Guitar Lesson 8

Playing Techniques

Tablature can be very useful for learning the techniques that make a simple run of notes turn into a flowing and expressive piece of music. The following exercises will help you understand how this these playing styles are written and what noises they make!


Hammer on


This technique is used to play two notes in quick succession whilst only picking the first note. The second note is sounded by the action of your fretting finger on the string. The note must be hit just behind the fret for it to sound properly. This is a very important technique for playing a lot of lead guitar parts and will come in handy for solos!


Pull off

The note is played by plucking the string with your fretting hand after picking the fretted note with your right. Pull offs can also be used directly after a hammer on to sound more than one note with your fretting hand. Practicing the two together will help you build up a strong fretting hand and increase the reach of your fingers.



You can use your first two fingers to give support to your third finger bending the note. Listen to the pitch change and try to get it to the required note. (This is listed above the curve in the tablature i.e Full or ½ step). Compare them by playing the required note first, then bending the 5th  fret up to that pitch. The more you bend the note the higher the pitch will be. Bends can be used to give emphasis to a lead part by blending two notes into each other. - Be careful to think about the timing of the bend and how it fits into the rest of the song!



Palm muting

  Palm muting works especially well with a distorted amp setting and is one of the most important techniques in heavy rock music. It is also used to a lesser extent in other styles to control how long each note should sound and add a percussive effect. In order to play the palm muted notes correctly, your picking hand must be pushed against the bridge and saddles so that when plucked the strings emit sound but do not ring out. In the tablature the dotted lines show which notes are to be muted and which to let ring.



Vibrato is a great way to add interest and emphasis to a note. There are many ways to achieve this sound, which should make the note wail and fluctuate in pitch. You can either quickly bend your finger up and down whilst still holding the note, or move wiggle your whole hand at the wrist whilst keeping your finger held taught. In order to hear the note properly you must have it correctly fretted and picked in the first place. Any muting by palms or stray fingers will stop the note from ringing.



  The slide is performed by plucking the note and then moving the fretting finger up to the next note whilst keeping it pressed down. This causes each intermediate note to sound as you move your hand. Slides can be used to quickly change between two notes and are useful for repositioning your hand to play at different parts of the fretboard.




Harmonics are the higher pitched ringing tones that are produced when a plucked string is muted slightly as it is played. These usually only sound at certain frets and their pitch increases with distance from the bridge. To play the harmonic, lightly touch the string above the fret as it is plucked, then remove your finger to let the harmonic ring out. The harmonics at the 12th fret will produce the same note as the open string. Try playing them at frets 5, 7 and 9 as well.




Tapping can be used to play many notes in a row on one string using fingers from your picking hand to perform multiple ‘hammer-ons’. By simultaneously hammering on and puling off you can keep a continuous flow of notes. This is an advanced technique that takes some time to practice but if you start slowly and carefully perform each hammer on and pull off correctly then they will slowly blend together and away you go!

Remember to try to get each note sounding properly rather than just worrying about speed! It is a good idea to think of even simple exercises as pieces of music that should sound as such, and not just random notes. If you try to play too quickly then this can lead to sloppy technique and you will find yourself going back over everything later. Playing carefully and with good attention to sound will be building up a strong subconscious understanding of the instrument.

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