By Jamie Andreas

September 24, 2021 minutes read

September 24

0 comments


pull-offs on guitar

Pull Offs Demonstrated

After you read about "Pull Offs On Guitar" you can see these concepts applied to playing "Over The Hills and Far Away". 

The Situation With

Pull Offs On Guitar

Pull offs on guitar are always a problem, especially for self-taught players. Here are the secrets you need to know - the "pulling finger" and the "receiving finger" both have to do their job!

The Problem with Pull Offs

The 2nd note of the pull off is weak and does not sound clearly, especially at high speeds. 

The other fingers tense up during the pull and become hard to control, missing the next note they need to play. 

The Solution For Pull Offs

 The "pulling finger" must really pull, not merely lift.

The "receiving finger" must actually push the string upward a bit, so that the string does not move when the pulling finger pulls. 

pull offs on guitar secrets

Pull Off Essential Facts

What is a Pull Off?

A pull-off is performed when a finger “pulls” the string in the direction of the floor, and then releases the string, exactly like pulling back a bow and shooting an arrow.


In shooting an arrow, the energy stored in the string by the pulling action is what propels the arrow forward. Likewise, the energy stored in the string by pulling it creates the string vibration that in turn produces the sound we hear.


Warning! Most guitar students do not actually pull the string, they merely lift the finger off the string. 

2 Types of Pull Offs

guitar nut holding string on pull off

Pull Off To An Open String: When we place a finger on a fret and pull the string so that the open (unfretted) string note sounds, we must, like pulling a bow, pull it far enough to create sufficient energy to produce a sound.

Notice that the nut (the white part up top on the head of the guitar with grooves through which the strings come down to the neck) holds the string firmly in place while you pull on it, in effect helping you to make the pulled note. If the string were allowed to move, energy would be lost and the sound would be weakened or not heard at all. 


Pull Off To A Fretted Note: This is the more common type of pull-off, and the more difficult. It is more difficult because we no longer have the nut helping us, we must use another finger to hold the string firmly, and cause it to resist moving due to the pulling action of the pulling finger.


There are 2 Finger Actions necessary to execute a pull off to a fretted note. 

  • 1
    The Pulling Finger     
  • 2
    The Receiving Finger

We will look at these 2 finger actions on a pull off to a fretted note first...

HEY - LOOK - I'M ONLY USING ONE HAND!

Pull-offs, like hammer-ons, are a way of creating a note without the right hand. Pull-offs demand more left hand exertion than notes created with two hands. They also require even more effort from the fingers than hammers.

The Pulling Finger

pull offs on guitar

The Receiving Finger

pull offs on guitar

THE PULLING FINGER: Must pull the string out of alignment with the receiving finger. 

THE RECEIVING FINGER: Must hold the string firmly in place so it cannot move when the pulling finger pulls.

The Action of the Pulling Finger To a Fretted Note

pull offs on guitar

The finger pulling the string must pull the string with enough force to move it out of the otherwise straight line it is in naturally. We must often modify the exact spot on the finger that contacts the finger from what it would be if the finger was not performing a pull-off. 


Because we are using more force on the string during the “pull”, we need a bit more finger surface to grab the string with

The Action of the Receiving Finger

pull offs on guitar

The receiving finger has the very important job of holding the string firmly in place, so that it does not move out of its straight line from the fret back to the nut. If it is allowed to move, the pulling finger cannot do its job because even though it may pull the string, it will not create the necessary tension in the string required to produce the note. 


In effect then, the receiving finger performs the same job that the nut performs when doing a pull to an open string: it secures the string firmly in place so that it does not move as tension is placed on the string. In order for the receiving finger to do its job, it must exert not only downward pressure on the string (toward the fingerboard), but must also exert “upward” pressure, in the direction of the ceiling. This important fact is often overlooked. So, in the pull-off to a fretted note, we have a “push-pull” action.

The Biggest Problem When Practicing Pull Offs
Sympathetic Tension

Sympathetic TensionEvery time you use a finger, the finger next to it tenses up. This is very bad, because it makes the tensed up finger unable to be controlled. This is the meaning of "sympathetic tension", it happens when a finger that is not being used tenses "in sympathy" with a finger that is being used. 


This happens to every  beginner, and is the reason many people fail at guitar. Sympathetic tension make playing scale passages difficult. It makes playing fast scales impossible. It happens  to a great extent when practicing pull offs because of the great amount of muscle power being used. 


There are 2 ways that sympathetic tension affects our fingers: Finger Squeeze & Finger Rise.  

The 2 Forms Of Sympathetic Tension

finger squeeze on guitar
finger rise on guitar left hand a bad habit


Finger Squeeze: Sympathetic Tension makes a finger squeeze against the finger next to it. In the picture to the left, you can see the 2nd finger squeezing against the first finger. This is happening simply because the first finger is pressing the string down. 

Finger Rise: Sympathetic Tension makes a finger rise up in the air, away from the string. This is obviously bad, since we need to keep our fingers close to the strings. The further our finger moves from the string, the longer it takes to bring it back to the string to play. This makes fast playing difficult or impossible. 

Learn more about Finger Squeeze & Finger Rise

 We must make sure that we keep sympathetic tension out of the fingers not being used. To do that we will use "the touching technique".

Minimizing Sympathetic Tension
The Touching Technique

pull off on guitar to open string

The Touching Technique: We will teach the inactive fingers to stay relaxed by keeping them lightly touching a string while the pulling finger and receiving finger are working. We will touch the inactive fingers lightly to the string adjacent to the string we are using for the pull off.  


Here you see finger 2 and 3 being made to touch the 5th string lightly as the pulling finger and receiving finger work to perform the pull off. 

Pull Off To A Fretted Note Foundation Exercise

Pull Offs To A Fretted Note Exercise Demonstrated

For every skill we need to teach our fingers on guitar, we must study the correct Foundation Exercises. Now that you know the correct mechanics of doing pull offs on guitar,  you need to practice the correct Foundation Exercises.

In this video you will see the touching technique being used to keep inactive fingers relaxed. The fingers not being used will be made to lightly touch an adjacent string while the pulling finger pulls.

 We have 3 objectives when doing this exercise:

Train the Pulling Finger to really pull, not merely lift.  

Train the Receiving Finger to hold the string firmly by pushing up as the pulling finger pulls. 

Train the fingers not being used to stay relaxed and not curl with tension and pull away from the strings. 

Here Are The Exercises For 

 Pull Offs To A Fretted Note On Guitar

directions below

pul off exercise for guitar
pull off guitar exercise
pull-off-guitar-exercise

Follow These Directions To Properly Practice

 Pull Offs To A Fretted Note On Guitar

Directions: Our primary goal at this point is to begin to train the fingers to apply the necessary force to the strings without at the same time allowing sympathetic tension to occur in the inactive fingers. If it does, we will be building in more problems than we are solving!


1. Place the inactive fingers lightly on string adjacent to pull-off (touching).
 
2. Place the active fingers lightly in position.

 
3. Play the string with right hand finger or a pick.

 
4. Pull the string slowly to the side with pulling finger, and push the string with the receiving finger, enough to keep the string in the same place as pressure is applied.

5.
Pose at the point of highest force, rotate attention and with Whole Body Awareness
, relax the entire body.

6. Release the string, and instantly relax the pulling finger. Relax the receiving
finger also, but keep enough firmness in the finger to keep the note fretted and sounding.

Common Mistakes When Performing

Pull-offs to a Fretted Note:

  1.  The pulling finger does not really pull, or does not pull with enough force. It merely lifts from the string, and no note results, or a note with no clear articulation results. 
  2. The receiving finger does not hold the string firmly in place, but allows the string to move when the pulling finger pulls, weakening the note, so it sounds only partially or not at all (often the result of the lack of upward “push” of the finger on the string).

Pull Off To An Open String  Foundation Exercise

Pull Offs To An Open String
Foundation Exercise

guitar nut holding string on pull off

Pull Off To An Open String: When we place a finger on a fret and pull the string so that the open (unfretted) string note sounds, we must, like pulling a bow, pull it far enough to create sufficient energy to produce a sound.

Pull Offs To An Open String  Essential Facts

When pulling off to an open string there is no receiving finger. The job of holding the string firmly in place is done by the nut. So, we only need to use the pulling finger, which will pull the string out of alignment from the nut.

In effect then, the receiving finger performs the same job that the nut performs when doing a pull to an open string: it secures the string firmly in place so that it does not move as tension is placed on the string. In order for the receiving finger to do its job,


It must exert not only downward pressure on the string (toward the fingerboard), but must also exert “upward” pressure, in the direction of the ceiling. This important fact is often overlooked. So, in the pull-off to a fretted note, we have a “push-pull” action.

 Position of the Pulling Finger When Pulling To An Open String: 

Often, we must modify the exact spot on the pulling finger that contacts the string from what it would be if the finger was not performing a pull-off. In general, because we are using more force on the string during the “pull”, we need a bit more finger surface to grab the string with. 

So, depending on the position of the rest of the hand while some fingers are doing a pull-off (for instance, the hand may be holding a chord while some fingers are angled and pulling a string), we may want to experiment with placing the finger on the string with a little bit more flesh on the string than usual.

Common Mistakes When Performing

Pull-offs To An Open String:

  1. The pulling finger does not really pull, but merely “lifts”, resulting in a weak sound, or no sound. 
  2. As the finger pulls, the other fingers are allowed to tense, squeeze, and rise. • The pulling finger is not placed on exactly the right spot to be able to grab enough of the string to pull. 
  3. At the moment of pulling the string, the entire arm or even entire body is allowed to tense. The breath may be held as well.

Here Are The Directions For Practicing

 Pull Offs To An Open String On Guitar

the  number 4
5
the number 6
the number 7

Place the inactive fingers, 1, 3, and 4 lightly on the 5th string.

With 2, do a finger flap 3 times on the string to be pulled. 

Do a No-Tempo String Push Down. 

 Play the string with a right hand finger or a pick. 

Pull the string slowly to the side. Watch the inactive fingers touching the adjacent string. They will want to tense; keep them relaxed. 

Pose at point of highest pressure applied to the string and rotate attention. With Whole Body Awareness, relax the entire body.

Release the string, and instantly relax the pulling finger.

Keep These Points In Mind When Practicing

 Pull Offs To An Open String On Guitar

the  number 4
5

Keep the whole body relaxed: Make sure your shoulders are relaxed. Make sure you do not hold your breath at any point. 

Make sure the finger is relaxed as it touches the strings: Do not tense the finger before it touches the string. The finger must be relaxed when it first touches the string. Then, the finger becomes firm as it pushes the string down. 

Keep the body relaxed as you pull:   There is a great tendency to hold the breath and tense various parts of the body as the finger pulls. Pay attention to your whole body and your breathing as the finger pulls.  

Stop! When You Pull:   Use no tempo practice on the pull. Stop dead at the moment when you are pulling the string - stop and hold the pull. Then, check your body, hand and arm for any tension you can let go of. 

Relax After The Pull: Make sure you release all tension from the finger after you pull. Even better, release the tension as you pull the string and let it go. 

More Exercises For Pull Offs To An Open String

pull offs on guitar
pull offs on guitar to open strings
pull offs on guitar
pull to open 4
pull offs on guitar
pull offs on gutiar

PULL OFFS IN ACTION

Over The Hills And Far Away

pull offs on guitar with over the hills and far away

No matter what style of music you play, sooner or later, you will need to do hammer ons and pull offs. Here is a good example, the classic Led Zeppelin song "Over The Hills & Far Away".

Here is the music, and in the video I give you exact instructions on how to handle the notes.  

pull offs on guitar over the hills and far away
hammers and pull offs on guitar course

Get the COMPLETE course on

"Hammers & Pulls For Guitar"

This essential training will give you Pro Level control of your fingers on Hammers & Pull Offs on guitar!

Additional Resources

Jamie Andreas

About the author

Jamie Andreas has one goal: to make sure that everyone who wants to learn guitar is successful. After her first 25 years of teaching, she wrote the world acclaimed method for guitar "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar". She put everything into this method that was essential for success on guitar.
Called "The Holy Grail" of guitar books, the Principles has enabled thousands of students who tried and failed to play guitar for years or even decades, to become real guitar players.



In 2012 Jamie was profiled in "Guitar Zero" (Penguin Press 2012), a study of how adults learn to play guitar. Jamie was interviewed along with some of the worlds leading guitarist/teachers, including jazz legend Pat Martino and Tom Morello ("Rage Against The Machine").

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