You don’t have to be fast to be a great guitarist. But it’s nice to sound fast when you need to.
Like a magician, you can use fretboard smoke and mirrors—namely hammer-ons and pull-offs—to speed up riffs and runs. Besides, licks usually sound more natural with tasty hammers and pulls thrown in.
Test drive this fretboard sleight-of-hand in EXAMPLE 1. First, ignore the slur markings and pick every note of this melodic downward spiral. Chances are—with all those inconvenient string jumps—you’ll have a hard time getting this lick out of second gear.
Now, hammer every third note as written. You’ll soon be driving this riff in the fast lane. (If you’re weak of pinkie, a touch of compression and/or distortion will help your 4th-finger hammers sound stronger.)
Have you ever been stumped by vicious blues fills from players like Albert Collins, Billy Gibbons or Stevie Ray Vaughan? EXAMPLE 2 shows you how they might hotrod a blues run with clever hammers and pulls. These burning triplets will lay rubber on any sixteenth-note shuffle. Or play them as eighth-note triplets and floor ’em over a fast blues.
EXAMPLE 3 works great in stadiums. Use this showoff gesture to create ascending chordal fireworks during a Steve Vai– or Randy Rhoads–inspired cadenza. To get the mechanics down, loop the first six notes a few times, then apply the same hammer, pull, and picked-note attack to the rest of EXAMPLE 2’s rising chords as written. You’ll quickly achieve escape velocity.