"Feel Like You're Hitting A Brick Because of That Trick?"
An article by Elmore Music for PJ's Guitar Chords and Lyrics Newsletter Subscribers

One of the most popular questions I receive are in the form of "How do I play this?" This  article is going to show you! Learn how to do hammer on's, pull off's , palm mutes and trills. We'll also cover things like artificial harmonics.

There's so much information evolving around techniques that I've decided to break it up into two newsletters, one dealing with rhythm and one dealing with lead. In this article we'll dive into the tricks of playing lead guitar as we will be using them when we switch over to rhythm.

You'll also get to see some more acoustic guitar incorporated.

Seek Better Technique...

Building a foundation.

Remember when you picked up your new guitar for the first time? It was like love at first sight but then you started to play it. It didn't sound like you expected it to. You wondered, "Why is it so hard to hold that note?" and "Where do I put my fingers?"

Now perhaps the questions have changed to,"How on earth can he/she get that sound?" Once you have discovered how to hold the strings to actually produce a sound, it sounds quite plain. Some find this to be a devastating problem and give up before they even give themselves a chance.

Then there are some of you who keep on trying and have been working on it for weeks, months or maybe even years! Today we're going to give you a crash course on the fundamentals of techniques, otherwise known as tricks.

Keep in mind that these techniques listed below only scratch the surface of what you can do with them. We'll get more in-depth on each of them in future newsletters. The goal over the past few weeks has been to get every subscriber on the same level and we'll take things more advanced later on in the year.

First thing is first, make sure you're holding the guitar correctly and that you have the proper posture. Achieving these tricks requires that you don't play sloppy. You'll be doing very fine and precise movements with your fingers, so insure that your doing the following:

  • A good warm-up. This may involve running your fingers up and down the fretboard or playing an easy lick that you enjoy. Just insure that you don't dive directly into these tricks as you can hurt your wrists if your not warmed up.
  • Sit straight. This automatically assists your fingers in finding the correct position.
  • Stay relaxed and loose, this way the faster movements will come easily and naturally, instead of sounding forced.

With that in mind, let's move into the basic techniques that are used in everyday lead guitar. Listed below, you will find the most common tricks along with video and audio.

Hammer On's: Hammer on's are one of the most widely used techniques in guitar playing. They can be played a multitude of different ways and are invaluable when it comes to wowing your audiences. To begin, take a look at the music pictured below:

Take notice of the tablature. The numbers are "tied" with an H below them. This signifies that the piece wants you to perform a hammer on from the first note to the second note.

To play a hammer on, place your finger on the second fret and strike the string, allowing it to ring out. Then, without hitting the string again, place you finger on the 3rd fret of the same string. The sound then switches to the sound of the 3rd fret.

You will need to hit the string with more pressure the further your fingers are apart to get the desired effect. The closer the two notes (like shown above) the easier.


Pull Off's : This technique is the exact opposite of the hammer on. It's used quite often in unison with the hammer on's to create spectacular trills (going back and forth between two notes really quickly,) dazzling finger tapping and more. The possibilities are literally endless when you use these techniques.

To perform a pull off, you need to use two fingers. Place one finger anywhere on the fretboard you like and then take your second finger and place it higher up on the fretboard. Continue to hold down the string where you placed your first finger, even though it will make no noise because another finger is holding down the string further up the fretboard. The reason for this will be explained in a moment.

Then you strike the note and let go of the string you are currently on. The sound will then change to the sound of the fret you had your other finger on. If that finger wasn't held down, you wouldn't have gotten the same effect you were looking for.

Note: You can hammer on and pull off using open strings. This is very commonly used but for the example above it does not apply.

Take a look at this picture and see the similarities between the notation that tells us to use the pull off and the notation to hammer on:

See how it's really just the reverse of what you did to perform a hammer on? The numbers are tied together exactly like the hammer on, so pay close attention to the letter at the bottom of the tab to see what it's asking you to do.


Slides: You may have noticed by taking a look at previous articles that I enjoy using slides when I play guitar. I believe it adds that something extra to a piece of music. Plus, they're a lot of fun to do!

Take your finger and place it on any note you wish. The next step is simple, just keep your finger pressed down and slide it to the desired note that you want to land on. You can use this going up the neck or sliding down the neck. The distance doesn't matter so long as you make sure to keep your finger held down.

You don't need to place a ton of pressure down on the string, you would be amazed at how little pressure it takes. Press down until you hear sound and away you go!

Here's an example of the notation commonly used to signify a slide:

See how the lines indicate which way to slide? When they are pointing up, slide towards your pickup. When pointing down, slide towards your headstock.


String Bends: One of the most common yet least understood aspect of basic techniques are string bends. Many people use them but the thing is, sometimes they aren't used correctly. The goal with a good string bend is to bend the string up or down (making the pitch higher or lower) while keeping it in tune. Not everyone has perfect pitch but there is an easy solution to this problem.

There are different types of bends, such as a halfstep bend and a full bend and even a 1/4 bend! However, the most common bend, which will be the one that we will cover in this lesson, is the halfstep bend.

The halfstep bend is equivalent to achieving the sound of the next fret up on your guitar. In other words, the note in front or behind the note you are currently on. Sound the note that is one fret above (or below) the note that you wish to bend. Try to match that sound when you bend the string.

To bend a note, follow the following steps:

  • Put your thumb around the neck of your guitar. This isn't normally good technique but in the case of bending notes it adds much needed support and leverage.
  • Try to bend a note with your first three fingers. Some guitarists use their fourth finger but I don't recommend it as it isn't a steady finger. You could lose your grasp and as a result lose the tone or the sound all together. Put your third finger on the note you wish to bend and place the first and second fingers on the frets behind it for some power.

The result of a string bend is an awesome and powerful sound that take the pitch up or down. It can be used in many settings (too many to list in this lesson.)

Now here's a simple exercise to get you going:


Trills: This technique is essentially hammer on's and pull off's used together at a really fast pace. It's a great technique to use at the climax of a really cool solo or when you are ending a song. It can be used for rock, jazz, blues, country, and many other genres.

To play a trill, set up for a hammer on. Play the note and let it ring. While the note is ringing, hammer on and then pull off and keep repeating this at a very fast pace. It will take some practice to get the timing right but once you have it, you'll have a lot of fun!

Here's what the notation for a trill looks like:

In tab, a trill will always be shown in little brackets in front of the note along with the abbreviated tr with a squiggly line. If you can't see the brackets, look for the tr and the squiggly line to see if it is a trill. In this case it's between the fifth fret and the sixth fret.


Palm Mutes: Palm mutes are played exactly like the name implies... with your palm! Palm mutes can be used in a number of settings. I normally use them for adding in a rhythmic swing to the music I am playing or to cut a note short. Those are just a few of the examples of what you can actually use this technique for.

To play a palm mute, simply place the palm of your picking hand on the bridge. Make sure to cover the strings that you wish to mute. Then simply hold your palm there and play the notes. They won't ring out because they can't vibrate. Instead, you get this "thump" type of sound.

Here's what the notation looks like:


Harmonics: Ah, the wonderful world of the harmonic. It's one of the most beautiful and fascinating tricks around that is sure to leave your audience on their feet. However, the unfortunate part about harmonics is learning how to play them. It took me quite a while before I started to get a good grasp on them.

Then I learned that there's actually quite a few different types of harmonics that can be played on guitar! Every note you play on the guitar is actually a harmonic which is most commonly known as the "Fundamental" harmonic. I look at it as the "First" harmonic.

To play the harmonic that we want, you need to eliminate this fundamental harmonic. To keep things simple, all harmonics can be looked at as artificial harmonics. However, not all harmonics are fretted (where you place your finger down on the fret to produce a note, which is what "artificial" means.) So to tell us what they are we use different notations in music.

For beginners, a natural harmonic is the best route to go to learn how to play harmonics. These are the harmonics that you can play just by using your open strings.

The easiest place to hit these natural harmonics is on the 12th and 7th fret. Gently place your fretting hand on the string directly above the fret of your choice. While placing your finger lightly on the string, pick the note and remove your finger as soon as the string makes a noise.

This happens pretty fast so you need to be prepared to move that fretting hand as soon as you pluck the string.

Here's a little example of what it would look like on tab:

Note: There are different notations for different harmonics. This signifies natural harmonics.


Vibrato: This is another great technique to use in a number of different situations. I prefer to use it for rock but I tend to end up using it quite a bit in jazz and blues riffs as well.

Take your finger and place it on any fret you wish. Then pluck the string and shake it! Yes I said shake it (your finger that is.) This will produce a very nice sound that is famous on tracks ranging from B.B King to Van Halen.

Here's what the notation looks like:


Putting It All Together...

Now that we have the basic techniques covered, it's time to apply them. Here are a few riffs to hone your skills on. I hope you enjoy!

Key: C Major

Key: D Major

Note: This will give you an idea of what to expect in next weeks newsletter. It's rhythmic and percussive but also has a lead.


Well that raps up this Guitar Tips article and thank you for tuning in!  We'll be taking a more "Hands on" approach to our articles over the coming months.

Next we'll dive into new aspects of rhythm guitar and teach you things that will blow your mind! We will also apply the concepts we've covered in this edition to playing chords and different strumming patterns. In our upcoming articles you can expect to see more gear reviews and new and improved lessons.

Until next time, keep on rocking!



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