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I'm wanting to improve my hammer-ons.  Any tips or exercises anyone can recommend?  Mine are not consistent, plus I'm playing with finger picks on the other hand, so the hammer-on weakness is really apparent.  I have one practice song dedicated to left hand only, meaning almost all hammer-ons, and a few pull-offs.  Like everything, it's probably just a matter of practice, but any tips or drills would be appreciated.    

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Parker, I think there is no trick here other than to practice.  You might try to devise some simple exercises to work on that will force you to repeat hammer-ons over and over. Work on all your fingers up and down the fretboard, from the lowest octaves to the highest.  Mike Casey's Hands-on Dulcimer: Developing Technique through Exercises and Study devotes Exercises 31-34 to hammer-ons. I am not sure you want to buy the book solely for those few pages, but if you are interested in developing better technique in general, you might consider it.

DT,

Oh, I was so hoping you or someone else would say to just do this little exercise five minutes every day for a week, and you too can sound like Doug Berch, but I guess it's not to be.  I'm going around thumping on table tops, my steering wheel while driving, and all sorts of things to try build a little "impact", especially with my ring finger and little finger while the others are down.  My ring finger seems stiff and largely ignores what my brain is telling it to do, but maybe it can be re-trained a little.  I haven't heard of the book and will check it out.  Thanks for replying; back to thumping....

Parker, deep down inside I think we all know the truth: our pinky and ring fingers really aren't strong enough and we ought to work on them.  I would think if you spent 5 minutes a day doing exercises to strengthen your fingers you would indeed see quick results.

I just ordered his book, so I'll see what he suggests for exercises.  My dulcimer instructor looks for places to use hammer-ons, and I've always thought that if I can pick the note, to save the hammer-ons for emergencies!  I've noticed that she (I think) pulls her hand back a little and uses a straighter finger, while I'm trying to come down on top of the string with my fingers bent like they normally are for chording.  I think she gets a little more "impact" that way.  With my ring or little finger, unless I raise my entire hand up a little to start, and then get a little hand motion into it, I just can't get enough ooomph to make much of a sound.  Index and middle fingers are much easier, which as you suggest, is probably common.

Parker, one fun little practice is to try playing made up tunes with your left hand only- no right hand at all!  Put your right hand behind your back or sit on it.     Make the notes sound only by hammering on your left hand fingers and pulling off notes too.  You can do little runs up and down on alternating strings.  Doing this for fun regularly can really improve your hammer on and pull off skills in short order.   try it, it's silly and it's fun!   

My instructor gave me a version of "The Cobbler's Jig" for left hand only, sometime last year, so I've pulled that out to practice.  I agree; it really does seem to help to have a purpose or desired pattern to follow to get the brain and fingers working together.  I did well enough with it last year to move on to something else, but I've since come to terms with the fact that I really need to spend more time with some of these fundamentals if I'm going to advance in my playing.  I''ll try some more things as you suggest.  The silly and fun part helps a lot! 

Dusty,

I got Mike Casey's book, and noticed that in the section on "slurs" where he describes the hammer-on techniques, that he refers to hammering a note after a previous note has been picked on that string.  "The first note is articulated with the right hand, and second and further notes are not articulated but are produced by snapping down or off with fingers of the left hand......"  I do a lot better with that technique, where the string is already in motion from a previous note. If I'm striking a note cold, I just don't get enough volume compared to what my right hand is producing with picks.  I asked the guy at the local guitar shop to show me how he does it, and he didn't get much sound either unless he's combining the hammer with a pull.  So in the pieces in which I'm trying to add the hammer-ons, I'm beginning to focus on picking that first note and hammering the following notes, and having a little better result. Thanks for the tip about the book.  I really like it.  


Dusty Turtle said:

Parker, I think there is no trick here other than to practice.  You might try to devise some simple exercises to work on that will force you to repeat hammer-ons over and over. Work on all your fingers up and down the fretboard, from the lowest octaves to the highest.  Mike Casey's Hands-on Dulcimer: Developing Technique through Exercises and Study devotes Exercises 31-34 to hammer-ons. I am not sure you want to buy the book solely for those few pages, but if you are interested in developing better technique in general, you might consider it.

I'm glad you like the book, Parker.  I don't do those exercises often enough, but it's nice to have some guidance when I want to work on technique.

 

I think you are right that it's really hard to get sufficient volume if you just hammer-on a string that was not already vibrating.  If you are amplified, it is much easier. If not, it might just be a matter of developing enough strength in your fingers to hit harder.

 

Good luck.

Hi Parker,  I agree with Strummalia.  There are just two things to notice that might slow you down unless you adjust.  1.)  I've played instruments that have the strings set too high to play good clean hammer ons.  Correcting this takes a  luthier.  It's rare but could be making life tough.   2.)  There is a place where you hammer ons on the string that is optimal.   Play the note far from the fret and then gradually move closer to the fret hammering the notes as you go.  You will find a perfect distance from the fret to hammer.  <hammer

Strumelia said:

Parker, one fun little practice is to try playing made up tunes with your left hand only- no right hand at all!  Put your right hand behind your back or sit on it.     Make the notes sound only by hammering on your left hand fingers and pulling off notes too.  You can do little runs up and down on alternating strings.  Doing this for fun regularly can really improve your hammer on and pull off skills in short order.   try it, it's silly and it's fun!   

Hi Dusty,

 

I continue to practice, and am slowly getting better.  My dulcimer is set up well, I'm pretty sure, so it's mostly me that needs the work!  What I'm finding is that I do better within the context of practicing/playing rather than doing only exercises.  Or at least it's more fun that way.  And as I learn the song better and can shift my attention back and forth more quickly between the music and the dulcimer, I do better in getting my fingers to that sweet spot on the strings that you mention.  I'm now getting to the point that I'm looking for places to use the hammer-ons instead of avoiding them, so this is beginning to pay off.  Oh, and one more discovery; just because I can play more loudly with finger picks, that doesn't mean I need to do so at all time, so backing off a little makes it easier to hear the hammer-ons and reminds me to think a little more about bringing a little more expression into my playing.  It's interesting the way all this fits together.

 

Dusty Collings saidi:

Hi Parker,  I agree with Strummalia.  There are just two things to notice that might slow you down unless you adjust.  1.)  I've played instruments that have the strings set too high to play good clean hammer ons.  Correcting this takes a  luthier.  It's rare but could be making life tough.   2.)  There is a place where you hammer ons on the string that is optimal.   Play the note far from the fret and then gradually move closer to the fret hammering the notes as you go.  You will find a perfect distance from the fret to hammer.  <hammer

Hey Parker,

I'm not playing a dulcimer yet (that's another story) but I do play a banjo and some guitar.  I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE hammer on's, slides, and pull offs.  I throw them into almost everything I do on banjo.  I also HATE HATE HATE boring exercises.  Nothing against them or anything, but I just learn better if I'm playing them in tunes rather than in a structured exercise.  Great advice has been given here already and I see that you are making great strides with it already.  


The only thing I would like to add is that you need to think outside the box with it.  What I mean by that is that there are really NO RULES about what you can and cannot do within the confines of the beat of the song.  I like playing hammer ons in a multitude of ways.  Just a simple hammer on can change the whole dynamic of a song based on how you use it.  SO MUCH FUN to experiment with.  

So I would just say practice it within the tunes you know and add them in here and there and change them up also.  Like using a hammer and holding it and then pulling off on the next beat, or doing all that within the same beat.  Just experiment and you will find that those things add such a huge dimension to your playing.  


That's the way it seems to me anyway!  I can't wait to be playing my dulcimer 

Hi Mandy,

I would probably benefit from more just "fooling around" as you describe.  My experience so far has been mostly looking for places where hammer-ons are more convenient and/or sound better than flat or finger-picking the string.  I'm spending a lot of time in Shelley Steven's O'Carolan book, and there are lots of places where hammers and pulls work well now that I'm getting a little more adept at using them.  As you suggest, it is a lot of fun now that the hammers are starting to work!
 

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