Pulling Off Pull-Offs

June 17, 2015

 

Pull offs are such an important part of every guitarist’s technique. It’s tough to name any player who doesn’t include them as one of their main go-tos. I have found, however, that a lot of people tend to make pull offs a little too hard on themselves when they’re first trying to learn. For as common as they are, they are extremely misunderstood, and I’m sure everyone remembers, or is currently going through, a phase where they’re a real struggle.

Here are a few points that I always try to help people with when they’re either learning about pull offs, or trying to refine or clean them up a bit.

Pull Offs Are Not Just Backwards Hammer Ons:

The most common thing I see people getting confused on is how they actually try to execute a pull off. Most people start off by picking a note, and then just releasing their finger upwards to pull off to a second note. I can see why most people start this way, in fact that’s how I started too, but there’s a much better way that’s going to get you a much cleaner and snappier sound, as well as make it easier to keep the volume consistent between the two notes.

I think one of the biggest reasons for this is common mistake is how poorly the pull off is named. If it had been up to me, I might have called it a pull down. Rather than just releasing your finger upward, try to actually pull your finger down towards the floor. Imagine that your finger all of a sudden becomes a pick and make that same motion through the string that you normally would, just up on the fretboard. This feels a little weird at first, but once you get the hang of it, you should immediately hear a difference in clarity.

Muting is Your Best Friend:

Probably one of the biggest problems that comes from pull offs is the extra noise that the other strings can make. This either comes from sympathetic vibration, or your finger accidentally brushing across another string. This is an even bigger problem once you start distorting your guitar, because that unwanted mush is getting driven as well. Cleaning up your pull offs with slow, deliberate practice can definitely help with this, but most guitar players like to get a little extra help by using muting techniques to stop any other unwanted string vibration.The most common way to do this is by stretching your index finger over all of the strings, almost as if you were going to do a barre chord, but pressing down just hard enough to stop the strings from vibrating, but not hard enough to actually fret them. This also feels pretty weird, but again, once you get it down can make an enormous difference. There are other great muting techniques out there using the right hand if you want to look into them, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll start with just this one (you can email me if you want some more info as well).


Don’t Forget to Practice at a Moderate/Medium Tempo:

Just like anything else, it’s very important to start at a nice and slow speed to really burn the technique into your noggin. What people will find though is that after they start to get the feel of it all down, they can start doing pull offs in really quick bursts with big and fluid motions. This is a big reason why legato techniques are great in general, because it’s a little bit easier to get some good speed going since you don’t have to coordinate with your right hand. However, playing some pull offs at a speed right in the middle of your slow and steady practice and your speed bursts can actually be the hardest speed of all. Trying to play at a moderate tempo poses a serious challenge, because it’s faster than your slow practice speed, but requires a lot of control to not turn the whole thing into a burst. When you do speed bursts, the control isn’t really important, but being able to play faster than normal, while still holding back the reigns is crucial to getting a very tight and rhythmically even legato.

Any other questions or concerns you’ve come across while practicing your pull offs? Shoot me an email at the address below! Want more practicing ideas? Make sure to stick around for blog posts from Falls Music School every week by subscribing to our newsletter here.

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Happy Practicing!

Mike Lowden
Guitar Instructor, Co-Owner
mikelowden@fallsmusicschool.com

 

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