What | How | When ? – the magic of HAMMER ONS (Guitar Techniques Tutorial)

Jan 27, 2024 | Learning Guitar, Online Guitar Lessons | 0 comments

There are many different guitar techniques that can really embellish your playing.  Hammer ons are one of the most common and can be attempted by beginners.

You can make Hammer ons as simple or as complicated as you wish but one thing is certain they will push your playing to sound much more sophisticated and create a rhythmic aspect to your skill set that will open up many options. 

Diving into the exciting, rhythmic world of hammer-ons. If you’re looking to add some flair and dynamics to your playing, here we go!

1) What is a Hammer on?

It’s a method of  moving from a lower note to a higher note with the fretting hand.  A guitar technique where you use your fretting hand to produce a second note without picking the string. This action causes the tapped note to sound, creating a smoother, connected second note, a form of legato. The finger tapping on to the second note creates a softer percussive sound than if it were picked.

They can add speed, fluidity, and expression to your playing.


2) How to play a Hammer on?

The two main ways to hammer on are: 

  • Open string to fretted note
  • Fretted note to fretted note


Firstly, to play an open string to a fretted note hammer-on, follow these steps:


  • Pick an open string. We’ll use the D string. Play the note with your pick or fingers. 
  • As the note rings out, use the index finger on your fretting hand to forcibly tap down onto a fret, today we’ll use fret 2. Hold that finger down so you can hear the second note ringing out. 


Secondly, playing a fretted note to a fretted note: 

  • Start by fretting a note on a string using your fretting hand. Place your finger on the desired fret.  We’ll use D string Fret 3. Pick this note.
  • Keep your finger pressed down on the string so the note continues to ring out.
  • Now use another finger on your fretting hand (eg 3rd/ring finger) to forcefully tap down on a higher fret. The tap should be strong enough to make the string vibrate and produce a clear sound. We’ll tap down onto fret 5 (D string). 
  • The tapped note should sound out smoothly and seamlessly.


3) When to play a Hammer on

They can be used to create flourishes in melodies, add embellishments to chords, or even create fast and intricate runs in solos. The possibilities are endless.

Here are a few examples:

  • Scales
  • Melodies
  • Chord embellishments
  • Riffs
  • Solos/improvisation

The legato / smooth sound that the Hammer on produces really changes the feel of a line.  They contribute towards the drive, momentum and movement of music. How quick it can be played. The bounce that can be added to a riff or solo phrase.


4) Exercises

Here are 2 exercises so you can practise putting Hammer ons into different aspects of your playing:

  • Scales

Using the E Minor Pentatonic Scale (open position).



  • Play the scale first, picking every note separately. Listen out for the sound you get from each note being played with a pick (or your fingers).
  • Now play the scale using Hammer ons.  Using the same method as described above when playing open string to fretted note. Listen for the softer sound as you tap your finger onto the string to produce the fretted notes.

Use this as a practice method when you’re playing scales to get used to the sound and the different feel.  It will help build your coordination, accuracy and ear. 

  • Chords

Using the C chord


  • Fret the chord & strum it downward with all fingers pressed down.  Listen to the sound as the strings ring out. 
  • To apply the Hammer on – lift your middle finger off the string so it hovers above D string, fret 2. (keep your other fingers where they would be for the C chord). Now strum the strings downward with your strumming hand. With the strings ringing out Hammer your middle finger down onto fret 2 of the D string. Listen to the sound of how the Hammer on changes the rhythmic feel of the chord.
  • Experiment by Hammering on different fingers from the C chord.
  • Experiment by trying the method with different chords you know eg G D Am.

5) Common Mistakes: 

  • Pressure- you need enough pressure for the second note to sound out, otherwise you will get buzzing / mutes
  • Precision- tapping the optimum position in the fret will make sure you get a clear sound. Make sure your  fingers are next to the fret wire in the second half of the fret. . 
  • Part of finger- playing with a flattened finger can get in the way and hit more strings  than needed. Try and keep you finger rounded so only the end of the finger plays the string.
  • Timing- there are a variety of timings with hammer ons – equal speed, longer beat to shorter, shorter to longer, grace note to name but a few. It’s important to practise timing. I’d start with doing equal length notes and playing to a metronome in 4/4.

As with any technique, it takes time and repetition to perfect, or at least get a grasp of the movement aspect.  Use the exercises above to start you on your journey learning the basics of Hammer ons.   Once you have these to recall you will be able to expand on them by adding the technique into chord strumming patterns, ,melodic passages and solos as you learn. Just start to introduce them bit by bit until they become part of your guitar playing language. 





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