave fingers in position for that, while with all hammer-on, fingers that are “done” playing a note can move on to get ready for other notes.
  • Better control over dynamics.  Once again, pull-offs are hard to control — it’s so easy to play it loud.  Hammer-ons, once practiced, are like piano playing.  You can begin to control how hard you strike the string.

So I’ve been working on replacing pull-offs with hammer-ons.  It’s a slow process but it’s a major step forward for me, as I struggled with legato playing for years.  I do have some piano background, so being able to approach guitar with the same motion and feel comes so much easier.  The only place where pull-offs are allowed are fast trills.

I highly recommend it, if you’re drawn to that smooth sound of legato playing.  It’s easy, too.

(I realize that this post really calls for a clip or a video demonstrating the difference — perhaps I’ll record them and add later.)

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