How to Play a Pull-Off on Guitar

Fingers on a guitar fret

Maja Dumat/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The pull-off is a technique guitarists use on a fretted string that is already ringing. By lightly "pulling" the string while removing the finger holding down the note, a new note can be played without re-picking the string. The pull-off is, in a way, the opposite of the hammer-on.

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What Sound Does a Pull-Off Provide?

When you pick a string, the pick striking the string creates an immediate staccato attack - by using a pull-off, you eliminate that attack. The overall effect of the pull-off provides a somewhat "slippery" sound.

How Often Are Pull-Offs Used?

Constantly. Although the frequency of use varies from guitarist to guitarist, chances are good that there's a pull-off of some kind in all your favorite guitar riffs and solos.

Why Use a Pull-Off?

There are several reasons why guitarists use the pull-off technique...

  • They create an interesting smooth, slippery sound
  • They allow you to play more notes more quickly
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How to Play a Pull-Off

pull off on guitar

Consider the above illustration. You're going to start executing the pull-off technique by putting your third AND first finger on the third string, on the frets illustrated above.

  • Play the string with your pick, then remove your third finger from the string.
  • As you do this, make a slight downwards tugging motion with your third finger. This should cause the note your first finger is fretting to ring out.
  • The first few times you try it, the string may stop ringing as you remove your finger.
  • Keep practicing the technique, and you'll get the hang of it.

If you're having trouble understanding what a pull-off should sound like, be sure to listen to the audio clip of the above example, played several different ways (MP3).

Once you've conquered the above, it's important to challenge yourself a little more, and try playing things that combine multiple hammer-ons and pull-offs. One of the best ways to do this is to try playing scales - ascending with hammer-ons and descending with pull-offs. Listen to an audio clip of the A blues scale being performed in this manner (MP3), and try to play it in a similar fashion.

Things to try:

  • Hammering onto a note, then pulling off to the original note. Repeat this as long as possible, without re-picking the string. Doing this repetitively and quickly is referred to as a "trill"
  • Play the descending version of every scale you know using the pull-off techniques. Start by playing the ascending version of the scale normally. When you get to the top note in the scale, re-pick the note and pull-off to the previous note on that string. The intent is to only pick each string once - all remaining notes on the string should be sounded via pull-off.
  • Try not to get frustrated. Pay attention to detail - like using your fingertips on the frets instead of the pads of your fingers.
  • Try hammer-ons and pull-offs whenever you play guitar. Most songs that include single notes use these techniques.
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More Resources for Learning Pull-Offs

Detailed Lesson by Jim Bowley - Jim walks you through playing pull-offs in multiple ways, including multiple-fret pull-offs, pull-offs to open strings, and more.

Pull-Off Technique for Beginner Guitarists - This is quick and easy, and provides a more visual illustration of the techniques outlined here