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Fiddle Lesson in
Hammer-on's and Pull-off's

Add Excitement to Your Fiddle Tunes

Hammer-on's and pull-off's create activity and excitement in your fiddle playing. They allow unlimited creativity in making your own variations of tunes. When you start using hammer-on's and pull-off's, you get to experiment with them. Then, you decide which ones you like, based on the sound and the feel.

What You Will Learn

In this lesson you will learn the theory behind hammer-on's and pull-off's. You will discover "neighbor tones," or "neighbor notes," and "non-melody notes."

You will learn exactly how to do these moves in detail. As you go through the drills, you will begin doing the kind of pull-off's or hammer-on's you will do in actual tunes. Some of the drills enhance tunes already covered in Lesson One and the Free Sample Lesson. These examples will advance your mastery of tunes you may already be playing.

Finally, we will apply hammer-on's and pull-off's to Cripple Creek, the 4th tune in my book 43 Fiddle Tunes in Tab.

Almost every tune has a place for hammer-on's and pull-off's. There is nothing special about Ida Red, Bilem Cabbage Down or Cripple Creek. If you can absorb this concept and apply it to other tunes, you become a creative fiddler.

Adding Slurs

Cripple Creek is the first tune in the book that features a slur. This means that you change notes in the left hand while moving the bow in the same direction continuously.

It's very natural in Cripple Creek because it follows the melody line and preserves the shuffle at the same time.

In hammer-on's and pull-off's the slur may involve notes that are not part of the melody. That’s why I call them "non-melody" notes.

These notes are only one step away from the melody note, as a rule. They are called "neighbor" notes or "neighbor" tones for that reason. If the note is one step up it is called the "upper neighbor." The tone one step down is called the "lower neighbor."

When the neighbor tones are played instead of the melody note, they create tension because of the implied dissonance of the neighbor note and the melody note.

This creative use of neighbor notes has been used in serious Western music, (classical music), for centuries. In the classical music tradition the hammer-on’s are called "retardations." Pull-off’s are called "suspensions."

The Grassapelli wisdom says that classical music learned these melodic techniques from fiddlers.

The Tool Box of Drills for Hammer-on's and Pull-off's

The first drill for hammer-on's takes you from the open string to the first finger in one bow stroke. (See Figure 1.)

You are learning how to slur, too. There is no difference in the technique. Whether it is a simple melodic slur or a hammer-on depends entirely on the musical context. If you expect a melodic change precisely on the slur, it is not a hammer-on...most likely. If the slurred change comes as surprise, so to speak, then you are doing a hammer-on.

Hear this MP3 file. Download Figure 1.

For example, take the tune"Frere Jacques." The slur goes to the melody note later than expected. It’s a hammer-on. (See Figure 2.) The melody note can also be delayed by the pull-off, as we will see in Cripple Creek.

MP3 Download Figure 2.

Pull-off's and hammer-on's can also have the effect of anticipating the melody note. We will find an example of that in Ida Red--a little further on.

Continuing the drill, we have other hammer-on's that go from the first finger to the second, and from the second to the third finger. We will take up the hammer-on of the third to fourth finger next month in the lesson that is devoted entirely to fourth finger technique.

Pull-off's move in the opposite direction from hammer-on's. Start with the first finger on the string. While you move the bow in one direction, lift the finger and let the open string sound. (Figure 3.)

Just as in the hammer-on drills, we continue the combinations of adjacent fingers. There is a pull-off from the second to the third finger. And there is a pull-off from the third to the second finger.

MP3 Download Figure 3.

Apply These Techniques to Your Tunes

The first tune we will revisit is Bilem Cabbage Down. (Figure 4.) For the simple version of this tune get the tab chart Bilem Cabbage Down. Adding hammer-on's and pull-off's to this tune creates a lot of activity. You will see in Figure 4 that the second bar has a hammer-on from the second to the third finger, just like we did in the drill.

The fourth bar has a pull-off from the second to the first finger, also like the drill for pull-off's. (I hope you did these drills. They’re not a waste of time! ;-)>

MP3 Download Figure 4.

Another candidate for investment in hammer-on's and pull-off's is Ida Red. Refer to the Power Stroke lesson for the complete tab chart. The first bar in the figure is a pull-off in the first bar of the tune. The second is a hammer-on in the fourth bar.

MP3 Download Figure 5.

Cripple Creek

Below you will find the first three bars of Cripple Creek. There is one little difference from the chart in 43 Fiddle Tunes in Tab. Get the chart at Cripple Creek if you do not have the book. The third bar has a new type of hammer-on. This time we take the hammer-on technique to a new level. We will use a non-melody note to launch our hammer-on. It will look like this.

MP3 Download Figure 6.

In the B part we do a similar hammer-on.

MP3 Download Figure 7.

Generalizing this concept to your fiddle repertory is fun and creative. You can certainly make logical, powerful variations simply by adding some hammer-on's and pull-off's to your favorite tunes. This concludes the lesson in pull-off's and hammer-on's.

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