Pull-Off Playing (incl. Hammer-Ons)

(written in 1984)

When you see or hear the word “legato”, it usually means to play a given passage smoothly or flowingly. When you pick a note, you hear a certain articulation. The best way to approach a legato passage is with the use of hammer-ons and pull-offs. Start with a couple of fluttering exercises (trills) like these:

1). Flutter for one full minute, nonstop between your first and second fingers. Keep it strong, clean and even. Then do it between your first and third, then the first and fourth, fingers.

2). Do the same thing except this time, flutter between your second and third fingers, then your second and fourth, then try between the third and fourth.

The object is to get each pair of fingers equally strong when trilling. You can see that it will take some time for this to happen cleanly, but when it does, the dexterity and coordination of your left hand will double.

This is a great exercise for legato playing. Try it with three fingers. Start with A on the high E string (5th fret). Now, hammer to a B with your third finger; then hammer to a C with your fourth finger. Pull off with your fourth finger, sounding the B. Pull off with your third finger, sounding the A (do not re-attack the string with the pick). Repeat the process. Keep this going until you can’t stand it. Do it with a metronome and be sure you’re in synch. After this, try every combination of fingers you can think of.

This next technique involves changing from one string to another and having the notes sound clean without picking them.

To do this, hammer the note on the preceding string with your finger. This will cause the note to sound. Try plucking an A on the E string as before; hammer to the B; then hammer to the C. Pull off back to B; then pull off to A. After this, hammer with your fourth finger, G on the B string (8th fret). Then pull off to an E on the B string (5th fret). Now you’re where you started, but one string over. Continue doing this to each string in turn. The object is to get an even, steady flow from one string to the next. Practice this on every fret, forward and backward.

When practicing this and all other exercises, be sure to do them high on the neck where the frets are tiny. This is good for becoming a screamer. Below is an example of this exercise starting on the 5th fret and going across the strings:

There are many possibilities that this technique will open up to you. Here are some things to try:

a). Try going across the strings in this manner with every combination of fingers you can.

b). Try it with a metronome and group the notes in even 16ths. Then try triplets.

c). Go across the strings, diatonic to any given key that you desire.

d). Do this exercise while moving up the neck.

Allan Holdsworth is a master of this playing style.