What is a Pull-Off?
A pull-off is the opposite of a hammer-on. An already-ringing note is released by the player's finger to play a lower note on the same string without plucking the string again.
For instance, a player plucks and plays a note on the 5th fret held with their third finger. While it is ringing, the player holds down the 3rd fret note on the same string with their first finger and releases the third finger on the 5th fret to allow the first finger note to ring.
Why Use Pull-Offs?
Just like the hammer-on, pull-offs give a slightly different quality to the note being played versus a common plucked note. They sound different, and using a pull-off is an artistic choice.
Also like hammer-ons, it gives a player's plucking hand a break from plucking. This can help with speed and allow playing more notes with less effort. Hammer-ons and pull-offs probably shouldn't be used to make up for not being able to keep up speed-wise. Instead, keep practicing! But, sometimes these techniques can lead to very unique phrases. Using these techniques is not necessarily cheating. Choose to use them because you want their sound, not because it's easier.
How to Execute a Good Pull-Off
A good-sounding pull-off is a little harder to make than a good-sounding hammer-on. Why? A hammer-on shortens the length of the string. That means the vibrating energy of the string gets concentrated into a smaller length of string. A pull-off, on the other hand, lengthens the string. The vibrating energy spreads out on the longer string and brings down the volume of the note dramatically.
For a pull-off you can compensate for this by slightly plucking the string with the releasing finger. That is, instead of simply lifting up your finger, flick it with a downward motion to add some vibrating energy back to the string. It takes some practice, but your pull-offs will sound so much better. With experience, you'll be able to control the volume (dynamics) of your pull-offs which can be used for added emphasis or a dramatic note.
Similar to the hammer-on, the player must be sure to press the second note down before realeasing the first note.
Another key to the pull-off is getting the finger clear of the string. If your finger lingers near the string too long, it may muffle or mute the string.
Can I Pull-Off Multiple Notes?
Yes! It takes some practice to keep the volume of the notes consistent, but you can pull-off 2, 3, or even 4 notes going to an open string.
Pull-Off Notation and Tab
Just like hammer-on notation, a pull-off uses a slur mark connecting two (or more) descending notes. A slur is an arced line. This is found in both musical notation and bass tab. In some notation the slur symbol has "P" or "PO" written above or below the arced line indicating a pull-off. More recently notation leaves off the "P" so it is not confused with another bass technique call "popping".
How to Practice Pull-Offs
The most common pull-offs are from the second or third finger pulling off to the first finger. Once again, practicing every combination of fingers will be useful and give you the most creative possibilities. On the exercise page for this lesson you'll find some example exercises and some basslines applying pull-offs.
Songs and Basslines with Pull-Offs
Be sure to practice songs applying pull-offs as well as applying them in your own creations. Pull-offs are not as common as hammer-ons, but they do occur. On the songs tab you'll find a few of my suggested songs.