It is often said that the guitar is easy to learn, but difficult to master. This of course assumes that it’s possible to master the guitar. Even musicians who’ve been playing for decades continue to discover and develop new advanced techniques – most would not consider themselves masters. Whether mastery of the guitar is possible or not, these two advanced guitar techniques are gateways to more expressive, exciting, and technical guitar playing.
Hammer-ons and Pull-offs
We’ll start with hammer-ons and pull-offs. You’ve likely already experimented with these techniques if you’ve played a lot of scales. A hammer-on is performed by playing a note on the guitar (for example an open D string) and quickly producing a higher note by applying pressure to a higher fret without playing the string again.
A pull-off is the opposite. You play a note on the guitar (for example, an A note produced by playing the D string at the seventh fret) and quickly descend to a lower note by releasing the finger on the original fret while not playing the string again. Hammer-ons transition to a higher note; pull-offs transition to a lower note.
A combination of hammer-ons and pull-offs can be used to produce the flurry of notes (sometimes called shredding) heard on more technical guitar solos. Try playing scales with a combination of hammer-ons and pull-offs and see how much faster you can play them.
If you play both acoustic and electric guitars, you’ll probably notice that there’s an audible difference between how cleanly you can perform hammer-ons and pull-offs depending on the type of guitar you’re playing. Electric guitars tend to sustain notes much longer than acoustic guitars. You’ll find that under the right amplification settings, you can play entire scales with nothing but hammer-ons and pull-offs, while on an acoustic guitar, you can only play two to three notes before the notes dwindle to silence. This is one of the reasons guitar solos are typically played on an electric guitar.
Many beginning guitar players find that their musical world opens up significantly when they learn how to form chords on all parts of the fretboard. Chord variations are quite simple to do, but they require a bit of thought before you can perform them.
Let’s examine the C chord. It is a combination of C, E, and G notes. Many guitar players only know how to play the common C chord at the base of the fret board. There are actually several way to produce a C chord – using all parts of the fretboard. Try this simple variation to produce an alternative C chord:
- Apply pressure to the B string at the 8th fret with your index finger. This produces a G note.
- Apply pressure to the G string at the 9th fret with your middle finger. This produces an E note.
- Apply pressure to the D string at the 10th fret with your ring finger. This produces a C note.
- Play the guitar strings from the D string to the B string.
This simple variation on the standard C chord produces a distinct tone. If you ever get a chance to play with another guitar player, try playing this variation while the other guitarist plays a standard C chord. You’ll hear a pleasant harmony between the lower C tones and the higher C tones.
Try experimenting with different variations of your favorite chords. As long as your variation uses all of the chord’s notes, the result will be a correctly-formed chord – with a noticeably different voicing.