10. Slurs-Hammers And Pulls


In classical music, slur is the term used for both the hammer-on (upward slur) and pull-off (downward slur).  The slur is the single most expressive articulation device in music (articulation refers to how a note is played), and all aspiring players should be handy with them.

The most important thing to remember about slurs is this: Unless otherwise notated, a slur is nothing more than a different way of playing THE VERY SAME musical phrase.  This means that in terms of time value, they are identical.

Example: musical phrase:


Here is the same example with slurs added:


Note that the lines time wise are the same; only the way the notes are played is different.


The hammer is generally the easier of the 2 types to execute. The first note is played with the right hand; the 2nd note is played with the left hand only, by ‘hammering’ the appropriate LH finger. Strive for a consistent attack; the hammered note should be about equal in volume to the played note. Inexperienced players usually get very little sound:


This is due to not enough pressure (‘hammer’).  Often, the attempted solution is to attack the note from far off the fretboard:


Even if this seems to work, it is wrong, because at faster tempos a fluid line won’t be possible. Instead, try for a stronger attack from a short distance. Staying on the fingertips and keeping the target of just behind the succeeding fret (see 43. 2 reasons to target just behind the fret) for more information. Staying with the target and making sure to keep on the fingertips will produce a good result:



Pull-offs are usually a bit more challenging to the inexperienced player. It might be very helpful to think of them as pull-downs instead. Here we play the first note, then pull to sound the second one, not playing it with the right hand.    The main difference between the hammer and pull is that BOTH left hand fingers must be in place for the 2nd note to be heard:

 There is a sense that the adjacent string must be avoided by pulling away from the guitar, but this is not so. The act of pulling down deadens the adjacent string, so the sounding of that string is a non-issue. Again, those not familiar may initially notice a seeming inability to hear the 2nd note:

 Remember that with the hammer, there is only one reason for the 2nd note being inaudible: insufficient pressure, likely caused by poor placement of the LH finger. With the pull-off, there are 2 distinct possible reasons for failure:

1.  pulling straight out from the fretboard instead of down, and

2. Not having the other LH finger in place for the pulled note to sound cleanly.

I strongly suggest at least a few minutes daily of slur exercises such as these

 Formal practice of slurs may seem boring, but essential for the aspiring player given their expressive value in music!

© 2012 Jim Greenfield