When guitar players start to learn their instrument, they usually only play single notes in a way they are using a pick to hit guitar strings simultaneously. While this is the usual, there are also other ways you can play single notes like the method we are going to discuss, the hammer-on.
The idea of hammer-on is just plain simple. You start playing a note in any point on the guitar, then, without having to use the pick again, you hammer your finger down on a different note on the higher fret using the same string.
The result is that you will be playing two notes in succession, even though you only have picked your guitar string once. The entire concept of hammer-on is the exact opposite of “pull-off”, helping create less slippery sound–“staccato” when playing single notes.
5 steps to explanation on how to hammer-on your guitar
Step 1. Play a single note while using your fretting hand in smacking another note for a successful hammer on.
Begin by practicing this action: While your hands are wrapped around the guitar, land your finger on the fret and play a note, make it sound loud once you hit it. Then, continue to playing the guitar making it sound like this through playing several notes without ever re-picking.
Step 2. Use your index finger and play a note
Play a note on your guitar using your index finger. It is quite easy to hammer on a particular note if it is near a note you are holding down. Simply pick the note and ring it out.
Step 3. Use your ring finger to land down two frets to hammer on
Simply put your ring finger down firmly on the other fret, on the same string of the note you picked. The note must sound out, seamlessly transitioning from the original note you picked. Try landing your hammer on closer to the back of the fret to get the best sound.
Step 4. Practice your hammer on and adjust so that the first and the hammered note closely have the same volume.
When practicing for a hammer on, usually beginners use the index and the ring finger because it is much easier to use. However, once you became more advanced as a guitarist, any fingers can be used for a hammer on as long as you deliver it in an effective manner.
Your primary goal here is to aim for an adequate sounding note the same as a picked note of normal volume. Remember that if you overly hit the note, it can make a higher pitch sound and if you hit it too soft, you can barely hear any sound at all.
Things to Try when Doing a Hammer on
Some beginners may complain that they can’t get the second note to sound. Be sure that you are accurately putting down your fingertip on the string. Accuracy is needed here to get better results.
Once you get the hang of hammering on, try doing this technique over and over again while experimenting on other strings and different frets. Also try hammering on using two fingers on a guitar string. For instance, start at the 5th fret, and then hammer on to the 6th then following at the 7th.
When Should you Use Hammer Ons?
Hammer ons are a technique that constantly gets used by many guitarists. Chances are, many of your favorite guitar riffs make use of this. Most guitarists find using hammer ons as the quickest way of playing guitar more than a picking hand could allow.
Furthermore, hammer-ons make passages easier to play. That is because we can do hammer-ons faster than picking two notes successively. Another good reason is that, while we are using our left hand fingers for a hammer-on, our remaining left hand fingers and the pick to perform something else both at the same time. It can be used to play ‘trills’—the succession of 2 notes rapidly and with a lot of practice, hammer-ons help us play guitar very fast.
Different Hammer-On Techniques
There are different hammer-ons you can try to add more variety and distinct feel when you start to play your notes. Try combining these techniques and you will sense a more personalized feel when you play your guitar.
The figure above shows an example of a double hammer-on happening on the third string. To do this, play the open string, and then use your first finger to hammer on the 2nd fret. While the note still rings, hammer the string again using your 3rd finger at the 4th fret, producing three smooth and nice notes.
Double Stop Hammer-Ons
Hammer-ons can also be played as double-stops. The ones that are easiest to play, and the most common—are the ones having both double-stop notes lying on the same fret, thus allowing you to play them using one finger.
For better understanding, double-stop hammer-on can be figured out using the image above. It shows the double-stop hammer on from the 2nd and 3rd string. Try picking both of the open strings and while they still ring, hammer on both of your 1st and 2nd finger across the two strings at once.
Hammer-On from Nowhere
Different from the typical hammer-on, “hammer-on from nowhere” doesn’t hammer on an already ringing first note. Instead, the hammered note comes from a different string than the first note. The hammered note sounds by fretting hard enough with your finger on your left hand—very hard that the note will start to ring even without striking the string with the pick.
This type of hammer on is used when your right hand picking don’t provide you that extra time to pick an extra note when you need it. Nevertheless, you can still get that note by fretting hard enough—hammering it from nowhere.