24 October 2008

Hammer Ons And Alternating Bass Strum

This article shows how to add hammer-ons to your alternating bass strum while you play open guitar chords. The hammer-on is quite easy to do gives a nice sound that adds movement and life to your accompaniment pattern. It is often thought of more in the context of guitar solos but you can also add it to your chord playing to create richer rhythm backings.

A hammer-on is a fretting hand technique where you play two notes on a string while you pick it only once. You pick the first note (either fretted or an open string) and then "hammer" a finger down onto a higher fret to sound the second note.

An E Chord Exercise

To get you started we're going to use an exercise over an open E chord, like the one below.

e 0|---|---|---|
b 0|---|---|---|
g |-1-|---|---|
d |---|-3-|---|
a |---|-2-|---|
E 0|---|---|---|


First you must learn to hammer your second finger onto the 2nd fret of the 5th string. Make the chord shape on the neck of your guitar and practice lifting just your second finger off of the strings. This might take a little practice to do without removing the other fingers.

Now try to "hammer" your second finger onto its usual place on the second fret. Focus on putting the finger accurately into place, and when you can do this try to speed up the action.

You need to place the finger quickly and firmly to bring the string into contact with the fretboard. This doesn't mean you should try to poke a hole in the fretboard, though.

Alternating Bass Strum

Once you are comfortable hammering that fifth note you can work it into a four beat alternating bass strum.

  1. On beat one, play the root E note on the open 6th string.
  2. On beat two, strum the chord.
  3. Just before beat three, lift your second finger. Pick the fifth string on beat three, then hammer onto the 2nd fret to play the chord's 5th note.
  4. On beat four, strum the chord.

Repeat the whole pattern as slowly as it takes for you to get it right. As you become better at coordinating your finger movement you can work on gaining a little speed.

The lesson is coming to and end here, but before we finish let's recap briefly what you've learned.

  1. A hammer on is a fretting hand technique to play two notes with only one pick stroke.
  2. To make the second note sound you must be accurate in your hammer gesture.
  3. You learned how to hammer on a bass note in the open E major chord.
  4. You learned how to include the bass note hammer in an alternating bass strum pattern.

Have a go at playing it yourself and see what a nice bass accompaniment it makes. You can also try it out with some other open chords, too. I'd love to hear how you get on, you can leave a comment using the link below to tell me or ask any questions you have.

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