Guitar Tricks


Here's an overview of the various tricks commonly used on electric guitar, like hammer-on, pull-off, slide, vibrato, bend/release, palm mute, harmonics, swells and more.



A hammer-on is a way of seamlessly connecting two notes and is used in 'legato' playing. The first note is fretted and picked, the second note is produced by hammering a different left hand finger on the same string one, two, three or four frets higher. For a good hammer-on the hammering finger has to come on the string with enough speed.



A pull-off is also a way of seamlessly connecting two notes and is also used in 'legato' style playing.


It is done by fretting a string on two frets at the same time and then picking the string. The finger on the highest fret slightly pulls down the string until the string pops from under the finger, so that the note fretted by the finger on the lowest fret is ringing.


Alternating hammer-ons and pull-offs very fast is called a 'thriller'.



A slide is done by picking a note and then sliding the finger that frets the note to another fret. A slide can be done in both directions. The musical term for the slide is 'glissando'.



Vibrato is an effect similar to that of a classical singer singing a long note. It's done by playing a note and subtly wiggling the finger that frets that note, so that the string glides up and down the fret slightly. On the electric guitar the best way to do it is to let the wiggling come from the wrist. This takes some time to master.

Tom Morello's guitar tricks
Tom Morello made some tricks involving the guitar's electronics popular.


Bend and Release Bending is one of the most expressive techniques on the guitar and a very important trick in rock and blues guitar playing.

Bending means that a ringing string is bent upwards gradually, using the left hand fingers, to a higher pitch. This can be a half tone (half bend), whole tone (full bend) or one-and-a-half tone (1 1/2 bend).


Release means that a bended string is allowed to come back to its original unbended position while the note is still ringing.


Another, less well-known trick is the pre-bend. This involves first bending the string, picking the note and then releasing the string so the pitch goes down. The result sound like the opposite of a normal bend. This can be heard in one of the solo's in the original recording (4m52s) of Hotel California (the Eagles).


Palm muting

Palm muting can give a very percussive effect and sounds very heavy when playing power chords. It can also be done on single note solo's. Listen to Al DiMeola to get an idea. It's done by placing the palm (the part of the hand palm right next to the wrist, to be more precise) right next to the bridge of the guitar while playing. For muted power chord riffs, try lifting the palm from the strings when playing accents.


Palm harmonic

This is a cool trick that can give your notes a nice squeel, especially when using distortion. A palm harmonic is an artificial harmonic which means that instead of playing an overtone (harmonic) on an open string, you're producing an overtone on a fretted note. The right hand palm slightly touches the string when you pick it, which produces the harmonic.


Pinched harmonic

Same as palm harmonic but in this trick the harmonic is produced by using the thumb and pick in one attack. This is called pinching.


Volume swell

A volume swell is done by playing a note or chord with the guitar's volume turned down. Right after picking, the volume is brought up again. This gives a swell-like sound, also called a fade-in.


Tremolo picking

Tremolo picking is done by playing single notes while alternate picking very fast. Listen to Dick Dale's Miserlou (Pulp Fiction theme) to get the idea.



Tapping is done by hammering notes on the fretboard using the right hand (picking hand). Tapping is a technique associated with the shred guitar style, rock and metal. It was made popular by Eddie van Halen in the late 70's.


When combined with left-hand hammer-ons, it's called two-handed tapping.


Sweep picking

Sweep picking is used as a trick but it's really a whole technique for both hands. It's done by playing the notes of a chord-shape in one picking attack, in one direction, over multiple strings. The difficult part is muting the strings in time with the fretting hand so that only one string at a time is ringing.


These are the most popular tricks used on guitar. If you'd like to check out more cool tricks, listen to Rage Against the Machine's guitar player Tom Morello.


Take care!


Eddie van Halen invented tapping and big hair
Eddie van Halen is presumed to have invented tapping and possibly also Big Hair.