The hammer-on is usually one of the first techniques an ‘ukulele player will learn to incorporate into their lead playing. It’s an upwards transition between two notes and can help to get you from one place on the fretboard to another smoothly. A hammer-on can allow you to play fast note patterns that would otherwise be difficult to pick as individual notes. The best part about this technique is: it’s easy!
How to Play a Hammer-on:
The Gist: To play a hammer-on, simply pick a note and then, on the same string, ram another finger onto a note above it.
While you pick the first note normally, the second note of a hammer-on is NOT picked. Its energy is carried over from the first note – or “re-attacked” by the hammering finger. This is why it’s called a “hammer-on” and not a “pick twice.” The sharper and stronger your hammer onto the fret is, the more the second note will ring.
Flowchart: Pick, hammer.
Like most things, it’s best to just jump right in and begin trying the hammer-on technique right away on your ‘ukulele.
Start by placing your middle finger on the second fret of the bottom string. Pick that note. Like this:
Then, while the first note is still ringing, add your ring finger onto the third fret with gusto! Don’t pick this note.
If you did it right you will hear an almost-instant transition between the two notes. At first, the second note will probably sound a little – or a lot – weaker than the first, plucked note. With practice you can bring the power and projection of this note up by making your movements as efficient as possible. Make sure you are hammering in the middle of the fret or a little higher than middle (towards the bridge).
A hammer-on is shown as a lower-case “h” in tablature. Like this: 2h3. On a given string this would show that you pick on the 2nd fret and then hammer onto the 3rd fret.
I’ll also include fingering suggestions above the tab for these examples (I=index, M=middle, R=ring, P=pinky).
.....IhM..IhR..IhR.. A |--2h3-------5h7--| E |-------3h5-------| C |-----------------| G |-----------------|
Practice those one at a time repeatedly until you can get a clear sound. Those fret and fingering combinations can and should also be practiced on the other strings.
Fingering a Hammer-On:
You’ve got to set yourself up and look ahead so that you can finger the notes of a hammer-on correctly. No pinky fingers please! Always be sure to fret the first, lower note in the hammer-on with one of the lower fingers of your hand – index, middle, or ring. The index and middle finger pair is the most powerful so it makes sense to start practicing with them. This would mean fretting the lower note with your index finger and hammering with your middle finger.
As you get better you can begin to work the hammer-on motion into more of your hand using the middle and ring finger pair and then finally the ring and pinky fingers pair. Of course, you don’t have to use neighboring fingers to play the hammer-on. If you’re jumping several frets you might want to skip one, or even two fingers (index/ring or index/pinky and middle/pinky).
Here are all of the hammer-on fingering possibilities:
Each will be useful in different situations so it’s best to practice with all of them eventually.
Advanced Hammer-On Techniques
As you get comfortable with a single hammer-on motion, you can add to it by hammering more than one note at a time. For instance, you could pick the first note here and then hammer once, then again, without a second or third pick.
.....IhMhP.. A |--2h3h5--| E |---------| C |---------| G |---------|
This is where you can really get speedy with your technique and picking flow. By using a plucked or hammered note, you can add interesting accents to your playing that would be difficult by simply altering your picking volume.
The Next Piece of the Puzzle
The alter ego of the hammer-on is a… wait for it…