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> The Hammer-on Issue
Ben Higgins
post Mar 15 2015, 04:08 PM
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Hammer-ons.. aren't they great ? We love 'em. Using the power of a fingertip to press a string against fretwire to produce a note. Lovely.

We use them all the time without thinking about it. Not only is it brilliant for single string licks like this:

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But, when we combine them with pull-offs to perform legato licks, we can cross strings with only the power of our fingers. No picking needed ! Well, apart from the starting note, that is.

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Now, let's try the exact reverse of the preceding lick:

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Oh, that doesn't sound quite right, does it ? But we're playing the same notes in reverse so surely it should work just as well ? Not so. Here's why. In the descending lick, you're hammering on to a lower string every time, leaving the strings above it covered by your fretting hand. In other words, the strings above the note you're fretting are muted so there is no unwanted string noise. The strings that you are hammering onto are not being played, so they are silent until you fret them. This is why hammering-on works well for descending licks.

In the ascending lick, you are moving upwards from a previouly sounded note. So, for example, the D string has been picked to start the lick off. As you move to the second note in the lick (on the G string) you have to take your finger off the D string which then causes it to ring out. You may try to continue on the G string until it's time to hammer onto the B string but then guess what ? You lift off the G string and then that rings out as well. Ahhhhhhh !

Hammering on to higher strings is impossible. Damn it !!

Ok, it's not impossible but it is difficult. The key to hammering on to a higher string without causing too much string noise is twofold. Looking at the last lick let's pretend you've just played the 7th fret, D string with your 3rd or 4th finger and then you're going to play the 4th fret, G string, with your 1st finger. Got it ? You have to let your 3rd or 4th finger ease pressure off of the D string. Don't pull off. Just ease off until the note is no longer pressed down.

At the same time, you have to concentrate all your effort into performing a strong hammer-on with your 1st finger onto the G string.

So, to sum it up, you have to focus on creating a stronger note velocity than the one you are moving away from. Make sense ? Maybe not. Most of you have probably heard of hammer-ons from nowhere, where you hammer-on as the first note, with no prior run up, no picking etc.. well it's just like that except you also have to avoid causing open string noise by pulling off of a note on a lower string.

It can be done and there are some jazz fusion nutters who play like that but 1. If you use lots of distortion, forget it 2. Your time is better spent learning how to deal with it another way and 3. Screw those guys, they're freaks.

So, what is the solution to the ascending hammer-on issue ?

The answer is dissapointingly simple and you do it already. You pick those notes which do not work as hammer-ons. You can have a run that is mostly legato but when you encounter a string change that requires a movement to a higher string you will want to pick the higher note so the momentum of your tone is not ruined. If you can internalise this rule then you'll find a freedom with ad libbing all over the neck instead of feeling like you have to have your runs figured out in advance.

So, try that last lick again but pick the first note when you move to a new string.

Those licks are very basic but as long as you understand the principle you can figure out how you can do really cool legato runs that combine hammer-ons, pull-offs and occasional alternate picking (or O.A.P. as Hungry for Heaven named it)

So, a very common dilemma has a very basic solution !

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