While the importance of a decent song to play on the guitar cannot be underestimated, the technique employed when playing it can totally determine how that song will sound.
Just playing the all the right notes in the right order at the right time is like music by numbers. Guitar playing is as much about variety as it is skill, and its important to get a feel for how certain notes can be played in the context of your song, even if its not by the book. Most of these types of techniques get labeled as “lead guitar techniques,” but the truth is that every guitarist should have these as part of their repertoire.
There isn’t one technique mentioned here that can’t be found in a rhythm part in a number of different songs. So these techniques should be mastered even if you only play rhythm guitar in a band.
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Hammer-ons and pull-offs are very similar techniques. If you want to play two or more notes on the same string, rather than fretting and picking each one individually, the guitarist literally sounds each note with their fretting hand and skips picking the note each time. The Hammer on comes into play when the note is higher up the string and the guitarist must fret the note with sufficient force to produce the appropriate note.
The opposite of this is pull-offs, which are used to move back to a lower note. Before doing a pull-off, the new note must already be fretted. The name is a misnomer, you don’t simply pull off the note, you actually pluck the string with the fretting hand as you pull your finger away in order to sound the note. Hammer ons and Pull-offs are best used when you have a fast sequence of notes all of which are close together.
Bending literally involves pushing a ringing string along a fret to change the pitch. A great bend will allow for easy movement between notes and uses changes in string tension to produce the sound. This movement through the micro-tones of two notes can be very effective in slow bends. You can also unbend a string back to the original note for the opposite effect. This is very popular technique with a lot of lead and rhythm riffs making use of it.
However, this technique can be difficult to learn. You need to pay attention to the pitch of the note while performing the bend. If you don’t hit it exactly, then the note will either sound flat or sharp depending on if you under or over bend the string. This can be a more frustrating technique to first learn, but it really makes a huge difference in your playing, and you will be very glad for the effort you put into it once you actually learn to bend the string properly.