7 Tips for Playing Pull-offs Correctly on Guitar

When I started learning my first guitar phrasing techniques (vibrato, string bending, slides, hammer-ons and pull offs), the one that gave me most trouble was the pull off.

It took me some time to get my vibrato to sound nice, or my string bends to accurately reach the target note, but during the process of learning them what I had to do was pretty straightforward.

With pull-offs it felt like fighting a losing battle. I was applying more pressure, in the hope of getting the notes to sound, and the more pressure I applied, the less the pull offs were coming out.

Pull offs are indeed tricky, but with the following information, and enough practice, your pull offs will start sounding right and easier to play.

How to play a pull off on guitar

To execute a pull off you first play the note normally with a pick, then instead of playing the following note again with the pick, you pinch it with the left hand finger that played the first note.

Pull offs are played when the second note is of a lower pitch than the first. When the second note is higher in pitch, we use the pull off’s sister technique, the hammer on.

1. Proper Finger Placement

The foundation of a good pull-off starts with proper finger placement. Ensuring that your fingers are correctly positioned can make a significant difference in how your pull-offs sound and feel.

Play the notes with the tip of your finger rather than the flesh. Also, keep your fingers close to the fret. When your finger is close to the fret, it requires less force to get a clear note, and the string will vibrate more effectively when you pull off. This also reduces the amount of pressure needed and helps in achieving a cleaner sound.

Your thumb should act as a pivot, and provide the necessary support for your fingers to move efficiently. A good thumb position helps maintain balance and gives you better control over your pull-offs.

Remember, it’s not about pressing down with all your might but about placing your fingers in the right spot and using the right amount of pressure.

This is why I found it so hard to get pull offs right at first. I kept increasing force assuming that strength alone will do the trick.

While finger strength is an important aspect of executing pull offs correctly, applying too much of it will have a paradoxical effect.

2. Controlled Release

A pull-off is not just about removing your finger from the string; it’s about doing so in a controlled manner to ensure that the note rings out clearly.

The faster the movement you make while pinching the pull off, the better it will sound.

However this can be a bit tricky since that speed should not come at the expense of playing the notes in time.

Thus, while the instant when you’re pulling should be quick, you should also keep in mind the next tip.

3. Control the timing

In the pursuit of making the motion fast, many students use a rhythmic pattern like that in Ex. 1 even when they intend to play it like Ex. 2

pull offs

There’s nothing musically wrong with the first pattern, but if you use it in musical contexts where the second is required, your timing will be wrong.

Thus, when you practice pull offs, make sure you play them at the intended timing, not the one that comes most convenient to get the pull off to sound right.

4. Start with two notes

You can play a whole string of hammer ons and pull offs in succession (Ex. 1) however it’s important that you start practicing pull offs one at a time at first (Ex. 2).

When you feel comfortable playing the pull off on two notes in isolation, you can move to the trill, a series of hammer ons and pull offs on the same two notes.

5. Strength and Dexterity Exercises

As you can see, executing pull offs correctly takes more than having strong fingers.

That said, the more strength you have in your fingers and the more agile they are on the guitar, the easier your pull offs will feel.

Also, the less you have to worry about strength, the more you can focus on the other aspects of playing a pull off correctly.

Exercises involving trills, such as in the example above are great to build the right finger strength and dexterity to play hammer ons and pull offs.

Practice them on different areas of the fretboard, on different strings, and for an extended duration to get the best results.

6. Incorporate Pull-Offs into Musical Contexts

As with every guitar technique, you will really learn it when you put it into a musical context.

There are two ways you can do this:

  • Learn songs that use pull-offs. Find pieces of music that make use of pull-offs and practice them.
  • Create your own music. Write short licks or riffs that incorporate pull-offs.

7. Learn from mistakes

Some of your pull offs are going to sound wrong, especially in the earlier stages of learning them.

Rather than a source of frustration, this should be seen as an opportunity.

By analyzing what made these pull offs to sound wrong, you will gain insights on what you have to improve or adjust (ex. Finger placement, lack of or too much strength, timing etc.) to get your pull offs to sound right.

Such approach should apply to everything you play wrongly on the guitar. For beginners, mistakes tend to be a source of frustration. Intermediate guitar players realize that mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning process.

Advanced players however have an even more positive attitude towards mistakes. They use mistakes as indicators to inefficiencies in their technique which they can then correct and progress faster.


Pull-offs can be challenging, but with the right approach and enough practice, you can master this technique and incorporate it seamlessly into your guitar playing.

Focus on proper finger placement, controlled release, building strength and dexterity, using the correct timing and applying pull-offs in musical contexts.

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