Simple Single-string technique

This weeks lesson is an introduction to single string techniques. We're going to look at hammer-ons, pull-offs, trills, tapping, glissando, slides, vibrato, and bending.

Hammer-ons (h)
Place your first finger on the 5th fret on the 1rst string (E, the thinnest string). Strike the string with finger or pick, then without striking the string a second time, keep the first finger down on the 7th fret of the same string, so that it sounds a new note. You've just played a hammer-on. A hammer-on is a technique where more than one note is played in an ascending fashion on the same string, but only the first note is struck using the right hand (finger or pick).

Pull-offs (p)
A pull-off is kinda the same thing but in a descending order.
Keeping your fingers down (1rst and 3rd fingers) on the 1rst string (5th and 7th frets respectively). Pick the note (3rd finger on 7th fret), then pull the 3rd finger off the string so that the new note sounds (1rst finger ,5th fret) without plucking the string a second time. there, you played a pull-off.

Trills (tr)
A trill is kinda like putting the two (hammer-on and pull-off) together. To play a trill, place one finger down on a string then hammer-on to to another note and without plucking again, pull-off to the original note (and then hammer-on and pull-off and hammer-on and pull-off, etc. all with out striking the string beyondthe first note). Trills are often played quickly.

Here is a trilling exercise to build endurance and muscle strength:
1.)Place your first finger on any fret (I suggest starting somewhere in the middle of the neck) on any string (I suggest starting on the thinner strings) then trill to the 2nd finger on the next fret up, for as long as your fingers can do it.
2.)Then keeping 1rst finger on same fret, trill to the 3rd finger two frets higher than 1rst finger, for as long as your fingers can. Repeat process for 1rst and 4th fingers (3 frets higher).
3.)Take the 1rst finger off, put 2nd finger down. trill from 2nd finger to 3rd finger (one fret higher), then trill from 2nd finger to 4th finger (two frets higher) then take 2nd finger off.
4.)Put 3rd finger down and trill from the 3rd finger to the pinky (one fret higher).

Work on maintaining an even rhythm while trilling, and the speed and endurance will come.

Basic tapping (T)
A tap is basically a right-handed hammer-on. Place your first finger (left hand) on the 5th fretof the first string and tap your middle finger (of right hand) onto the 12th fret of the same string. You've just tapped.
Keeping those fingers there and using the left hand pinky for the 8th fret, try the following: tap onto the 12th fret, pull-off to the 5th fret, hammer-on to the 8th fret, and repeat. This sketches out an Am chord. It is helpful when tapping to be able to visualize chords and scales on a single string.

*Hammer-ons, pull-offs, and trills are used to create a smoother sound than picking every note.
*Tapping allows you to play arpeggios faster than most people can with only one fretting hand.

Vibrato (vib.)
Place your third finger on the 7th fret of the 3rd string. Strike the note, and with your third finger still playing the note, rock it (pivot it) back and forth along the string keeping it in the fret. This creates a little waver in the notes pitch. This is a vibrato. Vibratos are often heard when a note is being held for a long time or at the end of a melodic phrase.
Another type of vibrato is often heard where the finger is pushed and pulled to the side and brought back to the original note quickly and repeatedly. It is similar to bending (below) but is quick and usually in a small tonal range (less than a half-step). this later type of vibrato is heard in blues based musics (rock, jazz, etc.). The first type above is heard in classical musics. work on keeping your vibrato even.

Place your first finger on 5th fret, 2nd finger on 6th fret, and 3rd finger on 7th fret (all on the 3rd string). Press down, pluck 3rd string. While note is sounding, keep pressure on string and push string in the fret twords the lower strings. You've just bent a note. Using the first two fingers makes it easier to bend the string. After awhile you can do it without adding the first two fingers. Try bending (pushing the string) with the pinky also. It's kinda important when bending, to hit the target note (the note you're bending to).
Try this exercise:
1.) Play 3rd string 8th fret. Sing note. Keep it in your head.
2.) Fret guitar as above with three fingers on third string frets 5-7. Play 7th fret 3rd string.
3.) While playing 7th fret (3rd string) bend to the note you're singing. Release bend.
4.) Repeat, repeat, etc. get a feel for just how much you have to bend to bend a 1/2 notes distance.
5.) Play 3rd string ninth fret. Sing note. Keep in your head. Repeat step 2-4, but bend a whole step (to the sound of the 9th fret) instead. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Get a feel for bending a whole step.
6.) Repeat for m3 (3 half-steps= 3 frets above original note).

Often many licks bend one note while holding another (without bending it). Try these:
1.) Barre 1rst and 2nd strings 5th fret with 1rst finger. Place 3rd finger on 7th fret of 3rd string up 1 whole note (do not bend 1rst and 2nd strings).
2.) Place 1rst finger on 5th fret of 1rst string. Place 4th finger on the 8th fret of 2nd string. Play both notes, bend 2nd string up a whole-step. move both fingers up 2 frets and repeat.

Glissando (gl.)
Glissando is much like a slide (below), the difference being that there is a momentary pause at each chromatic note along the way. Let's tryt one.
1.) Place your 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string. Play the note.
2.) While playing the note, without lifting the pressure off the string, move your finger from the 2nd fret to the 3rd fret momentarily pausing, then to the 4th fret (momentarily pausing), then to the 5th fret.

Slide (sl.)
A slide is much like glissando (above), but there is no pause between starting point and destination.
1.) Place 2nd finger on 2nd fret of 3rd finger. Pluck note.
2.) Without releasing pressure on the string, move finger through the 3rd fret to the 4th fret (while string is sounding).

You will note that after the words, there are some letters in parenthesis. these letters are used in standard notation (note-heads, rests, etc.) and TAB, to express that this technique is being used.
Hammer-ons, pull-offs, glissando, and slides are notated inbetween notes.
Bends, vibrato, and trills are notated after the note they affect.
Taps are usually notated right on top of the note.

Creating licks
Recall, that a lick is a short melodic piece that is used in place of strumming or picking (June 7th) (of course another player could be strumming or picking). using the Pentatonic major and pentatonic minor scales (May 24th and June 7th respectively) and the techniques learned here, we can begin to understand some of the more cliche licks and how to make our own.

Let's start with hammer-ons and pull-offs with suspensions of a major chord.
1.) Play a D major chord (D=XX0232), then hammer-on to the suspended 4th with pinky (1rst string 3rd fret). This new chord is a sus4 chord (major=1,3,5; sus4=1,4,5), and then pull-off back to the major chord.

3 3 3
2 2 2 = D-Dsus-D
0 0 0

* when sus is written by itself, it is assumed to be sus4.

2.) Play a D major chord and pull-off from the 3rd to the 2nd (1rst string, 2nd fret to open string), then hammer back to the 3rd. Middle chord is Dsus2 (major=1,3,5; sus2=1,2,5).

3 3 3
2 2 2 = D-Dsus2-D
0 0 0

3.) Take strings 4,3,2 of A-shape major chord (or G-shape), and D-shape (or C-shape) and hammer-on, pull-off between the two. This is basically the I-IV progression. If we consider th e3rd string the 1, then we can contemplate that the I-IV progression can be viewed as a suspension of the I chord (where I-IV = I-Isus4(6); I(6) would be a major chord whose 5th is suspended to the 6, and this is how one notates a suspension from the 5th as opposed to suspending from the 3rd). I bring this up merely to illustrate how things can often be viewed in more than one context. This example, I-Isus4(6) illustrating the concept of tonality as based on the progression I-I-I-I (where I-IV-I could be seen as I-Isus4(6)-I).

5 5 5 = C-F-C (C/G-F/A-C/G)

This is often heard in blues and rock, and can be viewed as a harmonized form of the blues shuffle.

Many common licks are versions of these 3in different rhythms and order of notes played.

Finger flanging (allowing fingers to create patterns by randomly hitting in the same frets).
4.) Assign 1rst finger to all strings two frets lower. Allow your fingers to go back and forth on these frets hammering-on when playing two notes ascending on the same string. Sing with what you play. You can hear an example of this at the beginning of a Led Zepplin song that start's "hey lady, got the love I need..." (sorry, I don't know the name), which has fingers on the 2nd and 4th frets (also uses open frets).
5.) Repeat ex.4 with 1rst and 2nd fingers (on adjacent frets), 1rst and 4th fingers (two frets between fingers). Get a feel/ear for this sort of thing by practicing.

Sliding between scale tones.
6.) Given the following pattern (Pentatonic minor E-shape)


Try hitting the 4 (on the 3rd string) with 3rd finger, then slide it up to the 5, hit the b7 (with the 2nd finger, 2nd string), then hit the 5 again and slide down to the 4, pull-off to the b3 and hammer-on to the 1 (3rd finger, 4th string). This is a common blues lick, and implies the "blues scale" (blues scale = 1,b3,4,b5,5,b7) as it slides between the 4 and the 5.

* Experiment with sliding, hammer-ons, pull-offs, trilling, glisando between any two notes on the same string of above pattern (or any scale or arpeggio pattern).

7.) Using the same pattern as #6, place 3rd finger on 4 (3rd string), bend up to the 5, then play 5,1 of 2nd and 1rst strings respectively; bend back down to 4, pull-off to b3 (then play 1 on 4th string).

8.) Consider the above instead as Pentatonic major (G-shape), we get:


Playing with the same area and bend. Play 2 on the 3rd string (with 3rd finger), bend up to 3, then hit the 5and 1 (of 2nd and 1rst strings respectively), then release bend back to to 2 and pull-off to 1. This is commonly heard in country music.

9.) Using the same pattern as for #8. Play 1 on 6th string w/ pinky. Play 2 on 5th string (1rst finger), hammer-on to #2/b3 with 2nd finger (5th string still), then hammer-on to 3 w/ 3rd finger (5th string). Play 5 on 4th string (1rst finger), hammer-on to #5/b6 (with 2nd finger), then hammer-on to 6 with 3rd finger. Then hit 1 on 3rd string (1rst finger). You can reverse the whole thing using pull-offs in place of hammer-ons. this type of run is often heard in bluegrass music. I thank my teacher Andrew McKnight, who for the last 2-3 years has been passing on various bluegrass/americana traditions that are usually passed down generationally within a family rather than a teacher-student type of apostleship. This particular exercise (#9) comes from his lessons on bluesgrassy types of sounds.

* Typically, bluegrass music is played in open positions (with capos if necessary). try plotting out the pentatonic major open in the 5 positions (E-shape, D-shape, C-shape, A-shape, and G-shape) and in F (1rst position- E-shape).

Well, these are ideas for commonly heard (cliche) things. When making your own, consider the following: (these are rough guidelines)

1.) Palette selection:
Which notes do you choose? Pentatonic? Diatonic? Modal? Chromatic? Chord-scale? While this may seem like the most trivial part, consider what it would mean to hammer-on, pull-off, slide, tap, etc. from nothing to nothing.

2.) Note selection/angularity:
Does your lick/riff/etc. go straight from 1rst note to the target note? Does it go beyond target and then back to it? Does it go in the opposite direction from target before going to it? Does it oscillate in directions before reaching target?

3.) Motion:
If there is more than one melody note going on, is the lick/pattern/etc. in parallel motion (going in the same direction at the same time)? Contrary motion (going in opposite directions, one ascending, one descending in pitch)? or is it oblique motion (making its own pattern with little to no regard of other melodies)?

4.) Finger Pressure:
How much pressure does your finger produce on the fretboard? Makes a lot of difference in sound, especially in bending and vibrato. Much of B.B.King's technique comes out of his finger pressure. It's the sort of thing you need to grow an ear for. You may understand that you like B.B.'s sound but not be able to figure out why when you play the same notes in the same rhythm with the same expensive equiptment, it doesn't sound the same.

5.) Attack and sustain:
Ditto. But with the other hand. The angle of the pick, the intensity of hitting the strings with the pick (the attack), whether you're using a pick or your fingers (or a magnet with an electric), etc. all has an effect on the sound produced.
As does the decay/sustain. Do you let the note ring? Or do you dampen them afterwards? Are you using free-strokes or rest-strokes? Are you muting the strings (left or right hand)? Do you have anything lodged in the strings (say pickups or paperclips near the bridge, yeah- I've seen that done). All this affects the tone.

6.) Dynamics:(melodic, rhythmic, tempo, group)
After you choose the notes, there is the choice of how to phrase what you're saying. How loud are you playing? Does your lick/solo/etc. stay at one level or rise and fall to accentuate one part or make another more subtle? How does this compare with others you're playing with? If you're playing alone, how do the bass notes/melody/chords balance out? How fast are you playing? As compared to others you're playing with? Miles Davis Once said about soloing (paraphrased) " When they play fast, you play slow. When they slow down, you play fast." That's a jazz thing. It's common in jazz to "trade 4's". One person solos for 4 bars, and the other people step back (musically) and let him make his statement, and then someone else gets 4. Often people feed off what the others are saying. jazz is very conversational. How is your phrasing? Staccato? Portato? Legato? Portamento? Mixed (ex. 2 notes legato , 2 notes staccato, repeat)? Have you considered tension and release?

7.) Thematic statements:
Does your lick/fill/solo/etc. make a statement or are you just noodling? There have been many times where I was soloing and had nothing to say but had to solo anyways. people can be very impressed with mindless "inside" playing. Personally, I consider those moments to be the musical equivalent to farting. I prefer to make strong thematic melodic statements. It doesn't always happen. That's ok.I would appeal to you to say something with your music, even if it's only one note. Make the best (most appropriate) statement you can.

8.) Find your voice and express it.
Isn't this really why you picked up the guitar? Try mimicing other people's voices, and see if you identify with any of them. Tape yourself singing your solo. Try to capture every nuance of your singing: notes, rhythm, inflection, phrasing, etc. Many beginners do not know what their voice is, and often as not, it's a matter of chipping away to reveal what's underneath. Try to learn everything musically that resonates with your soul. AVOID like the plauge that which seems dull/lame. GIGO (garbage in, garbage out); however, try and expose yourself to as much as possible. Having learned only one type of music or scale, you will be at a vast disadvantage when confronted with a signicantly different situation.

9.) Find your instruments voice and let it speak through you:
Play with capos. Play with weird chords. Play in strange open positions. Experiment all over the neck. Be open to sweet spots on the guitar, and allow the tuning to speak through you. Switch tunings, and don't try to remap the tuning, but rather play it as if it were standard, and enjoy the happy accidents. Try tuning to DADGAD and play stuff in D-shape (exercises 1 and 2 above). All the sudden, old things seem fun again. Allow the guitar to speak through you.

These are rough guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Your mileage may vary. There are many more examples. This is just an intro on some left-hand techniques. Enjoy.

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

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Last updated January 1, 2003
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