Left Hand Phrasing

There are four standard extensions to the left hand fretting.

I am well into hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides but for advice on bends and vibrato I must refer you to the copious material available in textbooks and instructional videos.

Hammer-ons and pull-offs

This is a favorite not only with the jazz-crowd but also with the shredders because in addition to providing you with a light touch and delicate phrasing it allows you to play very, very fast. You effectively sound a note with your left hand, without using your right, by either hammering down your finger on the fretboard on a higher note or by pulling off a string to a lower note. In tablature notation notes that are connected with an arc, as in the example below, are played with the left hand only without the right (you pick the note the arc starts from but not the one it ends on, or the ones in between).


Slides provide an almost infinite number of ways to create interesting variations. Not only can they make a simple run sound good, they also make playing them much more fun! Consider the not-very-exciting example of repeating the same two notes, C and Bb, three times. You can play these two notes with your left hand shifting in and out of position, or you can keep shifting up, ending in a position four frets higher and one string lower, or you can keep shifting down, ending in a position four frets lower and one string higher. The various slides not only feel different, they sound different as well.

You can also use slides to avoid right hand picking, as with hammer-ons and pull-offs, when you are playing fast. This is most efficient in semitone intervals, and the resulting light legato-feel makes the run sound like it is easy to execute (and it should be if it is well thought out).

Finally, you can use slides to produce 'special effects', for example by picking each note while using only one of the left hand fingers without lifting it off the string.


I rarely do bends, and none of the examples on this site includes bends. It is an extremely common effect (I would say too common), particularly in blues music, where you increase the pitch by up to three semitones by pulling the string in a direction perpendicular to the neck and decrease the pitch correspondingly when you release it. It sounds great when it is done well, and it sounds absolutely awful when it is done badly. Poor technique makes the intonation go off in a very painful way, similar to a beginner violinist practicing. Bending also has an unfortunate ability to make your guitar go out of tune very quickly, particularly if it is fitted with a tremolo-system or new strings. If you want to persue string bending, make sure you dedicate some serious effort to getting it right. It is hard on the skin on your fingers so it is best to use a low-gauge set of strings (preferably 009s, at most 010s in the top) or tune down a heavier set by a semitone as Stevie Ray Vaughan did.


Metal heads couldn't live without vibrato but in jazz it is a relatively subtle effect. Nevertheless, it is very expressive even when used in moderation. It is usually applied to the sustained note at the end of a run and I have included it in a few examples. It is effectively a 'periodic shallow bend' that requires only a modest amount of pressure from your fingers. You should experiment with different types of vibrato since it can make a huge contribution to your personal sound and style.