Have you ever heard a guitarist playing simple open chords while adding in melodies in what appears to be an almost effortless fashion?
Using slurs—hammer-on and pull-off embellishments—with basic chords is a great way to make otherwise vanilla guitar playing sound magical. In this lesson, we’ll learn five ways to do this, providing you with plenty of new ways in which to add amazing melodies to stock rhythms.
FIGURE 1 begins with hammer-ons that transform a C major chord into a tiny symphony. Begin with the classic open C major shape, but remove your 2nd finger, creating a Csus2 chord. Strum it, then hammer your 2nd finger down on the “and” of beat 1. Strum again, and then hammer your 4th finger down on the D string, creating a Csus4 chord. After that, build up your pull-off skills by running the line back down: pull off the 4th finger, then the middle finger, and resolve to a C major chord. Instant melody!
FIGURE 2 gets a little greasier, thanks to some blues-flavored ornaments built around an E major chord. The fingering in the first measure is simple—just grab the E chord and pull off or hammer onto the notes as indicated. The quick shift to the A/E chord can be accomplished by flopping your 3rd finger over to cover the 3rd (G) and 2nd (B) strings. In the second measure, use your 4th finger to fret both the 6th-string G and the 2nd-string D. Here, the picking is a little more demanding, as you’ll want to articulate each individual note.
Speaking of picking, single-note arpeggios can sound twice as delicate with just a bit of slurring. FIGURE 3 works its magic on a simple three-chord progression. Grab the full chord shapes on each change, allowing all notes to ring for as long as possible, and then carry out the appropriate hammer-ons and pull-offs.
FIGURE 4 demonstrates the possibilities of slurs with fingerpicked patterns. Don’t be thrown by the tricky F major chord in the third measure—fret the low F by wrapping your thumb around the guitar’s neck and use your 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers to grab the other notes.
These open-chord embellishments aren’t the sole province of blues and ballad players. Run FIGURE 5 through a bridge-position humbucking pickup and set your amp for high gain, and you’ve got some sweaty rock à la Aerosmith, AC/DC or Guns N’ Roses. The double-string hammer-ons and pull-offs can be difficult. Play them with either a pair of digits—preferably the 2nd and 3rd fingers—or with one finger, if you can keep it clean.