| This is the print version of Guitar
You won't see this message or any elements not part of the book's content when you print or preview this page.
Different Types of Guitars
Playing different guitars in a music shop is a great way of familiarising yourself with each model's unique qualities but don't forget to take off any objects that could scratch the guitar. A music salesman will let you try as many guitars as you like but may not be too happy about the little scratch your coat button left. Your choice of guitar will usually be based on the type of music you wish to play and the aesthetic appeal of the colour and design.
Acoustic Guitars[edit | edit source]
There are two types of acoustic guitar: namely, the steel-string acoustic guitar and the classical guitar. Steel-string acoustic guitars produce a metallic sound that is a distinctive component of a wide range of popular genres. Steel-string acoustic guitars are sometimes referred to as flat tops. The word top refers to the face or front of the guitar, which is also called the table. Classical guitars have a wider neck than steel-string guitars and are strung with nylon strings. They are primarily associated with the playing of the solo classical guitar repertoire. Classical guitars are sometimes referred to as Spanish guitars in recognition of their country of origin.
The acoustic guitar lends itself to a variety of tasks and roles. Its portability and ease of use make it the ideal songwriter's tool. Its gentle harp-like arpeggios and rhythmic chordal strumming has always found favor in an ensemble. The acoustic guitar has a personal and intimate quality that is suited to small halls, churches, and private spaces. For larger venues some form of amplification is required. An acoustic guitar can be amplified by placing a microphone in front of the sound hole or by installing a pickup. There are many entry-level acoustic guitar models that are manufactured to a high standard, and these are entirely suitable as a first guitar for a beginner.
Electric Guitars[edit | edit source]
Electric guitars are solid-bodied guitars that are designed to be plugged into an amplifier. The electric guitar when amplified produces a sound that is metallic with a lengthy decay. The shape of an electric guitar is not determined by the need for a deep resonating body and this had led to the development of contoured and thin bodied electric guitars. The two most popular designs are the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul.
Electric guitar strings are thinner than acoustic guitar strings and closer to the neck and therefore less force is needed to press them down. The ease with which you can bend strings, clear access to the twelfth position, the use of a whammy bar and the manipulation of pots and switches whilst playing has led to the development of a lead guitar style that is unique to the instrument. Fret-tapping is a guitar technique for creating chords and melody lines that are not possible using the standard technique of left-hand fretting and right-hand strumming. The sustain, sensitive pick-ups, low action and thin strings of the electric guitar make it an ideal instrument for fret-tapping.
Electro-acoustic Guitars[edit | edit source]
Electro-acoustic guitars are commonly referred to as semi-acoustic guitars. Electro-acoustic guitars have pickups that are specifically designed to reproduce the subtle nuances of the acoustic guitar timbre. Electro-acoustic pickups are designed to sound neutral with little alteration to the acoustic tone. The Ovation range of Electro-acoustic guitars have under-the-saddle piezo pickups and a synthetic bowl-back design. The synthetic bowl-back ensures a tough construction that stands up to the rigours of the road while offering less feedback at high volumes. Ovation were the first company to provide on-board Equalization and this is now a standard feature. The Taylor Electro-acoustic range uses the traditional all-wood construction and the necks of these guitars have a reputation for superb action and playability. Yamaha, Maton and many other companies manufacture Electro-acoustic guitars and the buyer is advised to test as many models and makes as they can while taking note of the unplugged and amplified sound.
Twelve-string Guitars[edit | edit source]
The twelve-string guitar is a simple variation of the normal six string design. Twelve-string guitars have six regular strings and a second set of thinner strings. Each string of the second set corresponds to the note of its regular string counterpart. The strings form pairs and therefore you play a twelve-string guitar in the same manner as you would a standard six-string.
Twelve-string guitars produce a brighter and more jangly tone than six-string guitars. They are used by guitarists for chord progressions that require thickening. The twelve-string is mainly used as a rhythm instrument due to the extra effort involved in playing lead guitar using paired strings. Twelve-string guitars have twelve tuning pegs and double truss rods and are slightly more expensive than their corresponding six-string version.
Archtop Guitars[edit | edit source]
The archtop is a hollow or semi-hollow steel-string acoustic or electric guitar. The carved top, combined with violin-style f-holes and internal sound-block, creates a timbre that is acoustic and mellow. These two factors have made archtops a firm favourite with jazz guitarists.
Acoustic and electric archtops are identical in design with the only difference being the addition of electro-magnetic pickups and pots. Archtops can either be full-bodied or thinline. The full-bodied archtop retains good volume and acoustic resonance when played unplugged, though feedback may be an issue when amplified. The thinline body minimizes feedback by sacrificing acoustic volume and resonance.
The archtop is one of the most aesthetically pleasing guitar designs, and makers usually adhere to very high standards of construction and playability. These factors ensure its continuing popularity with guitarists.
Steel Guitars[edit | edit source]
The steel guitar is unusual in that it is played horizontally across the player's lap. The steel guitar originates from Hawaii where local musicians, newly introduced to the European guitar, developed a style of playing involving alternative tunings and the use of a slide. The Hawaiian guitarists found that by laying the guitar flat across the lap they could better control the slide. In response to this new playing style some Hawaiian steel guitars were constructed with a small rectangular body which made them more suitable for laying across the lap.There are two types of steel guitar played with a steel, the solid metal bar from which the guitar takes its name, namely the lap steel guitar and the pedal steel guitar with its extra necks. The pedal steel guitar comes on its own stand with a mechanical approach similar to the harp. Pedals and knee-levers are used to alter the pitch of the strings whilst playing thereby extending the fluency of the glissandi technique.
Touch Guitars[edit | edit source]
The first Touch Guitar Invention started in 1959 with the filing of patent #2,989,884 issued in 1961 as the first touch tapping instrument which could be played on two separated necks Simultaneously by muting the strings at the distal end of the neck along with numerous other claims. Until 1974 it was known as the DuoLectar and with a new patent "the "Electronic Mute" has been known as the "Touch Guitar. It is held in the normal way over the shoulder and design with the left hand playing the lower bass neck in a traditional way and the right hand playing over the top on a neck which has a wider string spacing allowing the hand to be used in both vertical and horizontal angles to the strings. It is absolutely off at all times, until Touched or picked.
Resonator Guitars[edit | edit source]
Resonator guitars are distinctive for not having a regular sound hole instead they have a large circular perforated cover plate which conceals a resonator cone. The cone is made from spun aluminum and resembles a loudspeaker. The bridge is connected to either the center or edge of the cone by an aluminum spring called the spider. The vibrations from the spider are projected by the cone through the perforated cover plate. The most common resonator guitars have a single cone although the original model patented in 1927 by John Dopyera had three and was called a tricone resophonic guitar. Resonator guitars are loud and bright. They are popular with blues and country guitarists and can be played with a slide or conventionally.
Some resonator guitars possess metal bodies and these are called steel guitars. This can lead to some confusion with the Hawaiian guitar of the same name. They are two distinct instruments. The Hawaiian steel guitar takes its name from the steel bar used to create the glissandi and the Resonator steel guitar refers to the material used for the construction of the body.
Bass Guitars[edit | edit source]
The bass guitar has a long neck (scale-length) and thick strings. The open strings of the bass guitar corresponds to the four lowest strings of the guitar and are pitched an octave lower. The standard bass has four strings though five and six string basses are available which extends the range of the instrument. Because the bass guitar is the bass instrument of the guitar family and the double-bass is the bass instrument of the orchestral string family, their similar roles have drawn bass players to both instruments.
Double-neck Guitars[edit | edit source]
The double-neck guitar is designed so that two guitar necks can share one body. This design allows the guitarist to switch between either neck with ease. The double-neck guitar will normally have a standard six-string neck and a twelve-string neck. Other combinations, such as a six-string neck and a fretless neck, are available. The double-neck guitar may be used in live situations when a guitarist needs a twelve-string guitar for the rhythm part and a six-string guitar for the solo break.
Anatomy of a Guitar
This chapter presents an overview of the different parts most commonly found on the three main types of guitar.
Overview of Components[edit | edit source]
|3 Tuning pegs|
|5 Truss rod|
|8 Neck joint/Heel|
|13 Pick guard|
|15 Sound board|
|17 Sound hole|
On Acoustics and Electrics[edit | edit source]
Body[edit | edit source]
The body of a guitar consists of a treble or upper bout (the half of the guitar closest to the neck), the bass or lower bout (the wider half of the guitar), and the waist bout (the narrow section between the treble and bass bouts).
The body is one of the most important factors in shaping the overall tone of a guitar. It provides the resonance that shapes the tonal qualities. It determines the volume of acoustic guitars and affects the sustain of electric guitars.
Resonance is affected by:
- the types of wood used
- whether the body is made from layered woods (ply) or single pieces
- whether the body is hollow or solid
- the shape and size of the body
The woods listed below are used in the construction of both acoustic and electric guitars.
Tone wood[edit | edit source]
- Agathis (also known as Commercial Grade Mahogany or Poor Man's Mahogany) is a tropical pine commonly found throughout south-east Asia. It is a plantation-wood used mainly for building cabinets. Agathis is cheap and usually used in the construction of budget guitars. Its tone is similar to mahogany but more bland sounding with a less complex response.
- Alder is a lightweight wood that provides a clean balanced tonal response and good resonance. Its soft and tight porous structure is similar to basswood but with a bolder hard grain pattern that adds to the stiffness making it more robust. Alder has a medium light tan color and provides a balanced tone across the frequency range with a slight upper mid-range producing a clean sound. Its resonance provides a good dynamic range.
- Ash has an open grain pattern which requires a lot of lacquer to seal and this can have a marked affect on the length of the sustain. Ash is typically used in mid-range priced guitars. Ash offers two varieties for guitar construction and they differ in tone:
- (1) Northern hard ash (also known as Baseball Bat Ash) is hard, heavy and dense. This gives it a bright tone and long sustain.
- (2) Swamp Ash (also known as Southern Soft Ash) comes from swamps in the Southern USA. Swamp Ash grows underwater which makes the wood lightweight and porous. Many Fender guitars from the 1950s were built with Swamp Ash. It has hard grain lines between its softer layers and a creamy light tan color with bold darker grain patterns. Its tonal qualities are a balance between brightness, warmth and dynamic range with clear bell-like highs, slightly scooped mids and strong lows. Swamp Ash has good resonance across the whole frequency spectrum and therefore can sound quite complex.
- Basswood is a lightweight (lighter than Alder) close-grained wood with a consistent and tight grain pattern. Its very soft with light colors that range from almost white to medium tan. It requires a hard finish, such as polyester, for protection and good engineering to allow the screws and screw-holes to hold the parts. The installation of a tremolo system on such a softwood also means the body needs to be thicker to prevent cracking. Tonally, basswood has a warm soft tone which attenuates both the high and extreme low frequencies. It also creates a pronounced midrange fundamental frequency response and a reduced smoother high-end response. The tonal response compared with other softwoods such as ash and alder is less complex with a narrower dynamic range. Basswood doesn't excel in clean sounds though when coupled with distortion and overdriven amplifier produces a metal-lead sound much favoured by some rock guitarists. It is used in the construction of budget guitars and expensive guitars.
- Cedar became popular in the mid-twentieth century after master luthier Jose Ramirez III of Madrid pioneered the use of red cedar as a substitute for the increasingly scarce European spruce. It is now considered one of the world's premier tone woods.
- Mahogany is a highly dense, heavy wood with a fine, open grain and large pores. The color is reddish brown. Tonally, it provides good low frequencies, a compressed mid-range and smooth sounding highs. Overall, its tone is mellow, soft and warm with a full and thick quality. Its density provides excellent sustain and also makes it less susceptible to dents and scratches. Its density and weight have led some manufacturers to experiment with a thinner body as seen on the Ibanez S series.
- Nato (also known as Eastern Mahogany) is a native wood from the Caribbean and South America. Nato is not a mahogany though its appearance and tonal similarities to mahogany has led to it being used on guitars as a mahogany substitute. It is also a commercial grade wood used in cabinet building. It has a bright tone with pronounced midrange but lacks in sensitivity and punch compared with mahogany. Nato is used by the manufacturer B.C. Rich for their Assassin range.
- Maple is used for the backs and sides of more expensive acoustics like the J200 series by Gibson. Though not generally used as a table for flat-topped instruments; it is the wood of choice for arched top guitars, mandolins, and the violin family of instruments. Its usually white in color with tight pores and thin grain lines. There are two main types of American maple:
- (1) Eastern Hard Maple (also known as Hard Rock Maple or Sugar Maple and usually associated with maple syrup) is an excellent tonewood. As named, it is very hard and dense with a medium weight which makes it difficult to work and therefore it is usually reserved for necks. When used for the body, it provides a bright sound with very strong highs and upper mid-range but quieter bass frequencies. Overall, hard maple has a very long sustain. Eastern hard maple can exhibit a figure (grain pattern) called the bird's eye whose aesthetic appeal has led to it being used for guitar tops and backs usually bookmatched.
- (2) Western Soft Maple (also known as Big Leaf Maple) is much lighter in weight than Hard Maple. It has a bright tone with good bite and attack though not as brittle as hard maple. Its tonal qualities produce singing highs with a tight low-end. This kind of maple is often seen with a figure called flame or curl and less commonly a figure called quilt.
- Rosewood is used for the backs and sides of acoustics and also for fingerboards. It possesses an extremely high density which makes for an acoustically reflective tone wood. Its color is dark brown with reddish, purple or orange streaks running through it. There are many varieties of rosewood that are suitable for guitar construction.
- Poplar is a wood used by manufacturers of budget guitars most notably Danelectro who use masonite (top and back) glued to a poplar frame (sides). Its a closed grain wood with a greyish-green color and similar to alder in weight and tone. Due to the resurgence of interest in budget guitars from the 1950s onwards some modern reissues that use poplar are relatively expensive.
- European Spruce is a premium tonewood used in the design of many stringed instruments including the violin, viola and lute. Increasing scarcity has resulted in the use of substitutes such as the North American species of spruce and red cedar.
- Walnut is a medium hard wood with a strong grain pattern. Its body has a constant density. Walnut is harder, heavier and more dense than mahogany and therefore closer to maple. Tonally, it is warmer than maple with a solid low-end. The mid-range is relatively complex and the high-end is smooth and bright. Due to its density it provides good sustain.
Body top[edit | edit source]
Some electric guitars have an extra top added to the body to blend the tonal qualities of different types of wood together. Maple with figuring is a popular top and produces a pronounced look and tone (adds brightness). Body tops are not used on acoustics since the layering of two pieces of wood for the table would inhibit the resonance and dull the tone.
Bridge[edit | edit source]
The bridge is found on the lower bout of the body and forms one one end of the vibrating length of the strings, the other end being the nut, which is located at the end of the fretboard. On most electric guitars, the height of the bridge is adjustable by screws, allowing the guitars action – distance that the strings sit above the frets – to be raised or lowered. On most electrics, the horizontal position of the bridge saddles is also screw-adjustable, allowing the guitar's intonation to be set by the user. These adjustments are discussed further in the Adjusting the Guitar section.
Depending on the guitar, the strings may terminate at the bridge or just pass over it.
The bridge of an acoustic consists of two parts: a saddle and the tie block. Saddles are either a piece of plastic or polished bone. Acoustic guitar saddles are made with a smooth top edge (no notches) and the base of the saddle is seated in a groove cut into the tie block. The wood tie block of a classical guitar is glued to the lower bout and acts as a string terminator. A classical guitar string is pushed through the hole in the tie block and the string is then brought back under itself three or four times and pulled tight to form a knot. Once the saddle is seated in the groove of the tie block the tension of the strings clamp it.
Steel string acoustics also have a saddle and tie block though due to the strings having terminating end balls there is no need to knot. The ball end of the string is thrust into a vertical hole in the tie block and secured with a pin. The position and height of the saddle and tie block on acoustics are set by the manufacturer, and usually do not require user adjustment. Adjustments to the height of the acoustic saddle are possible by shaving (lowering) the saddle though this job is best left to a luthier since if too much is taken off, a new saddle will required unless one resorts to the temporizing measure of shims.
The design of bridges varies between manufacturers and the above generic descriptions may not apply to some guitars.
Fretboard and Frets[edit | edit source]
The fretboard is a piece of wood that is glued to the front of the neck. These are commonly made of rosewood though other hard woods such as ebony may also be used. Embedded in the fretboard are a number of metal frets (fret-wire) usually numbering twenty one to twenty-four. Strings are pressed down behind a fret which changes the length that is left free to vibrate thereby producing a different note. A simple demonstration is to be found on the twelfth fret. On all guitars this is the fret that divides the string exactly in half and produces a note an octave higher than the open note. Any open string that maintains its original tension and is halved produces its octave. This applies to all stringed instruments including the piano and violin.
There are a variety of fret designs. Jumbo frets are higher and wider than normal frets and require less fretboard contact to sound a clear note. Medium frets are closer to the board and must be firmly in contact with the fretboard to sound a clear note. Some guitarist prefer jumbo frets due to the ease with which you can bend strings and the faster play offered by less fretboard contact. As with many design elements of the guitar this is a subjective area that is more personal preference rather than advantage. Good technique is not dependent on fret size
The first fret is the one nearest the nut. Some manufacturers place a zero fret immediately after the nut and the strings sit on the zero fret. This brings the sound of the open strings nearer to the quality of a fretted note.
A fretboard may have decorative inlays at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets which serve as markers for the positions of the guitar. Fretboard inlays can be highly decorative or simple shapes and on expensive guitars may be made from exotic material like mother of pearl or abalone.
Head[edit | edit source]
The headstock lies at the end of the guitar's neck. The purpose of the headstock is to support the tuners, which terminates the strings of the instrument. The tuners are attached to tuning pegs and this allows the guitarist to lower or raise the pitch of the string. A secondary purpose of the headstock is identification and many guitar manufacturers choose to use a distinctive headstock shape often in combination with the name of the model and a trademark logo. On some guitars the model name and trademark logo may be created using inlaid materials though decals are also commonly used.
Neck[edit | edit source]
The neck can be a single piece of wood or several pieces glued together and cut to shape. The fretboard is a separate piece of wood that is attached to the neck. Necks can be glued to the body (set neck) or bolted on. Set necks are usually found on acoustic guitars and many other instruments including the violin, lute and cello. The bolt-on neck is a design feature more commonly associated with electric guitars. Most necks are wood though alternative materials such as carbon fibre composites have been used.
Nuts[edit | edit source]
All strings pass through a nut at the headstock end of the fretboard. Its function is to maintain correct string spacing and alignment so that the strings feed into their respective tuning pegs. On acoustic guitars the nut and saddle are usually made of the same material. Electric guitars commonly use plastic or synthetic nuts though sometimes metal is used. As tremolo bars can cause tuning problems, guitars equipped with them usually have some manner of locking nut, where the strings are clamped down.
Tip: Some guitarists lubricate the nut grooves so that the strings move more smoothly. You can do this at home with a soft graphite pencil. There's no need for excessive marking with the pencil just a few swipes through the groove should deposit enough graphite.
Pick Guard[edit | edit source]
Guitars, in common with all wood instruments, are prone to dents, scratches and wear. A pick guard (also known as a scratch plate) protects the body of the guitar at the point of most contact. Some electric guitars have raised pick guards so your pick is directed out and away from the pots and strings. Pick guards sometimes need replacing due to wear or damage. In the case of an expensive or rare guitar, which may have a tortoise shell pick guard, the guitar will have to be sent to an experienced luthier.
Sound Hole[edit | edit source]
Sound holes are found on all acoustics. Their purpose is to allow the air pressure to stay equalized so that the soundboard can vibrate. Archtop guitars have f-shaped sound holes - a design feature they share with the violin, viola, cello and double bass. Round sound holes usually have a decorated edge based on a geometrical design known as a rosette. On modern guitars these decorations are machine-made though some luthiers of expensive guitars still use the traditional method of laying by hand small pieces of exotic material like mother of pearl.
Truss Rod[edit | edit source]
Steel-strung guitars, whether acoustic or electric, have a metal truss rod that runs the length of the neck under the fretboard. Strengthening the neck with a truss rod counteracts the tension exerted by the strings and allows the curvature of the neck to be adjusted. Classical guitars do not require a truss rod due to the lower tension of nylon strings. Some less expensive steel-string acoustics do not have a truss rod. Adjusting the truss rod can have a marked impact on the tuning and playability of a guitar.
Truss rod adjustments should be performed with great care as it is possible to damage the neck or the truss rod. Overtightening is especially to be avoided because if the truss rod snaps or its threads strip, a very involved repair job will be necessitated. For this reason, the truss rod nut should only be tightened one quarter turn at a time. It should then be left alone for a day so the neck has time to assume the new shape. If further adjustment is necessary, repeat the process – a quarter turn, max. If one is not mechanically inclined, truss rod adjustment should be deferred to someone who is, including perhaps a guitar repair-person.
Tuning Pegs[edit | edit source]
The strings are tensioned by means of tuning pegs, also known as tuners, tuning machines, or machine heads. A high gear ratio gives smoother, easier tuning but is not essential. A guitar can be tuned successfully even with fairly cheap tuners. Most guitar tuning problems originate in other areas, especially string sticking in the nut slots, and dirty or worn strings.
Due to the tension of the strings and the constant turning of the pegs the screws that secure the tuners to the headstock may loosen. It is recommended that you check that they are screwed in tightly though avoid over-tightening which may cause alignment problems or damage the screw head or the wood.
Electric Guitar[edit | edit source]
Pickup[edit | edit source]
A pickup is a magnet wrapped in a coil of wire. When a string is plucked the vibration of the string causes the magnetic flux to vary, inducing a voltage in the coil. This is then amplified and played through a speaker.
Humbucking pickups use two coils having opposite polarity, placed in magnetic fields of opposite direction. The result is that the signal from the strings is doubled, while electromagnetic noise from other sources is cancelled. Thus humbucking pickups, or "humbuckers", have less hum and other objectionable noise pickup than single-coil pickups. However, having two coils in series, their inductance is generally higher, which decreases their high-frequency response so they sound less bright than single-coils. Humbuckers are also less able to reproduce very high harmonic frequencies of the string because their magnetic field is less localised than the field of a single coil pickup.
Active pickups are pickups with a built in preamplifier. This can reduce noise pickup and reduce signal losses in the guitar cord. Against these advantages must be weighed cost and the fact that a power source must be provided for the preamplifier. The power source can be a 9 volt battery on the guitar, or "phantom power" piped in via the guitar cord.
Passive single coils are the standard pickup for Fender Stratocasters. They have a bright and twangy clean sound but traditionally have a relatively low output voltge. They are susceptible to noise pickup from transformers – including the transformer in your amp –, neon signs, and other AC electrical equipment. This may or may not be a critical problem, depending on your physical location, and on whether you use a clean sound or a sound with a lot of amplifier compression/distortion which will make electromagnetic noise pickup more noticeable and more of a problem. Some single coils, such as the P-90, are larger than regular single coils, and thus warmer than a standard single coil. However they still retain more of a single coil sound and still can pick-up background hum. Another single coil design is the Lipstick, commonly found on Danelectro Guitars, where the entire pickup is placed in a metal enclosure with a small gap left between the two metal halves. Lipstick pickups tend to be bright sounding and the metal case results in some reduction of hum. Active single-coils can have higher output and enhanced sensitivity.
Humbuckers provide a warm and fat sound. They typically have a higher output voltage than single-coils which suits them to overdriving an amplifier so as to create a heavy sound with lots of sustain and distortion. Some humbuckers allow coil tap (using only one of the coils) or parallel connection which provides a sound similar to a single coil.
Pickups of every type are found in all genres of music, although single-coils, with their bright, twangy sound are often associated with country; and humbuckers producing thick, warm sounds with the rhythm playing in rock. In heavy metal music, humbuckers are the norm because of the necessity of having a low-noise pickup when the amplifier gain is so high.
Pickup Arrangements[edit | edit source]
There are many different arrangements for pickups. The most basic is a single pickup near the bridge.
- S + S - the original Telecaster design uses two single coils. Telecasters have a percussive twang with lots of treble. Even when using thick single coils, as found on the Fender Jazzmaster and Gibson Les Paul P90, the tone is more emphasized on the treble side.
- S + S + S - three single coils are standard on Fender Stratocasters and Stratocaster copies.
- H + S + S - used on Stratocasters which are often called Fat Strats to distinguish them from the standard three single coil Stratocaster. The pick-up at the bridge is replaced by a humbucker. A favourite with guitarists who want the clean tone of single coils and the hum-free fat tone of a humbucker.
- H + H - the standard configuration for the Gibson Les Paul. Also known as the Double Fat Strat configuration when mounted on a Stratocaster body.
- H + S + H - found on the Steve Vai signature model by Ibanez and a favourite pickup arrangement for metal guitarists. Stratocasters using this configuration are called Super Strats.
- H + H + H - the standard pickup arrangement for the Gibson Firebird VII, SG Custom and Les Paul
Pickup Selector[edit | edit source]
Every electric guitar, except those with a single pickup, has a pickup selector. Guitars with two pickups have a three-way switch which allows the guitarist to select either the neck pickup or the bridge pickup. When the switch is in the middle position both pickups are used.
On guitars with three pickups there is usually a five way switch. The positions are:
- neck pickup
- middle pickup
- bridge pickup
Tremolo Bar[edit | edit source]
A tremolo bar alters the pitch of the strings. Pushing down on the bar lowers the pitch of the strings and pulling up raises the pitch. Rapidly pushing and releasing will produce a modulation in pitch called vibrato. Vibrato is often confused with tremolo, a volume modulation effect found on amplifiers, hence the misnomer tremolo bar. Originally used just for vibrato; the modern improvements in guitar design, amplifiers and effects has allowed guitarists to create a new palette of tremolo bar sound effects like the popular dive bomb.
There are four kinds of tremolo:
- Bigsby tremolo - fitted at the bottom end of the body and with a limited pitch bend on both up and down. These distinctive looking tremolos are normally found on archtop guitars. Because of its limited range, it holds its tuning and is more stable than other non-locking tremolos that allow wider pitch bends.
- Vintage synchronized tremolo - (sometimes called the strat-type tremolo) can only down bend. This type of tremolo is more stable than the floating bridge tremolo though still prone to tuning problems.
- Floating bridge tremolo - this design allows wide bends of a tone or more in either direction though this greatly affects tuning stability. Poorly designed floating bridges on cheap guitars should be avoided since the flexibility of the design demands the highest quality in construction and components to ensure tuning stability.
- Floyd Rose locking tremolo - this design locks the strings therefore ensuring that the original tension of the strings are not affected by the tremolo bar and the strings return to their original tension after use. The locking tremolo makes changing strings and tuning slightly more complicated though once in tune the locking tremolo maintains tuning stability far better than non-locking designs. You still need to check your tuning every time you play since tuning is affected by other factors, such as moving from a cold room to a hot room, and the locking tremolo does not negate these factors.
Pots[edit | edit source]
Almost all electric guitars have at least two pots (potentiometers) to control the volume and tone. The usual tone control circuit uses the inductance of the pickup's coil in conjunction with an additional capacitor to reduce high frequencies when the pot is turned counterclockwise. Near the minimum position (at about 2 or 3 out of 10) there is usually a noticeable midrange peak or nasality resulting from the capacitor and inductor resonating with each other. This is a distinctive sound not easily achieved with the tone controls of the amplifier alone.
A Fender Stratocaster will typically have one master volume pot and two tone pots for the neck pickup and middle pickup.
Electric Guitar Necks[edit | edit source]
This section describes the different methods used for attaching the neck to an electric guitar:
Bolt-on neck - the neck is attached to the body with bolts which are held by a mounting plate for increased stability. The mounting plate can make accessing the higher frets difficult so some manufacturers, notably Ibanez, use a hidden plate. The bolt-on neck is a standard design used by Fender.
Set neck - the neck is attached to the body with adhesive. This is the method used on acoustics and rarely is it used for mass-produced electrics. Electric guitars that feature a set neck have to be built to a high standard since once glued on the neck is permanent and cannot be adjusted. Set necks are commonly found on more costly electric guitars. Gibson and Epiphone use set necks which is claimed to have these advantages over a bolt-on neck:
- warmer tone
- more sustain
- better access to higher frets
Thru-body neck - the neck extends the entire length of the body. The strings, fretboard, pickups and bridge are all mounted on the thru-body neck. The ears or wings (the bouts) are attached or glued to the central stick. The wings may be book-matched in order to give a symmetrical appearance.
The thru-body neck is usually found on high-end guitars since the design is not favoured by mass-production manufacturers. It is more common on basses than guitars. The thru-body neck allows easier access to the higher frets because there is no heel and is considered by some guitarists to offer greater sustain.
Buying a Guitar
A new guitar can be purchased for a moderate price. Modern manufacturing techniques coupled with mass production keeps costs low while intonation and playability are preserved by precise machining. Most manufacturers offer a full range of guitars from budget to custom-shop.
Acoustic or Electric[edit | edit source]
The first decision a buyer has to make is which type of guitar to purchase. After deciding this the buyer should research the models available within their price-range. Research avoids impulse buying and allows an informed decision to be made. It is recommended that a first guitar be bought from a guitar shop. Pawn-brokers and charity shops may offer second-hand guitars but all decisions fall upon the buyer who may not be experienced in spotting flaws or damage. Guitar shops will offer a range of new guitars from established manufacturers and a selection of second-hand guitars without faults. It is important that the buyer not be swayed from their informed choice on the day of purchase. If you know that you want to play electric guitar in a band then this is the correct type of guitar to purchase. It is not uncommon that when faced with a bewildering range of guitars in a shop a buyer may choose to purchase a different type of guitar other than their original choice. If at anytime a doubt arises whilst purchasing it is better to walk away and review your aims and buying options.
Singer-songwriters favour the steel-string acoustic guitar as the standard accompaniment for solo performance. The buyer should be aware that acoustic guitars have no internal pickups for amplification so a microphone must be placed in front of the sound-hole for recording. An electro-acoustic guitar is an acoustic guitar with pickups and a quarter inch jack output which allows the electro-acoustic guitar to be plugged into an amplifier. Note that thin-line guitars are not true acoustics and it is a common error that beginners raise the action in the belief that there is something wrong with their thin-line guitar which despite its obvious acoustic build has buzzing strings and produces a weak volume when played unplugged. Thin-line guitars are electric guitars with a body that imparts an acoustic resonance when amplified.
Testing a guitar[edit | edit source]
- The height of the strings above the fretboard is called the action. If the action is too low the strings will buzz and if the action is too high more effort is required to push the strings down. Acoustic guitars have their action set by the factory and should not need further adjustment and therefore acoustics with a high action should be avoided since this may be a sign of faulty construction or a warped neck. You can test the action by playing barre chords at different positions. If the barre chords are difficult to play then the action may be set too high.
- Intonation is a term used to describe accurate tuning over the range of the guitar which is three octaves. A guitar with its intonation set correctly ensures that an open C chord played on the first three frets sounds the same as a C barre chord played at the eighth fret. Guitarists use octaves to check intonation by striking an open string then fretting its twelfth fret octave equivalent. The open string and its octave should be in tune together with neither being sharp or flat in relation to the other. On all electric guitars the intonation can be adjusted at home by the player using an electronic guitar tuner but for acoustic guitars any adjustments must be made by a luthier since the nut and bridge need to be adjusted by filing and shaving. Guitar manufacturers ensure that the intonation is set at the factory and a further check is normally made by guitar dealers before a guitar is put on display. A second-hand guitar must be tested for intonation problems as sometimes a warped neck will render accurate intonation impossible though the guitar may sound in tune in the first position. Intonation depends on the straightness of the neck, whether the nut allows correct spacing and seating of the strings, the height of the bridge, and the scale of the frets. Intonation and tuning are two related but different concepts. Setting the intonation is about preparing the guitar so that it can be accurately tuned across its complete range.
- The guitar should be played from its first to last fret on all strings to check for fret buzz and wolf notes. Fret buzz may be present when the truss rod is not properly adjusted or the action has been set too low. Worn fretboards or incorrectly shaped fret-wire can also cause fret buzz. Wolf notes sound dull and lack sustain and in some cases they can affect the tuning stability of a guitar. It is common to find a wolf note on the G string in the first position though they can occur anywhere on the neck where string contact to the fret is impeded or incorrect. The problematic wolf note can be corrected by sending the guitar to a luthier for setting-up and adjustment. The luthier will ask you which make of guitar strings you use and will adjust the guitar for that gauge. The guitar must be restrung every time with that particular string brand and gauge to preserve the set-up. Re-grooving nuts, adjusting necks and permanent bridge alterations are best left to a luthier whose traditional skills coupled with modern tools like the oscilloscope and precision calipers ensures a stable match between the strings and the guitar.
- Look for misaligned screws on electric guitars as these may be a sign of wear or previous adjustments. On acoustic guitars glue spots may point to flaws though in most cases they are just residue that wasn't wiped off the guitar and generally don't affect the tone or playability. Loose switches on electric guitars are common and if dirt has accumulated then the familiar crackling of reduced contact will be heard when a pot or switch is moved. Pots, switches and wiring can be replaced so a good electric guitar with these problems should not be dismissed though the price should reflect the cost of replacing the damaged parts. Look down the sight of the neck to check for a warped neck and to ensure that the guitar strings are all at the same height. The thickness (gauge) of the low E string may not allow it to sit in the nut groove correctly and it may be slightly higher than the other strings. This may be a sign that you need thinner gauge strings or that the guitar needs to be set-up. Run your finger along the neck edges where the fret-wire ends. Fret-wire is tapped into a fretboard and then cut flush with the neck edge. As you run your finger along you should not feel any fret-wire protruding and this is an indication that the manufacturer has ensured a degree of quality control.
- The intonation tuners located on the bridge of most electric guitars should be in a neat staggered row with the high E string intonation tuner nearest to the neck and the low E string intonation tuner furthest away from the neck. If testing a guitar you notice that the intonation tuners are not in a diagonal line from the high E to low E than this is a sign that someone has attempted to adjust the bridge and intonation tuners to set the action and has probably rendered the guitar unplayable. This is not a construction fault and the intonation tuners can be adjusted so that the guitar can be tuned correctly. It is common when you see misaligned intonation tuners that the bridge has also been raised to its highest position. The only time a bridge should be deliberately raised to its highest position is when a guitarist chooses to set-up a guitar permanently for use with a slide.
Buying a guitar that suits your playing style[edit | edit source]
- Try as many different necks as you can until you find a guitar neck that you feel comfortable with. Gibson favours a flat wide neck and Fender a thinner neck. Some guitarists find that bending strings on a Gibson neck is more stable and precise due to the extra surface while others prefer the thinner neck of a Fender and the ease with which you can bend strings an octave or more. Try different necks until you find one that responds to your playing style.
- The guitar should be comfortable to hold. Some guitarists like the heavier weight of Gibsons while others prefer the thinner and lighter bodies of Stratocasters. More important is the sound characteristics of a guitar. Telecasters are not as comfortable to hold as Stratocasters but many guitarists are drawn to their distinctive sound.
- The majority of new guitars have a medium action either set at the factory or adjusted by the dealer. Lead guitarists sometimes prefer a very low action which sacrifices a small amount of tone for speed and ease. Slide guitarists will raise the action up to a height that renders normal fretting very difficult though this does ensure clarity of tone when using a metal or glass slide with alternative tunings. A medium action is ideal for a beginner as it maintains tuning stability while providing a clear tone.
- Test as many models and price-ranges as you can. You should test guitars in the price range above your budget to familiarise yourself with the differences. Dealers are quite happy to give potential customers a long time to test different guitars without any sales pressure. Note that not all sales assistants are guitarists since a shop that sells both keyboards and guitars may prefer to hire a pianist to demonstrate their keyboard range. In this situation the buyer must rely on their own knowledge.
- Do not be distracted. Testing guitars involves all the mental faculties. It is during these moments that a buyer may make a wrong decision. If at any time during testing you feel as though distractions are affecting your concentration then walk away and refocus.
Where to buy a guitar[edit | edit source]
- Buying a guitar from a friend or relative who plays is an ideal way to avoid some of the common pitfalls of a first purchase. Relatives and friends may also help you search for a good guitar if they do not have one that they want to sell. It is recommended that the final choice should be made by the purchaser since guidance is never fool-proof.
- A local guitar or music store that has an established reputation. Many guitarists return to the same local shop to buy strings and other extras though a larger dealer should be sought if the range of guitars offered by your local dealer is too small. Second-hand guitars need to tested thoroughly before purchasing. If the buyer is unsure of what faults to look for then a new guitar might be the better option.
Buying an Amplifier
Amplifiers come in a wide variety of designs and your choice of amplifier should be based on the type of music you wish to play. Your local guitar dealer will let you test the different amplifiers they stock though they may only offer a limited range due to space restrictions. Its always a good idea to visit many dealers including pro-audio outlets to test amplifiers across the entire price range before committing yourself. This chapter will explain the difference between a tube amplifier and a solid state amplifier as well as exploring the variations on these two basic designs.
Tube, Solid State and Hybrid Amplifiers[edit | edit source]
Tube[edit | edit source]
Tube amplifiers produce a warm and fat tone that is popular with guitarists. New models are available from Marshall, Fender and Vox as well as other manufacturers which range in quality and price. Vintage tube amplifiers from the 1960s and 1970s are available to buy, though maintaining them can be expensive especially with regards to the cost of replacement parts. The continuing popularity of vintage amplifiers from earlier decades has resulted in a market for reissues.
There are three operating modes for tube technology: Class A, Class B and Class AB.
- Pure Class A operates by having a full continuous current flowing through the tubes. The tubes are still fully powered even when there is no signal to divert to the speaker. This makes Pure Class A tubes expensive to run; similar to a car idling in neutral with the throttle pedal right down. Pure Class A responds very fast to an input signal with a tube saturation (distortion) that many guitarists find appealing. Many Pure Class A amplifiers use tubes with a low wattage to offset their inefficient operating mode thereby increasing the tubes lifespan and reducing running costs.
- Class A refers to an output design that doesn't use a Pure Class A single-ended output stage. Class A uses a pair of tubes or multiples terminating in a push-pull output stage.
- Class B is rarely used in guitar amplifiers due to crossover distortion issues so manufacturers instead use a combination of Class A and Class B known as Class AB.
- Class AB operates by using a pair of tubes. Whereas Pure Class A produces the entire waveform, positive and negative, with a single-ended output, Class AB produces the entire waveform using two tubes with one handling the positive voltage and the other the negative voltage. In comparison to Pure Class A, which uses a full continuous current to achieve a three hundred and sixty degree waveform and is always on at full power even when there is no signal present, Class AB uses a smaller amount of constant current to achieve the same always on state for the two tubes. Class AB is thereby more efficient with regards to power consumption and heat dissipation and the operating life of the tubes are greatly extended.
- A tube is based on vacuum technology and requires more energy than a solid state amplifier with the same wattage.
- Vacuum tubes are expensive and require replacement every one to four years depending on use.
- Amplifiers with tubes are generally heavier than solid state amplifiers due to the need for an output transformer.
- Tube amplifiers are usually more expensive than a solid state amplifier.
- Tubes require a warm-up period before they reach optimum performance.
- Tube amps are more fragile and repair-prone than solid state amps.
Solid state[edit | edit source]
Solid state amplifiers use transistors instead of tubes. They are popular with beginners due to their affordability and lower weight. Solid state amplifiers have a fast attack time and are immediately available for use when switched on. Solid state circuitry allows more volume to be applied to the output signal before clipping occurs which makes the amplifiers appealing to amateur and professional jazz or acoustic guitarists who may wish to retain a clean sound at high volumes. A solid state amplifier matched with good quality speakers can produce a wide frequency response. Some solid state amplifiers use field effect transistors (FET) on the preamp stage which at high gain produces a distortion similar to a tube amplifier.
Solid state amplifiers retain a tight low end while producing a full harmonic distortion at high gain which is desirable for the metal genre. This has resulted in a range of solid state amplifiers specifically designed for metal guitarists. Solid state amplifiers tend to be smaller and lighter than their equivalent tube amplifiers and these design factors allows manufacturers to build amplifiers weighing less than 10lbs which are capable of 150w clean RMS sound. Root Mean Square refers to continuous output as opposed to Peak measurement which is the wattage of an amplifier measured in a short burst.
Solid state amplifiers:
- A solid state amplifier requires less energy to power than an equivalent tube amplifier.
- Solid state circuitry needs minimum maintenance and there are no tubes to replace.
- Solid state amplifiers are more robust than tube amplifiers.
- Solid state amplifiers are available in an affordable price range.
- A solid state amplifier requires no warm-up.
Hybrid[edit | edit source]
All amplifiers have a preamp stage which boosts the signal from the guitar before it is sent to the power amplifier stage. Hybrid amplifiers are designed to utilize both tube and solid state technology and are available in the following configurations:
- tube preamp coupled with a solid state power amplifier
- solid state preamp coupled with a tube power amplifier
A tube preamp coupled with a solid state power amplifier outputs a tube tone with a fast attack. A solid state preamp coupled with a tube output provides solid state high gain with the warmth of tubes.
Design variations may include digital modeling, integrated tube/solid state stages or further additional tube or solid state stages in the signal path:
- The Vox Valvetronix signal path starts with solid state effects and preamp which sends the signal to a tube/solid state integrated output stage.
- The Line 6 Spider Valve signal path starts with digital tone processing followed by a tube preamp which sends the signal to a tube power amplifier.
Features[edit | edit source]
Standard[edit | edit source]
- Input - accepts a quarter inch mono jack cable
- Power - off and on
- Volume - adjusts the volume
- Speaker - built-in or separate cabinet
Additional[edit | edit source]
- Gain - the amount of boost applied at the preamp stage
- Overdrive or distortion
- Tone/equalizer - treble and bass tone knobs, sometimes three or more (mid, or low mid and high mid may be added), or graphic equalizer
- Headphone socket - headphones can be used for private practice
- Channel selection - switch between clean and high gain/overdrive (often with a footswitch)
Extra[edit | edit source]
- Additional inputs - high sensitivity input for use with a low-output pickup and low sensitivity input for use with a high-output pickup
- Modeling - digital emulations of popular amplifiers, speakers and effects
- Onboard effects - built in proprietary effects such as chorus, delay, echo and compression.
- Effect loop - external effects can be plugged into the amplifier
- Line in - the audio signal bypasses the preamp stage and is sent directly to the power amplifier
- Line out - the output from the amplifier can be sent to another power amplifier or mixing desk
- Speaker out - standard on a separate amplifier "head" and when found on a combo amplifier allows a different speaker to be used, or a second speaker. Adding a second speaker can increase the wattage output and volume.
- Foot-switch plug input - an external foot-switch can be plugged in to control overdrive, reverb, solo boost, or another feature.
- Impedance switch (on tube amplifiers only) - change the resistance, measured in ohms, of the amplifier to match speaker impedance
- Standby switch (on tube amplifiers only) - the standby switch has exactly the same function as the standby mode of a computer which removes the need to cold boot when taking a short break. Any technology that requires a time period to reach optimum working state benefits from this idea. Components are powered down while remaining in a ready state which saves energy and extends their operating life.
Wattage[edit | edit source]
Amplifiers[edit | edit source]
The wattage rating is the maximum volume that an amplifier is designed to output. A 10 watt amp is typically the first purchase for a beginner. An amplifier in the 30 to 50 watt range is loud enough for band use and home band rehearsals and is a common first performing amp. If you are intending to buy a 100 watt amplifier you will need to consider using a rehearsal studio for practice, as this will be too loud for a home. The list below outlines possible uses based on the amplifier's wattage rating.
The ratings below need to be interpreted differently for some genres of music. A 30W amp that would only suffice for a rehearsal amp in a death metal band might be entirely appropriate as a large-venue amp in a jazz quartet, where all the other instrumrnts are acoustic.
Solid state amplifiers:
- 10-30W: home practice
- 30-50W: band practice, small club
- 50-100W: large venue
- 10-20W: home and band practice
- 20-30W: band practice, small to medium club
- 30-50W: small to medium club
- 50-100W: extremely loud in confined spaces or small clubs, though diffuse in large halls
Speakers[edit | edit source]
The function of a speaker is to convert an electrical signal into sound waves. This is achieved using an electromagnet called the voice coil which is attached to the speaker cone by a spring called the spider. The vibrations from the voice coil are transferred via the spider to the speaker cone.
A speaker cabinet will house either a single speaker or multiples. A two speaker configuration may utilize smaller speakers than a single speaker model e.g. 2x10″ instead of 1x12″. The main benefit of having multiple speakers is an increase in volume and bass response without sacrificing the higher frequencies. By having more speaker cones the speakers will move more air. For example, two 10″ speakers have a combined surface area of 157 sq.in. while one 12″ speaker has a surface area of 113 sq.in. A 4x10″ cab is often used for large combo amplifiers as it provides most of the bass response you would get from a 1x15″, but retains the high frequency that the 1x15″ cannot produce. Also, it will have increased power-handling capability, or more precisely, they split the amplifier output. Thus, given the same amplification head, a two speaker configuration will have a louder volume but only half the power to each speaker.
A low power speaker is louder at the same power than a high power speaker. This is known as speaker efficiency or sensitivity. A 25 watt speaker with a 10 watt amplifier will generally be louder than a 100 watt speaker with the same 10 watt amplifier. A cabinet with multiple speakers allows the use of low power speakers with a high power amplifier.
To avoid damaging speakers it is recommended that the speaker wattage should exceed the amplifier wattage. Damaging transient peaks or spikes that are the result of an amplifier outputting more wattage than the stated rating are negated by the higher headroom. It is not unusual to find a 150 watt speaker matched to a 100 watt amplifier or a 75 watt speaker matched to a 50 watt amplifier. Multiple speakers achieve the same effect by sharing the amplifier load between speakers which allows low wattage speakers to be used with a high wattage amplifier. If you are buying a combo amplifier the issue does not arise as the manufacturer has ensured that the amplifier and speaker are matched.
Impedance[edit | edit source]
The speaker-out socket of an amplifier will have an impedance rating. You should only plug in speakers with the same impedance rating. Some amplifiers are equipped with a switch or dial which allows the impedance to be set at 4 ohm, 8 ohm or 16 ohm. Plugging in a speaker with a too low impedance rating may cause damage to the amplifier.
Tube amplifiers are much more sensitive to speaker impedance. Any mismatch between the speaker impedance and the impedance set on the amplifier will cause a strain on the transformer and tubes. Never turn on a tube amplifier with no speakers connected. This might cause severe damage to the output transformer. Always turn off your tube amplifier before disconnecting the speaker. Some amplifiers have shorting jacks, e.g. Hiwatts, these may allow you to change speakers on the fly, but always at the amplifier side of the cable, never at the speaker side.
Types of Unit[edit | edit source]
Micro/Headphone amplifiers[edit | edit source]
Micro amplifiers are small portable amplifiers that generally do not exceed 10 watts. These low wattage solid state amplifiers do not utilize FET circuitry so they tend to distort very quickly. The Danelectro Honeytone and Vox amPlug respectively illustrates the differences between a micro amplifier and a headphone amplifier. The Danelectro Honeytone has a speaker and pots and resembles a miniature amplifier. The matchbox shape Vox amPlug is a headphone amplifier with rotary dials instead of pots and offers four model emulations including the Vox AC30.
Busking amplifiers[edit | edit source]
These small portable battery powered amplifiers are designed for outdoor use where no mains power is available. The battery will normally provide up to six to ten hours use on one charge though buying a spare battery or ensuring that the amplifier can also be used with AC power will offset this limitation. Examples include the Pignose Hog 30 which has an 8″ speaker and a rating of 30 watts and the Vox DA5 which has a 6.5″ speaker and a rating of 5 watts.
Practice amplifiers[edit | edit source]
Practice amplifiers are designed to be used at home and are not suitable for concerts or band rehearsals. The Vox DA5 and Epiphone Valve Junior are small practice amplifiers designed for home use and are easily transported and stored.
Small venue/recording amplifiers[edit | edit source]
Combo amplifiers are suitable for small venues. The standard combo consists of a 50 watt amplifier combined with one 12″ speaker with both components enclosed in a single cabinet. Some manufactures combine a 30 or 40 watt amplifier with two or four speakers. A tube or solid state amplifier with a minimum of 30 watts and good tone would be acceptable for professional use. Combo amplifiers are favored by many guitarists because of their compact form and matched amplifier and speakers. The Vox AC30 and Fender Twin are examples of combo amplifiers.
These combo amps are also used in the recording studio, as they are easier to transport and one does not need high volume in a recording setting. As well, a very loud stack may need too high a volume to get a guitarist's preferred tone, to the point that there may be sound leakage into other booths or microphones. A smaller combo can reach desired overdrive levels at lower volumes.
Large Venue amplifiers[edit | edit source]
Amplifiers that range from 50 to 100 watts are suitable for a large venue. A half stack consists of a separate amplifier head connected to one 4x12″ speaker cabinet and is a very common guitar rig. A full stack consists of a separate amplifier head with two speaker outs and two 4x12″ cabinets stacked vertically. A Marshall head and full-size cabinet are bulky and heavy items to transport. A full-sized Marshall cabinet has two handles, one on either side, and requires two people to lift and move it safely. Large 8x10" cabinets are hard to transport, if you are moving them yourself (touring rock bands have a road crew to move gear like this from vehicles to the stage). Storage and transportation must be considered when buying a large guitar rig.
Heads, cabinets, and stacks[edit | edit source]
A half-stack consists of two components:
- head - amplifier
- cabinet - speakers
When purchasing the two components check that the impedance of the cabinet matches the impedance of the head. Make sure the cabs RMS rating is about the same as the head's power output at the impedance of the cab. Generally a single guitar cabinet would have 4x12″ speakers though 1x12″ and 4x10″ cabinets are also available. Some players use 1x12" speakers for small clubs or 1x15" for deeper bass response.
What format to buy[edit | edit source]
Most beginners start by buying a small, lightweight practice amp. Then, when they start jamming, they buy a more powerful, larger amp capable of being used at a pub or nightclub show. As they progress, an amateur guitarist may buy a bigger, more powerful stack for large venue shows and one or more higher-quality, expensive combo amps for recording.
Tuning the Guitar
Advances in manufacturing have solved many of the tuning problems associated with the budget guitars of yesteryear. Entry level guitars are available from major manufacturers such as Yamaha and Fender which are entirely suitable for beginners. All guitar stores sell tuning forks and electronic tuners. A tuning fork provides a single reference note for tuning and for this reason an electronic tuner will be more useful to the complete beginner.
When new strings have been put on a guitar they often fall out of tune very easily. New strings will stretch until they reach a point where their elasticity diminishes and then they will remain at the correct tension and frequency. Strings need to be broken in. It will take time to work all the slack out of the strings but the process can be sped up. Put on new strings and tune to just below concert pitch using an electronic guitar tuner. Then pull each string an inch away from the fretboard and this will instantly put them out of tune. Use your electronic guitar tuner to retune the strings to just below concert pitch and repeat the process. After a while the slack should be gone from the strings and the guitar can be tuned to concert pitch and should stay in tune.
Tuning the Guitar[edit | edit source]
Sound is created by the disturbance of particles in the air. The vibrations of a struck string causes the air particles to moves in waves which the ear receives and the brain interprets. When a string is attached to two points, as the strings on a guitar are, then striking it causes a sound to be produced at a regular frequency. The length, thickness and tension of the string determines the pitch of the note it produces. If you have a string of a certain length and tension stretched across a wooden board which produced a known frequency and you wished to double the frequency to produce the note an octave above - you simply halve the distance that it is stretched across and keep the same tension. That is exactly what happens on a guitar when you fret any of the open strings at the twelfth fret.
There are many different tunings for the open strings of the guitar but the most common is known as standard tuning or E tuning. In standard tuning the open strings should be tuned to the notes E A D G B e.
The diagram below illustrates the open strings and the twelfth fret. Note that the upper case E represents the thickest string and the lower case e represents the thinnest string. The diagram is orientated towards the player's view.
e|-----------------------| B|-----------------------| G|-----------------------| D|-----------------------| A|-----------------------| E|-----------------------|
Four-Five Tuning[edit | edit source]
Four-Five tuning uses the open A string as the first reference note. A tuning aid is useful to ensure that the open A string is at concert pitch.
Concert pitch is an Internationally agreed standard that assigns A = 440 Hz. The guitar is a transposing instrument and is notated an octave higher than its actual pitch to avoid having to use the bass clef in standard notation. The notated middle C is played on the third fret of the A string though the pitched middle C is to be found on the first fret of the B string. A = 440 Hz is the fifth fret of the high e string but for convenience the open A string (110 Hz) is used as the reference note.
The diagram below shows the notes to be fretted.
e|-------------------0---| B|---------------0---5---| G|-----------0---4-------| D|-------0---5-----------| A|---0---5---------------| E|---5-------------------|
Follow these six steps to tune your guitar using the Four-Five method:
It is recommended that strings be brought up to their correct pitch when tuning. The Four-Five method has the disadvantage of progressively increasing tuning inaccuracies by the use of multiple reference notes.
Harmonic Tuning[edit | edit source]
This method of tuning uses harmonics. By lightly touching a string directly above its fret-wire the fundamental of a note is silenced leaving only a series of overtones. Any note played on any instrument consists of a fundamental and a harmonic series of overtones. The twelfth, seventh and fifth nodes are the easiest frets with which to sound harmonics. After striking the string the finger should be removed quickly to produce the harmonic.
The fretboard diagram below shows the pairs of harmonics that are used. You start by tuning the harmonic on the 7th fret of the A string to the harmonic on the low E string. Then the harmonic on the 7th fret of the D string is tuned with the harmonic on the 5th fret of the A string. Tuning the G string to the D string is done in the same manner. Tune the harmonic on the B string to the harmonic on the 4th fret of the G string. Tune the harmonic on the e string to the harmonic on the B string.
e|-------------7*------------| B|--------5*-----------------| G|------4*-----7*------------| * = Play a harmonic at this fret D|--------5*---7*------------| A|--------5*---7*------------| E|--------5*-----------------|
Tuning with harmonics can progressively increase tuning errors due to the use of multiple reference notes. The fundamental is the most dominant frequency of the harmonic series and it is recommended that a further tuning check be made using fretted notes.
Tempered Tuning[edit | edit source]
This method is recommended because it applies equal temperament with the use of a single reference note. This method uses the open high e string as the reference note. You tune the unison and octave E notes that are found on the other strings to the open high e string. Hold the fretted note down as you turn the tuning peg and you will feel the string move under your fingertip. This involves striking the strings with your right hand and then using the right hand to turn the tuning pegs. If may feel awkward at first but with practice it becomes familiar. The open low E string is the only string to be tuned to the high e string without fretting. The fretted note on the 5th fret of the B string should be tuned wide by the amount of two beats per second in relation to the high e string.
Tablature and standard notation are two ways that musical information is shared. Sight-reading of standard notation is a requisite skill for teaching careers, session work, and the theater orchestra. Reading music increases your knowledge of music and allows you to notate your musical ideas. Each notation system has its advantages and disadvantages. Tablature does not convey timing and pitch information as well as standard notation does though it is more useful for showing bends and to what degree (1/4, 1/2 or full) they should be executed and other worded instructions such as pick scrapes and whammy bar effects. For these reasons many guitar transcriptions for rock, jazz and blues, use both standard notation and tablature.
Tablature[edit | edit source]
You do not need to know how to read music to use tablature. Each string is represented by a line and on those lines numbers are used to indicate which fret to press down.
Below is a simple melody in tablature.
Lower Section[edit | edit source]
In the lower section of the example above, the top line represents the thinnest string of the guitar (high e) and the lowest line represents the thickest string of the guitar (low E). Each number on a line represents a fretted note on that string. The number zero is an open string, the number one is the first fret, and so on.
The tab is divided into measures using bar-lines but the duration of the notes is not indicated. You can figure out the duration of the notes using the standard notation in the upper section. You can also work out the note values using the time signature; which in this example is four-four time. This means that there are four quarter-notes in each measure. The tempo or style, which is given at the top of a piece of sheet music, is also an indicator of how a song should be played.
The key signature is not shown in the example. Key signatures show which sharps , naturals, and flats are to be used; represented by #'s and b's. Each sharp or flat is shown on their respective line and space after the time signature.
Upper Section[edit | edit source]
The upper section of the example above is in standard notation and shows that the first bar has eight notes. Each note is represented by an oval note-head which indicates which note pitch is to be played. A stem with tails is used to indicate notes duration (how long the note is to be held). In standard notation only the whole-note is written without a stem. Because the notes in the first bar are all eighth notes with one tail they are connected with a single beam as shown in the example. The beaming of the same notes in a bar allows for easier reading. In a bar of music with mixed note values a single eighth note would be shown with a single tail. Sixteenth notes have two tails so a double beam is used when grouping.
The vertical bar-line after the last eighth note marks the end of one complete count of the time-signature. Bar-lines are used to show the pulse of the music and taken overall allows us to describe the form of a piece of music. The usefulness of using bar-lines to describe form is self-evident in the twelve bar blues whose title states that a cyclic group of twelve bars is to be performed. It is common to find musicians describing one complete thirty-two bar cycle of a jazz standard as a chorus. The term chorus is used to indicate how many times a song is to be repeated. A vamp on the thirty-two bar Jazz standard "Misty", written by the pianist Erroll Garner, would by convention start with all the musicians stating the melody with the following choruses dedicated to solo improvisation. The last chorus usually has the musicians stating the melody again without improvisation. The convenience of using the term chorus can be illustrated by imagining a four piece Jazz quartet with piano, saxophone, double bass and drums. If each musician is given a chorus to improvise over and the convention of all the musicians stating the melody on the first and last chorus is utilized then the song will have six choruses. The original hit recording of "Misty" as sung by Sarah Vaughan consisted of only one chorus with a four bar intro. Be aware that four and eight bar codas and intros are very common in Jazz and Blues and need to be taken into account when working out how many bars a chorus contains.
In some forms of music there is a strong emphasis placed on the first beat of each bar. This is easily demonstrated by the Waltz time signature where the first beat of a count of three is emphasized for the dancers benefit in accord with the dance steps to be performed. If a note is tied over the bar-line with a curved tie-line then the note duration is held over to the next bar. Bars never have more notes in them than is indicated by the time signature. In the next bar there is a whole note which is a white oval with no stem. The two vertical black lines at the end are called a double bar-line indicating that the piece of music has ended.
ASCII Tablature[edit | edit source]
There is a very informal and loose standard of "Internet Tablature" using only ASCII characters. The above example would be written like this:
e---0-1-3-5-3-1-0----|-----------------|| B------------------3-|-1---------------|| G--------------------|-----------------|| D--------------------|-----------------|| A--------------------|-----------------|| E--------------------|-----------------||
It has the same disadvantages of tab and contains much less information than the standard notation of the upper section. Rhythm can only be suggested by spacing or by adding symbols above each note (such as Q for quarter note). Much Internet tablature does not even contain bar lines. The timing must be discerned by listening to the original piece. This is the major flaw of online tabs and this style of tab in general.
However, online tabs are often much more convenient than standard notation for precisely conveying a specific finger positioning. Especially with alternate tunings this is a clear advantage.
Common Tab symbols:
|h or ^||hammer on|
|p or ^||pull off|
|b||bend string up|
|v or ~||vibrato|
|t||right hand tap|
|x||play 'note' with heavy damping|
Chords are often written in the form:
EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE xx0232 x32010 320003
Standard Notation[edit | edit source]
Notes On The Staff[edit | edit source]
Here are the notes as they appear in standard notation. The set of lines and spaces that run horizontally across the page is called the staff (plural - staves). Notes can be written on the lines and in the spaces. A common mnenomic for remembering the notes of the Treble Clef is:
"Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge" and the word "FACE
The musical alphabet starts at the letter A and ends on the letter G. There are twelve sounds in music and seven letters to represent them. The other five sounds are the sharps or flats of these seven notes. Each step up the staff is the next letter, so it goes A, B, C, etc. The first symbol on the staff is always the clef; which in this case is the treble clef. The word clef is French for key and gives you the position of the first note. The treble clef shown here is also called the G clef. It is drawn so that the note G is indicated as being on the second line.
Lead Guitar and Rhythm Guitar
The terms lead guitar and rhythm guitar are mildly confusing, especially to the beginner. Of course, a guitar should almost always follow some sort of rhythm, whether loose or tight. Plus, many times, guitars are very prominent in a song, where it drives the music, but it's not quite lead. Plus, the lead guitarist doesn't even play a lead part, and that happens almost all the time! How can we untangle this mess?
The distinction is somewhat arbitrary. Many bands in contemporary music have two guitarists, where usually one would specialize in "lead" and the other in "rhythm". The Beatles, Dethklok, and Metallica are examples of bands who use this combination. Lead guitar means melody guitar, meaning that the lead guitarist must specialize in playing the melody of the song, so any guitar playing a solo is not a lead. Sure, a lead guitarist may get to solo, but someone cannot be called a lead guitarist simply because he/she plays a solo in a song. A lead part contributes entirely to melody (as lead guitar means melody guitar), instead of to the foundation, which is carried by the rhythm guitar. This means the rhythm guitarist is the driving source. Lead guitar uses few or no chords, although sometimes it can be following a chord structure, while rhythm guitar uses the chords to drive the music.
It is important to realize that lead guitar and rhythm guitar fit into two different parts of a band, but it just happens that they are played on the same instrument. Lead guitar provides a solo voice, and is grouped with the lead vocals, lead piano, etc. Rhythm guitar is part of the underlying rhythm section, along with instruments like bass, drums, sometimes piano, background vocals, etc. Generally speaking, the rhythm provides the groove of the song, while lead provides the melody.
However, these distinctions get fuzzy, especially when the so-called lead guitarists play chords and double-stops in their riffs. In some cases, a single guitar part provides both the melody and accompaniment (especially power chord riffs, commonly found in rock and metal, and finger picking, found in folk guitar).
Some bands (often three piece bands) feature a single guitarist who can act as either, by either assuming one role at a time or, in a recording studio, recording a lead track over their own rhythm track. For example, the band Dire Straits has been in both situations: in the early days, David Knopfler played rhythm while Mark Knopfler played lead. When David left, Mark usually played both parts on studio albums, and hired another guitarist to play rhythm for live shows. Some guitarists reached such technical proficiency that they were able to play both parts "simultaneously". A famous example of this technique is Dimebag Darrell, particularly on songs such like Walk or Breathing New Life (using an harmonizing effect pedal). The bass plays a big part like in songs such as Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes (even though there is no bass guitar in the song, it's an electric acoustic) to set the speed and tone for the song and that the lead guitarist (otherwise known as melody guitarist) in the chorus follows the bass and drums not, the bass follow the chorus player.
Playing Lead Guitar[edit | edit source]
Very often, a lead guitar part is played on an electric guitar, using moderate to heavy distortion (also known as drive or gain). For this reason, many amplifier manufacturers refer to their distortion channel as a lead channel. Distortion provides a more powerful sustain than a clean channel, and this is often best represented in extreme techniques like shredding and tapping, which some guitarists feel can only properly be done with distortion. Of course, lead guitar can be played on an acoustic guitar, but some techniques may not be as pronounced as on an electric.
The most common techniques for creating lead parts are bending, vibrato and slides. These provide the basic means of emphasizing notes, and allow for greater expression in the melody. Often the lead guitarists may employ arpeggios or sweep picking to add depth, and the progression of the solo often mirrors the underlying rhythm guitar part.
Playing Rhythm Guitar[edit | edit source]
Rhythm guitar is characterized mostly by playing chords in patterns. Some players criticize rhythm guitar as sounding "chordy", or not being as interesting as the lead part. Although rhythm guitar does not "express" as much as the lead guitar, there is so much to be learned about chords, chord progressions and rhythm patterns, and a player is limited only by their imagination.
Rhythm guitar is just as easily played on electric or acoustic, clean or distorted. The technique is less about expressing individual notes, and more about choosing chords or chord voicings that enrich the overall sound, which may add its own expressive tone to the music.
The guitar is, and has always been, a social instrument. In all its forms, it has always been a portable, multi-stringed instrument made for public hearing. Even today, there's nothing better than hanging out with some friends and being able to strum a few songs on the guitar. And if you've just bought your first guitar, then you're in luck: you can play literally hundreds of popular songs by learning just a handful of chords. But playing the guitar is more than just struggling through a half-recognizable version of some song, it also requires good technique. In this section, you will learn the basics of how to hold the guitar, use a pick, and other important fundamental techniques.
Never forget that instruction books are not a replacement for playing with other guitarists, or learning from a teacher, who are excellent sources of information and inspiration.
Also, this section, as with most guitar manuals, is written with right handed players in mind. Left-handed players may simply reverse the instructions as appropriate.
Holding The Guitar[edit | edit source]
The guitar can be played in many positions, but some positions are clearly more efficient than others. The choice of position is personal, but clear guidelines exist. Some basic considerations in determining a chosen playing position include:
- the physical stability of the instrument
- ensuring the freedom of both hands such that they have thorough access to the instrument and can meet all technical demands without having to support the instrument
- elimination of general muscular tension in the assumed body position. While it is natural for a beginner to experience fatigue in the muscles of his hands and arms, you must be careful to sit straight and not cause damage to your spine and waist. If you do experience pain in those regions it is possible that the position is harmful and must be changed to prevent damage.
Many beginners try and turn the guitar towards themselves, so they can look down at the frets and soundhole. Curling the guitar towards yourself in such a way actually makes it more difficult to fret the strings efficiently, because you have to curl your wrist more. This tension can be harmful. Beginners are also often inclined to put their elbow too high or low, which leads to cramping. Ideally your arm and shoulder should be relaxed.
It may take a beginner several weeks until holding the guitar feels comfortable and natural. By using efficient hand positions and not straining, the muscles in the arm and hands will get stronger. If you ever feel pain you should immediately stop and ascertain the cause of pain before continuing. Sometimes discomfort is due merely to fatigue and a period of rest will be all that is required.
Sitting[edit | edit source]
Classical Style[edit | edit source]
Sit up straight on a chair or stool, with your left foot on a footrest approximately 10-20 cm in height. Place the waist of your guitar on your left thigh. Rest your right forearm on the top front edge of the guitar's lower bout so that it is comfortable and allows you to easily strum the strings over the soundhole. The guitar headstock should approximately be at head level, which corresponds to an inclination of the guitar neck of about 45 degrees. Your left hand should be presented to the guitar neck and fretboard such that the thumb is behind the neck and all three segments of the fingers are forward of the edge of the fingerboard. Shoulders should be level and relaxed, and it helps to be leaning forward slightly. Most people should feel comfortable and able to stay in this position with little effort. If you cannot, something may not be right. As an alternative to using a footstool, you can use some sort of guitar support between your left leg and guitar. This also allows for good alignment of the spine and an efficient playing posture.
With your left hand, put your thumb so that it is behind the second fret. This is the most comfortable area for playing open chords. Your thumb should not extend over the edge of the fretboard and touch the E string.
Electric Guitar[edit | edit source]
Many rock performers hold the electric guitar lower than the classical position. The neck is held horizontally, rather than at a 45 degree angle. This allows bends to be more easily achieved and also allow the same hand angle to be maintained when moving up the neck through box positions. playing in extremely high fret positions is also facilitated by this angle as the left hand twist to accommodate playing in the cutaway in a way that would be straining and more difficult in the classical position.
Lapsteel or Hawaiian guitar[edit | edit source]
With these styles, the guitar is played horizontally, so the frets and strings point upwards. Some skilled players can fret notes and play chords by pressing down on the strings, but more often these guitars are played with a slide.
Standing[edit | edit source]
If you have a guitar strap, available from any guitar store for a few dollars, then you can also learn to play standing. This is useful if you plan on playing in a band. If you have a heavy guitar a broad guitar strap is often more comfortable than a thin strap. To attach a strap, there should be a hole in each end that you can put over two pins, usually fitted on the endblock of the guitar and where the neck meets the body. Many acoustic guitars only have one pin on the end block, and straps must be attached under the strings above the nut on the headstock. However, this sometimes makes it difficult for keep the guitar at an optimum height and can cause shoulder strain. You can usually install a second pin where the neck meets the body, but you should be careful or you might damage (and devalue) your guitar.
With the strap attached to the guitar, sling it so that it hangs around your neck on your left shoulder. You can usually adjust the height of the guitar, but the exact method depends on each strap. The length of the strap depends on your preferences, but you can use the same guidelines in found in the previous section. Some professionals have their guitar hanging down at their knees, and others keep it under their shoulders. Neither of these extremes are recommended for a beginner.
Using the Picking Hand[edit | edit source]
Please see the Picking and Plucking section for more information.
Much of the "feel" of a guitar style comes from the way the strings are hit. Since there are many different techniques, and often they defy explanation, it is difficult to explain all but the most basic techniques. How a player hits the strings is something they must discover for themselves.
In order to advance with the guitar, it is very important to properly use your picking, or impact hand. This should almost always be your dominant hand, so if you are right handed, you would use your right hand for your picking hand, and vice versa for left handed people. This hand should always be loose, because if it is not, the strings can sound clunky.
Your hand should "float" at a comfortable height above the sound hole, and you should be keeping your wrist straight or slightly bent. You should always be ready for movement in either direction, and your wrist should not touch the strings as you are strumming (unless you are doing some sort of muting technique). You can use your fourth finger to brace against your guitar, but this is considered bad in the long term; this is like a crutch, and you are limiting the potential you can get from practicing with your whole arm. For example, even though the brace will let you pick notes faster, it sometimes limit your ability to play complex rhythms using chords. While it might be good to practice using your fourth finger for a brace sometimes, you will become a better guitar player if you don't brace yourself like that.
It doesn't matter if you are using a pick or just your fingernails, whenever your impact hand hits the strings, the type of hit can be changed based on the tension of your upper finger joints. This is the area to pay attention, because slight variations in pressure and speed can make distinctly different sounds.
Fingers[edit | edit source]
The fingers can be used in two main ways, through finger picking or strumming through chords like using a pick. There are several styles of finger picking, such as Travis picking, where you only use the thumb and first finger, and other styles where you use three, four or all five fingers.
Using a Pick[edit | edit source]
Hold the pick in between your first finger and your thumb. Don't pinch it, hold it firm but loose, with the pick flat in between the side of your first finger and the bottom of your thumb. Your thumb should be in line with the first segment of the first finger, with the pick firmly (but not tightly) between. When you pick, your wrist should be loose, and the main motion comes from your wrist for picking on one string, and you should use the Elbow for crossing strings. Similarly, when you strum, make sure to use your forearm and not your wrist for strength. Your wrist should be loose enough, but controlled, and the power should come from your forearm.
It is helpful to imagine the pick like a small bird between your thumb and finger; you do not want it to fly away, and you do not want to crush it.
Using the Fretboard[edit | edit source]
The most important things to remember when playing are to keep your hand loose, avoid unnecessary movements and finger spreading, and not to smother the strings. Having good flexibility in your hand is one thing, but trying to reach too far can be exhausting. Keep your fingers tight together, but not cramped. In general, when playing acoustic instruments you should always use the tips of your left hand fingers and not the pads to press the strings. If you use the pads, you risk muffling the sound coming from adjacent strings, which may be required to be heard. The greater sustaining properties of electric guitars often requires that such strings be damped so this rule does not always apply. Ideally your left elbow should be extended from your body, and your left hand should curl in towards your body. Your fingers should be like little hammers hitting down on the strings, and this way you will use the tips to push the strings down into the frets.
Regardless of where you are playing on the fretboard, you always have to make sure that you're pressing down in the best spot to get the best sound. You should always be fretting down the string slightly behind the fret of the note you want to play. Press the string down firmly to the fretboard, close to the metal fret. If the finger is too far away from the fret, then the pressure is not sufficient to press the string down completely on the frets, and the note will buzz. If you are pressing too close to the fret you will sometimes accidentally play a note too high. You'll have to practice to get the right amount of pressure to use and the right distance at which to hold your arm. Be careful on how you hold strings
Chords[edit | edit source]
Please see the Chords section for more information
A chord is defined as three or more different notes sounded at the same time. Ability to play chords is a basic requirement of most guitar music. There are many different types of chords, and each type has its own sound. Other things about the guitar affect how a chord sounds.
Generally, playing chords involve pressing several (and sometimes all) the strings down on the frets. Sometimes this can be very tough for beginners until their muscles develop. Often a beginner will find that when playing a chord, not all the strings are being pressed down properly, and some strings sound dead. It is important to make sure that all the strings ring out, which can be tested by picking up and down a chord, and adjust your fingers when needed. It doesn't matter how fast or loud you can play, if your chords are not fretted properly you will sound terrible.
Some players use their thumbs to play the low E string. They do this by turning their fretting hand slightly out and squeezing the thumb down on the string. Players with long thumbs can play on the low E and A strings. This technique compromises efficient left hand function as the wrist and hand have to undertake significant re-adjustment in order present the thumb to the string in such a manner and then to return the hand to its standard presentation. Additionally the tips of the fingers can no longer be presented vertically to the strings. The technique is not recommended for beginners who wish to maximise their technical abilities.
Melody[edit | edit source]
When a player is first starting out, it is not their ability to make melodies causing problems, it is a lack of skill in their hands. Many people can whistle or hum a melody, but have difficulty translating that to the fretboard. Learning the sound of different intervals between notes takes time and patience.
The best way to learn how to carry a melody on the guitar is simply to keep practicing. Unfortunately there is no secret to being a good player, you simply have to practice and learn for yourself. This is good though, because even if there was some secret, if everyone did the same thing, then all the music would sound the same. For general advice about learning about melody, see the Lead Guitar and Rhythm Guitar page
Coordinating Your Hands[edit | edit source]
Truly great guitar playing comes from the unison of the left and right hand. Unless both hands are connecting with the strings at the proper time, your playing will sound sloppy. So it is very important to start out slow and work your way up to playing faster.
What's Next?[edit | edit source]
Now that you have some basic control over the guitar, you're ready to start playing. A good place to begin is by exploring some of the other styles and techniques listed on the main page. The most important thing to remember is that you become a good player by practising properly, and accurately. It is always better to learn and practice a piece slowly, and then increase your speed as your increase your skill and comfort, rather than struggling through it a few times and just considering it "learned".
Open chords are chords that include unfretted strings of the guitar. Open chords contain one or more open strings. For example the Em chord diagram on this page shows 4 open strings but the D major chord diagram only has 1 open string. They are both classed as "open chords".
Open chords are the easiest chords to play on the guitar and many famous songs can be played using just 3 or 4 open chords. Learning a handful of open chords at the first position (first four frets) and memorizing their shape is an important step towards mastering barre chords.
When you strum any chord, all of the strings (open and fretted) should ring out clearly. If any of the strings cannot be heard; check to make sure that you are not stopping any string from sounding. If you are accidentally muting any strings, arch your hand more and curl your fingers to ensure that it is the tip of the finger pressing the string and not the flat of the finger.
Major Chords[edit | edit source]
Major chords are defined by the major triad. The major triad consists of three notes which are spaced at specific intervals. In ascending order: the root, major third and perfect fifth. These intervals are also found between the first note of a major scale and the third note (major 3rd), and the first note and the fifth note (fifth). When combined they have a bright happy tone, and are often used in upbeat music.
There are 6 major chords commonly used in the open position; A, C, D, E, F and G. The standard tuning of a guitar is designed so that chords can be easily played. Beginners often find the G major and the F major shape challenging to play but a small amount of extra practice overcomes any initial difficulties.
E Major[edit | edit source]
Many early blues songs are written with E major as the root chord. The chord contains the notes E, G#, and B, and can be played with three fingers.
Fingering 1: (o231oo)
First, place your second finger on the second fret of the fifth string. The string now plays a B note. Then, place your third finger on the second fret of the fourth string. This note is an E, which is an octave higher than the open sixth string. Finally, place your first finger on the first fret of the third string. You can alternatively switch the second and third fingers.
When you strum this chord, all of the strings should ring out clearly. If any string sounds dull or muffled, check to see that you are not accidentally touching strings, and that all the strings are pressed firmly against their frets. It is important to build good technique early, as bad habits tend to linger. Make sure that your fingers are arched on your left hand, and that your thumb is positioned to give you a strong grip.
A Major[edit | edit source]
There are several ways to play A major. You should learn how to play all of them, then use the most suitable to each musical context. In an A major, the notes are A, C# and E. When playing an A, it is considered good form not to let the low E string ring out. While an E is one of the notes in the A major chord, playing an E below the other notes puts this A major in second inversion. This changes the tone of the chord, and may not achieve the desired effect.
Put your first, second, and third finger on the second fret of the fourth, third and second strings respectively. When you strum, ensure that all strings sound clear, except for the sixth string which should be muted. This is probably the most popular fingering, but is tough for people with thick fingers. (xo213o) is a variation by switching the first and second finger, with the second on the third string, first for fourth string, third for fifth string.
Alternatively you can finger this chord (xo112o), this requires that the first finger fret two strings (using the finger's pad rather than the tip). This leaves two fingers free and is often favoured by classical and flamenco performers, depending on musical context.
(xo234o) fingering allows for easy transition into higher position barre chords,
(xo231o) fingering allows for easy transition from open E, makes a transition from A to Amin a breeze (great if A is the IV chord), and is more comfortable for some with chubby fingers.
Finally, (xo111o) by using one of your fingers, most commonly the first or third finger, and barre the aforementioned frets. This one is tough for beginners, but easier for players with large hands. For more information on barring, see the section on barre chords.
D Major[edit | edit source]
Use your first finger on the third string, third finger on the second string, and your second finger on the first string. Be careful not to play the sixth and fifth strings, since they are not required for this chord. At first this may feel awkward, but it will be comfortable to play. Watch that you keep your thumb low when you play this chord. To play D minor, try the most common fingering (xxo231), with your first finger on the first fret of the first string, third finger on the third fret of the second string, and your second finger on the second fret of the third string. You can also try to finger the D major chord as (xxo243), which will help you to later use this as a barred, movable chord shape.
G Major[edit | edit source]
There are two common ways to play a G major, a three finger method (Frets: 320003) and a four finger method (Frets: 320033), both with a slight difference in sonority. In either way, the notes are a combination of G, B and D. From this point forward, the fingerings will be shown in parentheses for the sake of simplicity.
Fingering 1: (32ooo4)
Put your third finger on the sixth string, second finger on the fifth string, and fourth finger on the first string. This is a favorite among beginners, and it allows for easy change to the open C major chord. Alternatively you can finger it (21ooo3), which may be easier for players with small hands or guitars with small necks and is recommended when changing to or from a open D7 chord.
Fingering 2: (21oo34)
This uses all four fingers and makes for an easy G to D major chord change. This has a more "stable" sound than the first fingering because the note played on the open B string is a D therefore avoiding the doubling of the third. Don't worry if that explanation isn't clear; just remember the difference between the two chords (one has a doubled third). The theory of chords and how they are constructed from the intervals of a scale is a subject that requires some off-the-guitar learning but with applied study can be easily understood.
C Major[edit | edit source]
This is the most common fingering. Alternatively, you can use (x42o1o). (x32o14) or (x32o13) provide C chords with different voicings.
F Major[edit | edit source]
To play this, use the pad of your first finger, and press the first and second strings down at the first fret. You need to press firmly, or the strings will not ring out properly. Then take your second finger and put it on the third string, and put your third finger on the fourth string. The fifth and sixth strings should not be played with this chord.
Minor Chords[edit | edit source]
Minor chords use the first, third and fifth of the minor scale. They have a dark, melancholic tone and are most often used in darker music.
E Minor[edit | edit source]
Alternatively you can finger this chord (o22ooo). For variation you can also add a G on the high E string, and play the cord using these frets: (o22oo3).
A Minor[edit | edit source]
Fingering 1: (xo221o)
You can also finger this like (xo342o).
D Minor[edit | edit source]
Fingering 1: (xxo231)
Also often fingered using the fourth finger in the place of the third. Make sure your first finger does not "fold". If you are doing it, you will know what I mean because your first finger will hurt around the joints. The proper technique should apply to this chord just as much as any other. Keep your thumb back.
Other kinds of chords[edit | edit source]
There are a variety of other chords that can be played in open position, and often it involves taking a chord you are already familiar with and adding or removing a finger. Experimentation can yield a lot of interesting sounds, and you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to using them.
Dominant-type seventh chords[edit | edit source]
Dominant-type seventh chords are notated as A7, C7 etc. They add an extra note to a major chord. The extra note is found at an interval of a minor seventh above the root note of the chord. For example, a D chord major would contain a D, an F#, and an A making the intervals 1,3,5. A D7 adds a C to these notes resulting in 1,3,5,minor7. The minor seventh interval can be easily found by an alternative method. Take any chord, and lower one of the root notes downwards in pitch by two frets (a whole step) to locate the minor 7th. The chord will usually sound more settled if the root remains as the bass note of the chord, so a root note higher than the bass is the better choice to alter. The chords already shown above all allow you to do this. Below are some chord shapes you should know. These are only the open sevenths, which are easier than others covered in the barre chords section.
Notice how we moved the octave D from the D major chord (third fret second string) down two frets, making it the minor 7th. That's pretty much what we are going to do with all the other 7th chords. You can take any chord and, by moving one of the root notes down two frets, find the minor 7th.
Easy, and again, we moved the octave E down two frets.
A bit unfriendly. Remember, it is not much different from a C chord shape, except you stretch more.
This one looks funny, but you will use it a lot in songs in the key of E major, which is the natural key of the guitar.
Intervals and Power Chords
An interval is the distance between two notes.
Each interval has a distinctive sound.
Intervals are named with reference to scales. For example, the interval from the root of the major scale to the second note of the major scale is called a "major second"; the interval from the root to the third note of that scale is a "major third", and so on. A "minor third" is the interval from the root to the third of a minor scale, and is a semitone (one fret) less than a major third.
Major scale played on a single string: nut 12th fret O||-----|--●--|-----|--●--|--●--|-----|--●--|-----|--●--|-----|--●--|--●--|---- ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ root 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th octave (8th)
Natural minor scale played on a single string: nut 12th fret O||-----|--●--|--●--|-----|--●--|-----|--●--|--●--|-----|--●--|-----|--●--|---- ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ root 2nd minor 4th 5th minor minor octave 3rd 6th 7th (8th)
Major 2nd interval played on one string (say, the 6th string): ||-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|--- ||-----|-----|-----|-----|--●--|-----|--●--|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|---
Same interval played on two strings (6th and 5th): ||-----|--●--|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|--- ||-----|-----|-----|-----|--●--|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|---
Exception. If played on 2nd and 3rd strings, the shape of a major 2nd becomes this, because of the tuning irregularity: ||-----|-----|--●--|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|--- ||-----|-----|-----|-----|--●--|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|---
Major 3rd on two strings (but not 2nd to 3rd strings) ||-----|-----|-----|--●--|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|--- ||-----|-----|-----|-----|--●--|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|---
Major 3rd on 2nd and 3rd strings: ||-----|-----|-----|-----|--●--|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|--- ||-----|-----|-----|-----|--●--|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|---
If the two notes are played at the same time, an interval is called a harmonic interval. If they are played one after the other, it is called a melodic interval. (Only melodic intervals can be played on a single string.)
Power chords[edit | edit source]
Power chords are simple chords consisting of root, fifth, and possibly octave. An advantage to understanding power chords is their shape can be used to quickly determine the location of the perfect fifth and the octave. This improves one's overall understanding of the location of notes on the fingerboard by relation to one another and builds the groundwork for understanding scales. Power chords are a staple of heavy distortion guitar styles, where the distortion creates harmonics that give a rich sound despite the bare-bones simplicity of the chord.
Perfect fifths (e.g., C-G) and their inversion, perfect fourths (e.g., G-C), are the most consonant interval on the guitar (and in all of music for that matter), not counting unison and octaves.
It is more difficult to play the octave for a root note on the D string, because the B string is tuned differently than the other strings, and you will need to stretch further to reach the octave. Power chords are most commonly played on the thicker strings, and many songs exclusively use perfect fifth power chords.
Perfect Fifth above octave[edit | edit source]
The simplest perfect fifth power chord uses the same fingering as an E minor chord, except only the thickest three strings are played. Here is the fretting for the E5 power chord:
When you play a power chord in the open position (or any power chord), you have to be careful to mute the other strings so they do not ring out. In this case, if you also played the G string, you would be playing a full chord, not a power chord. Use your extra fingers to lightly touch the other strings, use your fretting fingers to smother the unnecessary strings, or just avoid hitting the unnecessary strings with your impact hand.
Power chords, and really any chord types, are useful because they can be moved anywhere on the neck, as long as the relationship between the notes is the same. For example, in the E5, the thickest string plays an E, the next string plays a B (which is the fifth note of any E scale), and the next string plays another E, but an octave above it.
If you take the same chord pattern, and move it up the neck to make a different power chord. For example, take the two fretted notes, then use your first finger and fret the thick E string two frets behind the others. For example, if you were fretting the E string at the third fret, you would be playing a G5 which looks like this:
There are several different fingerings you can use to play a power chord, but it is best to choose one that lets you easily move the power chord up and down the neck.
Here are three most common fingerings for a power chord, in this case, a G5. In the second and third fingering, the two strings are barred at the fifth fret. The numbers indicate the number of finger to use. Finger #1 is the index finger, #2 the middle finger, #3 the ring finger, and finger #4 is the little finger.
EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE ---xxx ---xxx ---xxx 1 ...... 1 ...... 1 ...... 2 ...... 2 ...... 2 ...... 3 1..... 3 1..... 3 1..... 4 ...... 4 ...... 4 ...... 5 .34... 5 .33... 5 .44...
Alternate Fingerings[edit | edit source]
One common variation on the power chord involved omitting the second, higher octave note. For example, a G5 without the second G would look like this:
These are easier to play because you only need two fingers and the sound is similar to the three string version.
Since a power chord is just playing multiple strings that produce only two tones, it is possible to play all six strings and still be playing a power chord. Some open tunings set the guitar up so that when you strum it open, it plays a power chord. Here is an example of a full G5 chord, where all strings are either playing a G or a D.
EADGBE --00-- 1 ...... 2 ...... 3 2...11 4 ...... 5 .4....
This chord can be considered a non-traditional power chord, since in popular music, power chords usually use only two or three strings. This is also a hard fingering for the beginner, but it emphasizes an important fact about double stops: as long as you keep adding octave or unison notes, you will always be playing the same interval. Playing a non-octave or unison note will instead produce a chord.
Adding unison notes may sound different even though they are supposed to produce the same pitch. This may be because the strings have different tension or thickness. In general, the guitar's thinner strings will have a brighter, more ringing sound.
Perfect Fourths[edit | edit source]
This type of power chord can be regarded as root plus perfect fifth in the octave below.
Perfect fourths have a slightly more suspended sound than perfect fifth chords. These are easy to play, because most of the strings on the guitar are tuned in fourths. This means that playing any two of the thickest four strings, when they are beside one another and played at the same fret. For example, a D4 is played like this:
These can easily be moved up the neck. For example, a G4 or a B4 would be played like this:
EADGBE EADGBE (33xxxx) (x22xxx)
Perfect fourths are the same as the upper two notes of the original three-string power chord. It is rare to add a new top octave, but it may done. The following Power chords show the G4 and B4 with the octave added:
EADGBE EADGBE (335xxx) (x224xx)
Other Double Stops[edit | edit source]
You can play a huge variety of different intervals by playing chords, and just plucking two notes at the same time. Often you can add variety to chord strumming by playing a quick fill by playing different sections of a chord, and achieving different intervals.
Muting and Raking
Muting[edit | edit source]
Muting a string is simple: with the fretting hand, touch the string with a finger, but do not press it down, and strike the string. It is usually best to do this where a harmonic will not result, but strings can be muted at harmonics for special effect. In tablature, muted notes are often marked with an "x" instead of a fret number. It is also common practice to mute a string with the picking hand after striking a note to create a shortened "staccato" effect. Again touching a string to mute away from harmonic nodes is advised, but sometimes pulling off into harmonics creates interesting effects.
Palm muting[edit | edit source]
Palm muting may or may not make the pitch of the string discernable. Very lightly rest the palm of the hand on or near the bridge, then fret and strike strings normally. Palm-muted notes are sometimes notated the same way as muted notes when the pitch is not discernable; otherwise fret numbers are given normally and the muted notes are marked "P.M." in tablature.
The Palm Muting Technique[edit | edit source]
The idea is not to mute the strings, but to dampen them, so that the notes are still clear, but with less sustain. To start, hold your guitar like you normally would, but let your palm brush against the strings, near the bridge. Remember to "let" the strings brush against your palm, not putting any force on the strings. The closer to the bridge, the more forgiving it is. As you get better, try adjusting the amount of muting by keeping your palm at different distances from the bridge. Very heavy palm muting can raise the pitch of the note(s), especially on guitars with a floating tremolo bar system equipped. Using or not using this effect is at the reader's discretion.
Finger Muting[edit | edit source]
You can also mute strings just by pressing your fingers against the strings, but not so hard that they are fretted and play notes.
Raking[edit | edit source]
Raking is not a kind of muting, but a technique for applying it. It is vaguely related to sweep picking, but instead of an arpeggio, the result is usually a single percussive-sounding note. (However, sweep picking is sometimes incorrectly notated as a rake in tablature, and sloppy sweep picking may accidentally become a rake.) Between two and four strings are struck, only one containing the desired note and the rest muted. Rakes may be notated in various ways; the most common way is to add muted grace notes, possibly adding the word "rake" to the tablature for clarification.
Now that you've got a few chords under your belt, you're ready to start learning some songs. Great! There are several ways to learn songs, and some are more accessible than others.
General Tips[edit | edit source]
There are two basic forms that appear in thousands of songs. They are the twelve bar blues and the thirty-two bar ballad. Both forms are used extensively in all genres. The blues and rock 'n 'roll genres both use the twelve-bar blues form and many songs by Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly are twelve bar blues and therefore very easy to learn. If you are trying to learn a jazz standard then you will find that many of them are of the thirty-two bar form. Practicing and understanding these two basic forms is essential for the guitarist who wishes to learn songs.
Practice the song slowly (especially if it's a fast song) until you can play it flawlessly. Then, when you are confident with the notes you are supposed to play, increase the speed until you can play along with the song.
Using a drum-machine or metronome when practicing is essential. An alternative method for improving timing is to play along with your favorite artists.
Methods of Learning[edit | edit source]
Sheet Music[edit | edit source]
The best way is to find sheet music for the song you are trying to learn, like a tab book, available from any guitar shop. Tab books are good, because they are almost always accurate, and they not only show the notes you're supposed to play, but they give good sense of how to play the notes. Generally they include both the rhythm and lead part, even written on the same page if they are played at the same time.
Tab books are expensive and there's a learning curve associated with fluent tab reading, especially if you have no prior knowledge of music notation. Understanding music theory, even just enough to properly (and easily) read a tab book is a challenge but not insurmountable. Being able to read music, whether it's tab or notation, will improve your playing.
Online Tab[edit | edit source]
A much quicker, cheaper and often faster way to learn is to search for an online tab of the song you're looking for. Simply type "Artist Name Song Name tab" into your favorite search engine, and "voila!", you have dozens to choose from. The online tab community is thriving, and there are many popular sites where you can find tabs for most popular songs. Some sites even feature a MIDI of the song, to make learning even easier.
There are several downsides to online tab, some of which are outlined in the Tablature section. The biggest problem is lack of accuracy. Always remember that online tabs are not made by professionals like tab books, and that somewhere down the line someone was sitting at home with a CD and figured it out by trial and error. Thus, the more complicated the song, the less likely the tab you are reading is 100% accurate. But since most people don't play a song exactly as it sounds on the album (even the recording artists!), this isn't such a big deal.
Another down side is that there is a huge amount of stealing in the community, and if you are looking for an obscure tab, you might only find one actual tab, with copies of it on every site you visit. Some sites allow for multiple versions, and some use voting or comments to give you a sense of how accurate the tab is. However, don't let voting alone determine which tab you read, because if the people who vote don't know how to play the song either, then they might vote a terrible tab really high. In general, you should read two or three tabs for a song, and then from that determine how you intend to play the song. Comments on a song can contain slight revisions or alternate fingerings for chords, so it is good to check those out.
By Ear[edit | edit source]
Songs can also be learned "by ear", with no sheet music. Essentially you just listen to the song and try to figure it out, with nothing for reference. Knowledge of music theory is particularly helpful for this method. It probably sounds a lot harder to learn this way than it is, but it is a really good way to practice whatever music knowledge you have. And it is especially rewarding being able to figure out a famous musicians piece and saying "I could have made that up!"
First, you should always try and figure out the key (or scale) the song is in. Knowing the key essentially tells you two important things; what the root notes are of the chords they are playing, and the scale that is used for soloing. When you know the scale, you can also probably figure out which scale degree is supposed to be major or minor.
To figure out the key, try playing random notes on the fretboard, and when one "works", play a major or minor pentatonic scale beginning with that note. Once you have figure out a few more notes, you will probably have a good idea of what scale is being used. If that doesn't work, try humming the chords being used, and then match those tones on the guitar. Be careful you don't accidentally start humming the lead vocals, because although that will help determine the key, the chords are likely different.
Once you know what key the song is in, the rest generally follows pretty quickly. Some of the tricky bits can be one-note riffs, arpeggios, of specific voicing of the chords they are using.
If have no experience of keys and their relationship to writing songs, then figuring out songs by ear is more difficult. Essentially you need to just find the same notes or chords and write them down or remember them. Generally this involves a lot of trial and error, but working this way provides excellent ear training.
Other Guitarists[edit | edit source]
This is perhaps the best way to learn. Playing with another guitarist gives you the opportunity to ask questions about chords and rhythms, and it gives you a chance to see and hear what the song is supposed to be like when it's performed live. However, the down side is that often a guitarist learns to play a song "their way", and they don't care about how it's "really" supposed to be played. Thus, you might not be learning the song exactly, but rather a slightly different version.
Concert Videos[edit | edit source]
Another place to learn is by watching concert videos, especially on DVDs where they allow you to pick camera angles. Often they will have a camera never breaks away from lead guitarist. By following along, you can learn exactly how a particular guitarist plays a particular song live.
The downside of this is that not every artist (especially new ones) has a concert DVD. Also, the guitarist may be playing the song differently live than on the album, so depending on how accurate you intend to be with your learning and playing, watching a video may not be the best way.
Chord Progressions[edit | edit source]
Songs are created using chords. Chords are derived from scales. The chords that are derived from one diatonic scale never change. If you learn the seven chords in the key of C major, then when you find a song in that key, you can quickly work out the chord progressions that make up the song.
Chords in C major
Note that the chords in the key of C major consists of 3 major chords, 3 minor chords and 1 diminished chord. This holds true for all major keys.
Chord Theory[edit | edit source]
Songs in the key of C major will start with a C major chord and end with a C major chord. The tonic chord of C major is the chord that defines the key ( the name tonic is derived from the word tonal). If you think of music as a journey then the tonic chord is the starting point and the return point. The notes in the scale of C major are named:
I is the Tonic
II is the Supertonic
III is the Mediant
IV is the Subdominant
V is the Dominant
VI is the Relative Minor
VII is the Leading Note
VIII is the Octave
Tonic - is the first note of the scale and it is this note that determines the tonality or key, hence the name Tonic.
Supertonic – the word “super” comes from the Latin verb “superare” which means “to be above”. The second note of any scale is always above the tonic.
Mediant – the mediant refers to the fact that this note lies halfway between the tonic and the dominant.
Subdominant – the word “sub” means "to be below". This note is below the dominant.
Dominant – this note has this name because with the tonic it sets the tonality or key. The tonic and dominant notes, more than any of the others, determines the tonality of a piece of music. The fifth note of the scale is therefore a dominant factor.
Relative Minor – so called because this is the tonic note of the corresponding natural minor scale. Every major scale has a corresponding natural minor scale that contains exactly the same notes. So the relative minor of the C major scale is A natural minor. It is also called the submediant because is lies three notes below the octave as the mediant lies three notes above the tonic.
Leading-note – whenever you play a scale and arrive at this note, you will find that it naturally wants to move up to the octave note. People have a psychological expectation of music. The most important need is for the “musical journey” to have a start and end. If you were to play the C major scale and stopped at the leading-note, you would always have the sense that the scale is incomplete.
Octave – the same note as the tonic but an octave higher in sound and the end of the musical journey that a scale takes us on.
All the chords in C major take the same names given to the degrees of the scale. You can refer to the dominant note or the dominant chord.
Common Progressions[edit | edit source]
The tonic, subdominant and dominant are called the tonal chords. The supertonic, mediant and relative minor are called the modal chords. The tonal chords define tonality (key) and the modal chords suggest modality. If you play only the modal chords Am and Em from the key of C major the listener will eventually interpret the music to be in the key of A minor (aeolian mode). It must be noted that Am and Em has to be stated over a lengthy period of time. Analyzing chord progressions starts with the tonal chords:
Step One: Try the progression I-V (Tonic to Dominant)
Step Two: Try the progression I-IV (Tonic to Subdominant)
Step Three: Try the progression I-VI or I-III (Tonic to Relative Minor) or (Tonic to Mediant)
Step Four: Try the progression I-II (Tonic to Supertonic)
If you know the song starts with a C major chord and none of the above works then the song may contain chromatic chords. It is common practice to change the modal chords which are minor into their major counterparts. So D minor becomes D major and E minor becomes E major. The chromatic supertonic and the chromatic mediant are a common compositional device. Even though you have added chromatic chords the listener will still interpret the key as C major.
Try playing this progression: C - E major - Am - G
In the above chord progression you have played a chord that doesn't belong to the key of C major. The tonality of the piece is preserved by the following chords which are diatonic to the key.
How To Continue Learning[edit | edit source]
- Take formal lessons from a qualified teacher. Be sure to seek testimonials and references.
- Watch others play. Notice what they have to pay attention to and what seems like magic.
- Practice arbitrary scale runs. Go up and or down 3 or 4 notes and then move up the scale with the same interval.
- Jam up with friends who are better than you as frequently as possible
- Get some friends along who are at the same skill level and form a band of your own
- Listen to your favorite music and try to envision what the guitarist is doing to make the notes come out as they do.
- Listen to different music. It may open your mind to techniques and phrasing you never imagined using before. It may also expand your musical library. Pick any genre you're not familiar with. Get a feel for the timing and note choice. Into classical? Try bluegrass. Headbanger? Pick up some jazz or blues. Then move on to your hero's heroes. Find out what musical influences got Jimi Hendrix, B.B King or Eric Clapton primed for stardom.
A great way to continue learning if you can already play is to teach guitar to other people.
These two exercises will increase the strength, fluency and accuracy of your playing. They should be played daily and on all strings in all positions.
Western music uses twelve notes called the complete chromatic scale. The seven white keys and their corresponding black keys on a keyboard allows for easy visualization of the complete chromatic scale and the twelve semitones. From this simple twelve note system are all the other scales derived. A scale is simply a way of ordering the twelve sounds found in Western Music. It must be borne in mind that music as an activity precedes musical theory and that the scales we use now have an evolution that predates written records. Today's scale system is referred to as the major-minor system. Go back to the Medieval period and the system used then was called the Church Modes. The study of scales should start with the major scales and minor scales or the blues and pentatonic scales. Unlike the piano where each semitone is represented by a key; on the guitar each semitone is represented by a fret. Pianists visualize the chromatic scale as the seven white keys and five black keys but guitarists should visualize their complete chromatic scale as all the notes from the open E string (low) up to the open high e string. Basically play all the open notes and fretted notes on the first four frets in sequence starting with the low open E string and ending on the high open e string. This is the complete chromatic scale over two octaves as visualized on the guitar. Scales take their names from the first note played - the C major, C minor, C diminished are all scales that start with C. For historical reasons the major scale and the minor scale consists of seven notes. Other scales may use more than seven notes and some (e.g. pentatonic = 5) less than seven notes.
It is important to remember that on the guitar, if you know the pattern of a particular scale, you can move that pattern anywhere else on the fret board and be playing in a different key. By this, I mean if you are playing a major scale, beginning on the low E string at the fifth fret, which is an A note and then you played the same pattern of notes, but you started on the 3rd fret of the low E string, you will be playing a G major scale. If this sounds confusing to you, read the entire article, and if it is still unclear, see the musical scale article on Wikipedia or the Music Theory wikibook.
There are many different scales: the major scale, three different forms of the minor scale, the blues scale, the pentatonic scale, the whole tone scale, the diminished scale and some scales that originated in Spain and India. There are also very interesting scales from eastern music. It is possible to create your own scales by altering another as you wish, or completely coming up with your own. Note that though there are three minor scales (Natural. Harmonic and Melodic) you don't actually have to learn three different scales. The Harmonic and Melodic Minor scales are variations of the Natural Minor scale. After you have learnt, for example, the A natural minor scale, you only have to sharpen the seventh note to change it to a Harmonic minor scale. The Melodic Minor has two notes sharpened - the sixth and seventh note. Once again the reasons for the existence of these scales is historical. The Harmonic minor scale is so called because it is from this scale that minor harmony is usually taken. A simpler way of saying this is that the Harmonic minor scale is the scale we use to build the chords in a minor key. The Melodic Minor scale is so called because this scale is frequently used for building melodies.
The "Circle of Fifths" is a memory aid for learning the major and minor scales which can equally be applied to all scales. The scales in common use have evolved over many centuries and the established major scale, followed by the natural minor and then the two variants: the harmonic minor scale and the melodic minor scale form the basis of Western music. The "Circle of Fifths" and major scales in tab can be found in the Scale Manual section of this book.
All scales in this section are in the key of A and presented in tab except the Hungarian Minor which is given in the key of C. This means that the root note of all these scales is A.
Pentatonic Scales[edit | edit source]
Pentatonic scales are the least complicated, because they have five notes rather than the seven notes used in the major scale. The pentatonic scale is used extensively by blues and rock guitarists and provides an ideal starting point for jamming along with recorded music. A very famous song that uses the A minor pentatonic is "Stairway To Heaven" by Led Zeppelin.
A Minor Pentatonic[edit | edit source]
Most guitarists feel comfortable beginning with the A minor pentatonic, which is the single most popular scale for solos in Western music. Most guitarists know this shape of the Am pentatonic scale by heart, mainly because it is so frequently used in solos. It can also be used for pretty much anything, especially if you want to give it a slightly melancholy sound.
Remember that this scale pattern (and any other scale pattern) can be moved up and down the fretboard therefore allowing the guitarist to play in many different keys using the one shape.
In this diagram, the notes are ordered sequentially up the scale (going higher in pitch). The different octaves of the first degree of the scale (in this case, the A note) are highlighted with a yellow dot.
Learning the Scale[edit | edit source]
When you are learning any scale, it is helpful to break it down into smaller chunks, which can be practiced and memorized much more easily. With the A minor pentatonic scale, it is most commonly broken down into these sections.
e |--0-------3-- B |-----1----3-- G |--0-----2---- D |--0-----2---- A |--0-------3-- E |--0-------3--
e |-----3-----5-- B |-----3-----5-- G |--2--------5-- D |--2--------5-- A |-----3-----5-- E |-----3-----5--
e |--5--------8-- B |--5--------8-- G |--5-----7----- D |--5-----7----- A |--5-----7----- E |--5--------8--
e |-----8-----10- B |-----8-----10- G |--7-----9----- D |--7--------10- A |--7--------10- E |-----8-----10-
e |----10----12-- B |----10------13 G |--9-------12-- D |----10----12-- A |----10----12-- E |----10----12--
Scales should be practiced repeatedly and slowly. Scales are an ideal way to improve hand co-ordination and finger memory which in turn leads to a personal technique. A common technical problem associated with the guitar is string noise. Even a simple chord movement from C to Am should be played at the slowest speed possible with care being taken not to bend the strings and for each note, open or fretted, to ring out clearly. The A minor pentatonic shapes shown above should be played slowly up and down. If you are playing with a plectrum then practice alternate picking or tremolo picking. To play scales with fingers just alternate the index and middle finger of the right hand. If you are using a steel-string acoustic then to avoid tendonitis and hand fatigue it is advised that you tune your guitar down a tone when practising scales.
The Blues scale[edit | edit source]
Please see the Blues section for more lessons.
You can easily modify the minor pentatonic scale by adding a single note and turning it into the blues scale - the flatted fifth note (b5) of the scale. In the diagram below, A blues scale is shown at the fifth fret. The number represent the frets played, and the numbers in parentheses represent the Blue Note which, as the name suggests, is the major source of the blues vibe in the scale. The blue note is not actually part of the Minor Pentatonic scale, although it is often added in for extra colour.
e |--5--------8-- B |--5--------8-- G |--5-----7-(8)- D |--5-----7----- A |--5-(6)-7----- E |--5--------8--
Major Pentatonic[edit | edit source]
The A major pentatonic also has five notes:
The major pentatonic can be formed from any seven note major scale by simply leaving out the fourth and seventh note. The difference between the A minor pentatonic and the A major pentatonic is their modality. They both use the same first degree, however it is the interval between the first degree and the third that defines a scales modality. In the major pentatonic we have a major third (A - C#) so therefore the modal quality of this scale is major. The minor pentatonic has a minor third (A - C) and therefore the modal quality of this scale is minor. Though they both have the same tonality by starting on the same note they differ in sound. Understanding that it is the third of a scale that determines whether a scale is minor mode or major mode is important. In a scale the I, IV and V notes are called the tonal degrees and the III, VI, and VII notes are called the modal degrees.
e |-----5--------- B |-----5-----7--- G |--4-----6------ D |--4--------7--- A |--4--------7--- E |-----5-----7---
Practice this the same way you practice the minor pentatonic scale. When you feel completely comfortable with both pentatonic scales, begin to explore the other different scales.
Major Scale[edit | edit source]
The pattern for any major scale is 2-2-1-2-2-2-1, meaning that the difference from the first note to the second is 2 frets, from the second to the third is 2 frets, from the third to the fourth is 1 fret, etc. The difference in notes can also be called steps, 2 notes being a whole step, and 1 note being a half step. This pattern in steps can be shown as W-W-H-W-W-W-H or as full tones and semitones T-T-S-T-T-T-S.
Major scale in the key of A
e |-4-5--------- B |---5---7----- G |-4---6-7----- D |-4---6-7----- A |-4-5---7----- E |---5---7-----
Natural Minor Scale[edit | edit source]
The pattern for any natural minor scale is 2-1-2-2-1-2-2, shown in steps as W-H-W-W-H-W-W
Natural Minor Scale in the key of A
e |---5-------- B |---5-6---8-- G |-4-5---7---- D |---5---7---- A |---5---7-8-- E |---5---7-8--
The movable shape for this scale is shown:
e |-------|---x---|-------|-------|-------| B |-------|---x---|---x---|-------|---x---| G |---x---|---x---|-------|---x---|-------| D |-------|---x---|-------|---x---|-------| A |-------|---x---|-------|---x---|---x---| E |-------|---x---|-------|---x---|---x---| 5th
Harmonic Minor Scale[edit | edit source]
The Harmonic minor scale has a very different quality than the minor pentatonic scale. It has a "middle-eastern" sound when used to play lead lines.
This is a moveable shape and to play in other keys just move the shape up or down the neck:
e |--4--5-----7--8-- B |-----5--6-------- G |--4--5-----7----- D |--------6--7----- A |-----5-----7--8-- E |-----5-----7--8--
This looks a little more complicated, and is certainly more difficult to get to sound nice, but when you have mastered it, it will sound great!
Melodic Minor Scale[edit | edit source]
This scale is actually two scales. Thus when one speaks of a "melodic minor" pattern, one refers to two patterns - one ascending and one descending.
A-B-C-D-E-F#-G#-A (ascending) A-G-F-E-D-C-B-A (descending)
This is best illustrated by playing the melodic minor scale. Below is the A melodic minor scale in tab; note the sharps when ascending and the naturals when descending.
The ascending pattern is constructed by raising the 6th and 7th steps of the natural minor scale. When descending the normal natural minor scale is used without the 6th and 7th raised. The reason for this is to be found in singing. Vocalists find the augmented second between the F and G sharp in the Harmonic minor scale very awkward to sing. It is not impossible but the dissonance of the interval and the sense of "leaping" meant that a different approach was sought. The answer was to also raise the sixth note. The awkward augmented second was gone and the melody flowed better due to the absence of the leap.
Hungarian Minor[edit | edit source]
The Hungarian minor scale is a type of combined musical scale. It is akin to the harmonic minor scale, except that it bears a raised fourth. Its tonal center is slightly ambiguous, due to the large number of half steps. Also known as Double Harmonic Minor, or Harmonic Minor #4, it figures prominently in Eastern European music, particularly in gypsy music. Melodies based on this scale have an exotic, romantic flavor.
e |--7--8-----10--11-- B |--7--8--9---------- G |--7--8------------- D |--------9--10------ A |--------9--10--11-- E |-----8-----10--11--
A Hungarian minor scale in the key of C would proceed as follows:
Its scale degrees are 1 2 b3 #4 5 b6 7 and its step pattern w - h - + - h - h - + - h, where w indicates a whole step, h indicates a half step, and + indicates an augmented second.
Derived chords[edit | edit source]
Chords that may be derived from the Hungarian minor scale are:
This scale is obtainable from the *Arabic scale by starting from the fourth of that scale. Said another way, the C Hungarian minor scale is equivalent to the G Arabic scale.
In the video game, The Illusion of Gaia (published by the Enix Corporation), the flute melody found in the Inca Ruins uses the C Hungarian minor scale (a #4 is used in the second phrase); this music is also quoted when the player reaches the Larai Cliff stage of the game, transposed to D.
Joe Satriani has composed several songs using the Hungarian minor scale.
Church Modes[edit | edit source]
The Church Modes preceded the Major-Minor system. The student is advised to listen to the music of Palestrina as well as the jazz album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis; both use modes to great effect.
For example, in the key of C, the notes are:
If you wanted to play in the 2nd mode, called the Dorian mode, then you would just play the same notes, but start on the second note. So instead you would play:
The different modes are called:
The Phrygian mode - E F G A B C D E - is of special interest to flamenco players. The third and seventh degrees are often sharpened, giving the scale notes E F G# A B C D# E. This arrangement is commonly used in descending form. The second degree of the scale is referred to as a leaning note, which means the note tends to fall one semitone. In this case F falls to E.
The Invention Of Notation[edit | edit source]
By the ninth century Western music had become standardized into a notational form called nuemes which were shapes that represented notes. One line was used to indicate the middle pitch with nuemes above the line being higher in pitch and the nuemes below the line being lower in pitch. This primitive notational system was more of a memory aid rather than a complete notational system showing exact pitch and duration. To read nuemes you needed to be familiar with the piece of music beforehand. In the tenth century Guido d'Arezzo, a Benedictine monk and Choir Master, extended the one line to four lines and set the exact pitch of each note. This new invention of the stave allowed music to be notated more precisely. Guido d'Arezzo also devised the solfeggio system where a different syllable is sung to each note of an ascending scale:
Do - Re - Mi - Fa - Sol - La - Ti
Today a scholarly approach has been applied to the music of the past in relation to ensuring that the notation is interpreted correctly. An example is baroque music where modern research into the instruments, techniques and approach of this period has led today's musicians to revise their interpretation and performance of Baroque notation.
During the Renaissance Italian composers tried to recreate the plays of Ancient Greece and their experiments led to the invention of Opera. Musicians have always mined the music of the past for ideas and maybe some clue as to the roots of contemporary musical practices. From a musicologist point of view we are living in a Golden Age simply from the fact that mankind for the first time has the ability to record sound. Though we take recorded sound for granted today; it must be said that the future musicologist will find a rich legacy of sound recordings from which to base their research. We can never hear the music of Ancient Greece or the Medieval period; we can only attempt to recreate it. The importance of notation as the only mechanism we had for preserving the music of the past becomes self-evident.
The Church Modes[edit | edit source]
The music up to the baroque period was created from a form of scales known as the Church Modes which took their names from the tribes of Ancient Greece.
- Ionian - the Greeks who settled on the coast of modern day Turkey.
- Dorian - the Greeks who settled on Crete, Sparta and Corinth.
- Phrygian - the Greeks who moved further inland in Turkey to settle Anatolia.
- Lydian - a Greek tribe also from the Anatolia region of Turkey.
- Mixolydian - the Mixolydian mode was invented by Sappho, the 7th century B.C. poet and musician.
- Aeolian - originally Greeks from Thessaly who spread to the Greek islands and Asia-minor.
- Locrian - inhabitants of the ancient region of Locris in Central Greece.
The Ancient Greeks laid the foundation for the study of music and intervals in a way that has defined Western music ever since. They investigated intervals using mathematics and used ratios to describe these intervals. The Church Modes are not scales from Ancient Greece. The Ancient Greeks used a scale system based on the idea of tetrachords. However the debt that the Medieval period owes to the Ancient Greeks is reflected in the naming of the Church Modes. The Ancient Greeks also described their modes as Dorian, Lydian, etc. However this shows a continuity of music nomenclature rather than practice and the Ancient Greeks used their modes in an entirely different manner to the Medieval musician. Here is Aristotle's view of the modes:
"The musical modes differ essentially from one another, and those who hear them are differently affected by each. Some of them make men sad and grave, like the so-called Mixolydian; others enfeeble the mind, like the relaxed modes; another again, produces a moderate and settled temper, which appears to be the peculiar effect of the Dorian; the Phrygian inspires enthusiasm"
The quote above is from Aristotle's Politics which is a work about government and society and the individual's role in both. This Aristotelian analysis of music influenced the early Church fathers who sought to lay the foundations for the liturgy of the Christian mass which had always contained musical elements.
The Church Modes derive from Gregorian Chant which is a body of liturgical vocal music named in honor of Pope Gregory (590CE to 604CE) who set others to collect all the earlier Christian plainsong for codification. Pope Gregory instigated the revision of the existing liturgical music into a coherent whole and in doing so defined the musical practices of the early Christian faith. With regards to secular (non-religious) music there is not much contemporary information available for the modern reader. The church filling the vacuum left by the demise of the Roman empire became the main conduit of information and therefore the earliest substantial musical literature we have available to study is primarily to do with the musical practices of the Christian church.
As instruments and forms evolved, some of the Church Modes became redundant as musicians found that those modes did not suffice for their musical needs. A few of the Church Modes went on to form the basis of our "major-minor" system and it is from these modes that baroque musicians created the harmonic theory that has dominated music right up to the twentieth century. The earlier Ionian mode is now called the Major scale.
The Piano Keyboard[edit | edit source]
The keyboard layout of the harpsichord and organ became standardized in the 15th century and the invention of the keyboard played a large part in laying down the foundation of modern tuning practices and theory. Tempered-tuning was adopted as a direct result of these inventions. The earlier system of mean-tuning meant that the errors introduced by the problem of the Pythagorean Comma allowed only a few keys to be played. If a piano was mean-tuned to C major then the player would find that keys further away from this C major center would be unusable. The guitarist can hear this by tuning the guitar in the first position (first four frets) so that a C major chord is in tune with itself. You will find that the chords in the first position are usable but as you further progress up the neck the chords start to sound out of tune. Tempered-tuning spreads the errors introduced by the Pythagorean Comma evenly across the entire range of an instrument. By the time the piano was invented in the 17th century, the tempered C major scale had become the foundation for teaching music theory.
Since the keyboard has been such a dominating force in music, a complete study of scale theory must make some reference to it. Thus, it is best to first look at the piano keyboard and then compare it to the guitar fretboard.
Before you begin it is good idea to familiarise yourself with the notes of the C major scale. Roman numerals are used to label the scale degrees.
If you play each key on a keyboard ascending from the middle C (diagram on the right), you will have played the 12 tone chromatic scale. These are all the notes available in Western music. The keyboard of a piano is laid out so that when you play the C major scale, you use only the white keys. The C major scale has no sharps (#'s) or flats (b's) which means that no black keys are used. Only the C major and its relative minor have no sharps or flats; all other scales will have a sharp or flat in their notation.
It is important to recognize that on the keyboard the distance between two adjacent keys is always a semitone. On the guitar the same applies to adjacent frets. Looking at the keyboard diagram you will see that between the C and D is a black key which is a semitone above the C and a semitone below the D. Between E and F there is no black key but it is still notated as a semitone interval. There is also no black key between B and C so they are also semitone neighbours. The 12 tone chromatic scale consists of 12 sounds which are all a semitone apart. The C major scale has seven notes which are represented by all the white keys. At this point it is best to remember that adjacent keys are a semitone apart and that a tone describes keys two semitones apart. Therefore C to D is a tone because there are two semitones - C to C# and C# to D. E to F# is also a tone.
The C major scale has no sharps of flats so that the chords are formed using only the white keys. The most basic chord you can play is a triad which consists of three notes. The piano student will be asked by their tutor to play the seven triads in the key of C major almost immediately. Once the piano student has formed the shape of the C major triad (C-E-G) it is only a case of moving that shape up through the scale degrees while naming the chords. A beginner on the piano will learn the chords in the key of C major within minutes.
The guitar exercise below will allow you to quickly learn the chords of the C Major scale. For the Dm triad and Bdim triad use your little finger for the lowest note and for the lowest note of the last triad (C major octave) use your third finger.
Structure of the Major Scale[edit | edit source]
The major scale (or Ionian mode) is the main scale currently used in music. It is made up of seven notes plus an eighth which duplicates the first an octave higher. The Italian music system "solfeggio" where each note is sung using a syllable - "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, (Do)" - may help in illustrating this concept.
The interval pattern for any major scale is:
meaning that the difference from the first note to the second is 2 frets, from the second to the third is 1 fret, etc.
The difference in notes can also be called steps, 2 notes being a whole step, and 1 note being a half step. This pattern in steps can be written as:
It can also be represented as:
with "t" meaning "tone" and "s" meaning "semitone". The choice is yours as to which of the three descriptors you choose to use.
The scale below uses the "tone-semitone" method:
Please note that there is a distinction in terminology between American English and UK English. It is common to find the word "tone" used in American English to describe notes whereas in UK English the word "tone" is never used.
American English: "The leading-tone is always a semitone below the octave in a major scale"
UK English: "The leading-note is always a semitone below the octave in a major scale"
Major scale in the key of C
C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C
Two Octaves Of C Major:
This shape is moveable, and the fingering is shown below
7th e:---x---|---x---|-------|-------| B:-------|---x---|-------|---x---| G:---x---|-------|---x---|---x---| D:---x---|-------|---x---|---x---| A:---x---|---x---|-------|---x---| E:-------|---x---|-------|---x---|
Structure of the Minor scale[edit | edit source]
Natural minor[edit | edit source]
The natural minor scale (or Aeolian mode) is one of the diatonic scales along with the major scale. The word "diatonic" in a modern sense refers only to the major and natural minor scales. In the key of A minor, the harmonic form would be called "non-diatonic" because the seventh note is sharpened.
TIP: Any natural minor scale can be changed into a harmonic minor scale by sharpening the seventh note.
The natural minor scales are all "diatonic" because they consist of the notes from the key they are derived from without any changes. The harmonic and melodic form both contain changes to the original natural minor scale and are therefore "non-diatonic".
Natural minor scales can be created for any key using the formula:
Below is the Am natural (or relative) scale with tones and semitones shown:
Minor scale (diatonic) in the key of C:
C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - C
Two Octaves Of C Minor:
This shape is moveable, and the fingering is shown below
7th e:-------|---x---|-------|-------|-------| B:-------|---x---|---x---|-------|---x---| G:---x---|---x---|-------|---x---|-------| D:-------|---x---|-------|---x---|-------| A:-------|---x---|-------|---x---|---x---| E:-------|---x---|-------|---x---|---x---|
Picking and Plucking
There are two major methods of right hand (for right handed players) techniques namely, either by using a pick (also called a plectrum) or fingers. The plectrum is very common in rock, country and pop music, where it is considered convenient for strumming and louder guitar sound. Use of fingers is most common among classical guitarists and flamenco players, as combination of strings better executed using the right hand fingers, and generally have softer sound than the pick. Other than classical guitarists and flamenco players, use of a pick or fingers is a matter of personal preference.
Striking[edit | edit source]
Using a pick[edit | edit source]
The primary advantages of the pick are its speed, its ease of striking large chords and, because the fingernails and fingertips are not involved, its preservation of player's picking hand. Furthermore, use of a pick makes a louder and brighter sound. Its primary disadvantage is its imprecision, making muting strings necessary. Also, if the player wishes to switch to the tapping style, he or she can tap with or with out the pick: to tap with the pick just put it on its side and tap it on the desired fret. However, tapping with a pick makes it harder to tap on multiple strings.
Finger Strumming[edit | edit source]
Players wishing not to use a pick may try finger strumming. This is accomplished by holding the picking hand's first finger to the thumb, much as one might hold a pick, and striking the strings with the first fingernail. Another way is to do all down strokes with the thumb and all upstrokes with the index finger; like one is 'petting' the strings.
Apoyando Strikes[edit | edit source]
Apoyando, or splinter rested, involves the finger picking through a string such that the finger stops when resting on the next string. This technique produces a strong, loud tone, and is considered the opposite of Tirando.
Tirando Strikes[edit | edit source]
When performing a tirando, or shooting splinter strike, the finger does not affect the next string at all. This is the opposite of apoyando.
Fingerpicking[edit | edit source]
Fingerpicking is a method of playing the guitar where you use your thumb and at least one other finger to pick or pluck notes, using your fingernails, fingerpicks or fingertips. Talented players can use all five fingers on their picking hand, but many players only use four fingers and use their pinky finger as a brace on the guitar. Most classical guitarists alter the shape of their picking hand fingernails for the purpose of producing a desired sound, however this is not necessary in non-classical music; one can purchase fingerpicks to fit on the hand.
Fingerpicking is surprisingly easy on an electric guitar, which is strange because fingerpicking is often regarded as an acoustic style. The player may hold his or her picking hand's fourth finger against the right edge (left edge on a left-handed guitar), and if it is held straight and steady, this technique may be used to brace the hand. This technique is called anchoring, and is frowned upon by some players. It is possible on acoustic guitars by using the bridge similarly, but this is not as effective as it will deaden the sound. Classical guitarists never anchor while playing.
When strumming with individual fingers, general rule is move the wrist only if the thumb is used, while if any other finger is used, only said finger will be used.
When you start trying to learn, your finger coordination will be terrible and it is easy to be discouraged. It takes several weeks to let your muscles develop, but if you practice using all your fingers at once your overall dexterity will increase much faster.
Classical picking[edit | edit source]
In classical guitar repertoire, there will be a "PIMA" marking for the picking hand fingers (right hand for right handed players), which indicate which finger to use:
- Pulgar, or thumb.
- Indice, or index finger.
- Medio, or middle finger.
- Anular, or ring finger.
These four are the ones that are used most frequently. Sometimes, the fourth finger is used, in which it is marked either C, X or E.
Typically, the thumb has a down-picking motion and the fingers have an up-picking motion.
Clawhammer and frailing[edit | edit source]
Clawhammer, sometimes known as frailing, is a method generally used with the five-string banjo and is characteristic of traditional Appalachian folk music of the U.S. It is primarily a down-picking style, and the hand assumes a claw-like shape and the strumming finger is kept fairly stiff, striking the strings by the motion of the hand at the wrist and elbow, rather than a flicking motion by the finger. Typically, only the thumb and second or first finger are used and the finger always downpicks, flicking the string with the back of the fingernail.
A common characteristic of clawhammer patterns is the thumb does not pick on the downbeat, as one might in typical finger-picking patterns for guitar. For example, this is a common, basic time signature|2/4 pattern:
- Pick a melody note on the downbeat (quarter note)
- On the second beat (music)|beat, strum a few strings with your strumming finger or brush with all fingers (roughly an eighth note)
- Immediately following (on the second half of this beat), pick a note with the thumb, usually the shorter fifth string. (roughly an eighth note)
Here, the thumb plays the high drone (fifth string) on the second "and" of "one and two and". This combined with the second finger strumming provides a characteristic "bum-ditty bum-ditty" sound.
Some people, however, make a distinction between frailing and clawhammer:
- In frailing, the first fingertip is used for up-picking melody, and the second fingernail is used for rhythmic downward brushing.
- In clawhammer, only downstrokes are used, and they are typically played with one fingernail as is the usual technique on the banjo.
Travis Picking[edit | edit source]
Another well known style of finger picking is called Travis picking, named after Merle Travis who was a country singer known for his legendary picking skills. When picking, you use your thumb and first finger to hit notes at the same time, creating a double stop or interval, and then continue picking with the first finger. Usually the thumb is responsible for picking the bass line, while the first/second finger is for melody. Skilled players can carry two separate melodies with the upper and lower strings.
You can create impressive rhythms playing with just your thumb and first finger, but to really become talented you must practice using more fingers. For example, Chet Atkins expanded to use all three fingers, with thumb for bass line.
Rasgueado[edit | edit source]
The rasgueado or splinter striking technique originated from Spanish flamenco music, and usually refers to three or four fingers and sometimes the thumb striking the strings in quick succession. The notes quickly follow one another and produce a "rattling" or cascading effect.
Scruggs style[edit | edit source]
Scruggs-style finger-picking is a syncopated, five-string banjo style used in bluegrass music. It is played with thumb, first and second fingers; the fourth and/or third fingers are typically braced against the head of the instrument. The strings are picked rapidly in repetitive sequences or rolls; the same string is not typically picked twice in succession. Melody notes are interspersed among arpeggios, and musical phrases typically contain long series of staccato notes, often played at very rapid tempos. The music is generally syncopated, and may have a subtle swing or shuffle feel, especially on mid-tempo numbers. The result is lively, rapid music, which lends itself both as an accompaniment to other instruments and as a solo.
Scruggs style picking was popularized by Earl Scruggs in the early 1940's in rural North Carolina.
Tapping[edit | edit source]
Tapping is a style of playing where notes are created by quickly pressing, or tapping, the string down on the fret that you want to play. Usually tapping involves both hands, and most often it is on an electric guitar. It is possible to tap on an acoustic, but you cannot hear the notes as clearly as on an electric.
Arpeggios and Sweep Picking
Introduction[edit | edit source]
The word arpeggio (ar-peh-jee-oh) is Italian for "like a harp". It is a common technique for playing chords on the harp. To play an arpeggiated chord on the guitar, pick each note of the chord slowly, one string at a time. You can play arpeggios with a plectrum or fingerstyle.
Exercise 1[edit | edit source]
Below is a simple arpeggio study using these chords:
Sweep picking[edit | edit source]
Sweep picking is a more specialized technique, occurring most often in metal. It involves playing a fast arpeggio with a special technique: when switching from one string to the next, mute the note currently ringing by lifting the fretting finger. A sweep can become a rake if notes are muted incorrectly. Rakes can sound nice, but they are not sweeps. Remember only one note can ring out at a time or it won't sound good. It takes practice and it helps to start slow and build up speed.
Below is example tablature of sweep picking:
This is not the only way to notate sweeps. Small sweeps can be indicated with grace notes or even the arpeggio notation with the word "sweep" (or, less correctly, "rake") written above.
In a more classical approach, arpeggios must follow a distinct pattern of notes depending on the chord/scale we're playing. This is similar to playing chords note-by-note on a piano (not on a guitar).
The basic chords (the major and minor triads) are composed of three tones: the first, the third and the fifth note of the scale (major or minor, depending on the chord type).
For instance, the C major scale is: C D E F G A B. So, according to the 1-3-5 principle, the C major triad consists of C, E and G. Note that the C major chord on a guitar also consists only of these three notes but they are not always in the 1-3-5 order. Now, while playing "classical arpeggios", you would not just pick around the chord randomly but you would play C, E, G, then C, E, G an octave higher, etc. This is what is called an arpeggio scale. You can play around it, up and down with complete freedom or just use the 1-3-5 pattern as a bass line. This method can also be used with more complex chords (sus4, maj7, etc.) but then it follows a pattern different from 1-3-5 structure, depending on the chord type. In all, this is a very simple but effective method for composing.
While playing guitar, this might not appear as interesting as picking "full" six-string chords but it can be used to give your music a classical edge. It also has a more lead quality to it than using full chords and requires more skill. Playing fast arpeggios like these is sometimes used in metal music with very satisfactory results. The "classical arpeggios" are in no way better than the "harp like chords" and it is ultimately up to the player/composer to choose what is best for the song in question.
[edit | edit source]
The slide is one of the simplest guitar techniques. There are two kinds of slides: shift slides and legato slides. In a shift slide, a note is fretted, then struck, and then the fretting finger slides up or down to a different fret, and the string is struck again. A legato slide differs in that the string is struck only for the first note.
The first slide pictured is a shift slide; the second is a legato slide. A few tablature writers do not distinguish between the two slides, using only shift slide notation. The abbreviation "sl." for slide may be omitted. When sliding from a higher fret to a lower fret, the slanted lines are usually changed to have a downward slope instead of an upward slope, to emphasize the sliding "down". It is possible to slide up from an open string, but this often does not sound as clean because this requires a hammer-on at the first fret (or for really fast slides, a higher fret) before sliding up. Likewise, it is possible to slide down to an open string but it requires a pull-off at the first (or some other) fret.
In Internet tablature, a slide from the third fret to the fifth might be written like any of these:
3/5 3>5 3>s>5 3s5
Internet tablature rarely distinguishes between the two kinds of slides.
Less commonly, tablature can instruct the guitarist to "slide into" or "slide out of" a note. In printed tablature, they are notated identically except, in the case of slide-into, the first note is omitted, and in the case of slide-out-of, the second note is omitted. In other words, the note slides in from nowhere, or out to nowhere. It simply tells the guitarist to quickly slide from or to an arbitrary point, usually only a few frets away.
Good sliding keeps the new note audible, while keeping the note in tune. If you don't press the string hard enough, you mute the string or buzz it on the frets. Too hard and the string bends out of tune. The latter does not happen often, but sounds awful and should be avoided.
Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, and Trills
Hammer-ons and pull-offs are two closely related techniques. They are used to play legato, that is, in a smooth manner, and are also used to help the guitarist to play faster. They are most commonly used in electric guitar work, but can be used in acoustic tunes as embellishments.
The hammer-on[edit | edit source]
Hammer-ons can be done anywhere on the fretboard, but for the beginner it is easiest using an open string. To quickly learn, strike an open E on the first string. While the note is still ringing, quickly and firmly press a finger on the third fret. If done properly, a G note should be sounding.
Quickly pressing your finger down and raising the note without hitting the string again is called "hammering on". Without electric amplification, the hammer-on tends to be quieter than regularly struck notes, especially if you haven't practiced it! Because the strings are closer to the fretboard, hammer-ons are easier to execute on an electric guitar. However, this doesn't make them less common on an acoustic guitar, where they are used frequently to embellish open chords
The hammer-on can just as easily be played with fretted notes: just play the note normally and hammer onto another (higher-numbered) fret on the same string. If you practice hammer-ons, eventually you will be able to move each finger smoothly and independently.
The pull-off[edit | edit source]
The pull-off is the opposite of the hammer-on. Again, using the E string, hold it at the third fret. Strike the string and while the note is still ringing, release the fretting finger. If done properly, the G should be followed by an open E. If the note doesn't ring out properly, try hitting the G harder and releasing faster.
Like the hammer-on, the second note tends to be less loud than the first. To help alleviate this, a slight sideways motion of the fretting finger while pulling off will add extra vibration to the string, and give you some extra volume. Often it is hard for a beginner to accomplish, and the sideways movement helps greatly.
A pull-off looks like this:
The trill[edit | edit source]
A trill is two alternating notes, such as an A and A#. Only the first note is struck; the rest are rapidly hammered-on and pulled off
Bending and Vibrato
Bending and vibrato are two related effects which help give extra "life" to notes, especially sustained notes, by changing their pitch. The techniques are not commonly used on the acoustic guitar or general rhythm playing. However, they are extremely important to many styles involving distorted guitar, e.g., rock or metal, even when playing rhythm (though, in that case, bends and vibratos are usually embellishments). Bending or an equivalent effect is not possible on all instruments; the piano, for example, cannot have notes that change in pitch. This is one reason why it is important to know how to bend: because you can!
This section deals with bending and vibrato using your fingers, not the different technique of using the vibrato bar. The two techniques do the same basic thing, but using the vibrato bar as a substitute for fretting-hand bending is not good practice; it is best used for very heavy bends or heavy vibratos, not slight embellishments like finger bending. It is more difficult to be subtle with a vibrato bar, and it is usually a bit out of the way for the picking hand to reach, making it harder to use. In short, while in some cases which style of bending or vibrato is used is a matter of taste, the two techniques are not interchangeable and are used for different effects.
Bending[edit | edit source]
Bending is exactly as it sounds: bending the string to the side by pushing it (towards the sixth string) or pulling it (towards the first string), often while a fretted note is ringing. The first three strings are normally pushed, and the others are normally pulled. This is particularly important on the first and sixth strings, as you do not want the string to fall off the fretboard. Whether the string is pushed or pulled, the note will be raised in pitch.
Many aspiring guitarists cannot bend properly. The sound of a bend is more important than how it is actually executed or how it looks, but a bad bending technique usually leads to a bad sound. Your favorite guitarist might bend using just his or her fingertips and you might be inclined to copy this — don't! Your hands can sound every bit as good as your hero's without copying his or her technique. There are two keys to bending properly: proper thumb positioning, and bending with the proper muscles. Do not keep your thumb behind the neck, where it usually is, but bring it up perpendicular to the neck (a position that is normally incorrect, but not in the case of bending). Keep the fingers firm. Do not bend your fingers, but push or pull with your forearm. You will hardly see your forearm move, possibly just see a couple of muscles flex. It will feel awkward at first, but if you can bend with the thumb in the proper position and without bending the fingers, you are probably doing it correctly.
Many guitarists will have trouble bending more than 1/4 step (half a semitone) or perhaps 1/2 step (one semitone) with only one finger, especially on frets close to the nut and on the thinner strings. It is much easier to bend with more than one finger, for instance, with the index finger on the first or second fret and the ring finger on the third, and pushing or pulling with both fingers in order to bend at the third fret. More fingers may be used if this is not enough. It should be possible to bend at least a full step (the pitch difference of two frets) this way.
Pre-bending[edit | edit source]
Bending, whether by pushing or pulling the string, raises the tension in the vibrating portion of the string, and thus always raises the pitch of the note. This means it is easier to slide up rather than down in pitch. To create the impression of bending down, the guitarist uses a technique called pre-bending, that is, bending before the string is struck, then strike and release the bend (either gradually or quickly, depending on the intended effect).
Bend and Release[edit | edit source]
The ideas of bending and pre-bending can be combined for a "bend and release", that is, striking a note, bending it up, then releasing it as you would with a pre-bend. This will often be perceived as a "bounce" in pitch, especially if played quickly. The reverse is also possible: pre-bend, release, and bend. Repeatedly and steadily bending and releasing is called vibrato.
Vibrato[edit | edit source]
Players of many instruments, including the human voice, use vibrato to help add expression to sustained notes. Vibrato is performed in two major ways, the first by rapidly bending the string back and forth, causing a modulation in pitch; therefore, all of the information above about bending applies here, except it is performed faster or more prolonged. Or it can be performed in a 'classical' style where one applies pressure parallel to the string towards the neck then towards the bridge repeatedly, which allows one to achieve vibrato upward and downward in pitch, albeit with a smaller change. A small, subtle vibrato might not require the assistance of other fingers; the fretting finger should be sufficient. However, for sustained vibrato or vibrato on the first or second frets, using multiple fingers for bending is a good idea.
Harmonics are fun sounds to produce. They can be quiet and bell-like on an Acoustic or they can be loud and squeally on an overdriven Electric.
Harmonics Introduction[edit | edit source]
When you strike a note on the guitar, the sound generated is not just one note but a series of notes. The fundamental (also called the first harmonic) is the loudest and lowest of the series and fainter notes which all have their own frequency of vibration, amplitude, and phase are heard as well. The frequencies are integer multiples of the lowest frequency. Looking at the diagram you will notice that the upper partials (this is the name given to any sine waves associated with a complex tone) follow a pattern 2,3,4,5,6,and 7 and these equal-sized sections resonate at increasingly higher frequencies. The guitar technique described below shows how to play harmonics by lightly touching the string directly over the fret. You are essentially cancelling out certain partials from being heard by not allowing that part of the string to vibrate. Pianists have no means of manipulating strings to produce harmonics unless they lift up the lid of the piano and lightly touch the string. Woodwind instruments can produce harmonics by the technique of overblowing. It must be noted that we all tend to hear or play music as a "single sensation" and that the partials present are not considered or heard as separate during that experience.
List of natural harmonics[edit | edit source]
- 12th fret - octave above open string
- 7th or 19th fret - octave plus a perfect fifth above open string
- 5th or 24th fret - two octaves above open string
- 4th, 9th or 16th fret - two octaves plus a major third above open string
There are more harmonics than these but these are the easiest to produce and the most audible. They are ordered from lowest to highest in pitch.
Natural harmonics[edit | edit source]
Natural harmonics are the easiest to produce. A good place to begin is the 12th fret of the high e string. With your fretting hand, lightly touch a finger against the string directly above the 12th fret. Do not hold it down or apply any pressure. Then strike it with your picking hand and immediately release the string; almost simultaneously. If executed properly the result should be a high-pitched, silvery note. Try it again at the 7th and 5th frets; as shown on the Natural Harmonic fretboard diagram. Each harmonic shown on the diagram will produce a sound that is higher in pitch than its fretted note counterpart. Harmonics will sound quieter and the higher harmonics may be nearly inaudible without the overdrive of an amp.
Harmonic Chords[edit | edit source]
Below are the Harmonic chords of Em and Bm. Both chords are first inversion with the third in the bass. You can play Harmonic arpeggios, add the open low E string to the Harmonic Em chord or play a melodic phrase.
Below are the Harmonic chords of G and D. Both chords are second inversion with the fifth in the bass.
A good example of the use of natural harmonics is in the song Imperium by Machine Head. Clear 5th fret harmonics can be heard enforcing the low drop B tuning.
Pinch harmonics[edit | edit source]
Pinch harmonics are also known as Artificial Harmonics though there is really nothing artificial about them. This is an advanced technique and was popularized mostly by Billy Gibbons and later Zakk Wylde, as well as many others as early as the 1970s including many Heavy Metal artists. These harmonics follow the same principles of physics as a natural harmonic; the difference being how the harmonic is produced. In this technique a note is struck in a downwards motion with the pick and in the same motion the string is touched (one might really say brushed) with the edge of the thumb that is holding the pick. You can also use the edge of the index fingernail followed by the pick.
Pinch harmonics are most effective and audible using an Electric guitar with overdrive or distortion. These harmonics are virtually inaudible when using a clean (not distorted or overdriven) amp channel with the Electric guitar or when using an Acoustic. It can sound good when correctly used even without much overdrive but it's not always clear or detectable. Use overdrive or distortion for best results especially while learning and practicing this technique. This technique takes practice to master. Beginners may need to spend some time on scales, soloing, blues, riffing, strumming patterns before they feel comfortable enough to attempt this technique. It is mostly used in soloing and intense expressive riffing.
As mentioned above, these harmonics are produced by striking a note with the pick and touching the string with the picking thumb. Grip the pick so that the tip barely peeks out between your fingertips (this is why they are called "pinch" harmonics). It's easier when you are fretting a note with the left hand. Try fretting the 5th fret of the D string and plucking the string just below the neck pick-up pole pieces (maybe 1/8" toward the bridge from the pole pieces). The position of the plucking along the length of the string is one of the most important parts of this technique. While with regular picking the position of the picking along the string can make slight variations in the sound of the note, when executing pinch harmonics the right position is vital and tiny positional differences can make entirely different harmonics. So try adjusting the picking hand just millimeters up and down the string around the area of the pick-ups.
Try imagining the pick and your picking thumb plucking the string at the same time although the thumb is really just brushing past it. Consider it to be really one motion. Try thinking of your thumb and the pick as one entity and instead of picking straight down, pick down and a little bit (millimeters) out away from the face of the guitar so your picking motion is a sort of 'letter J' out from the face of the guitar and so the thumb brushes past the string and remember that the thumb should only touch the string for an instant just like the pick does.
Try executing pinch harmonics while fretting different notes and by striking the string in slightly different places all around the pickup area of the guitar. Many kinds of harmonic ringing sounds may be produced.
Without a pick, this technique may be simulated by plucking the string with the fingertip and lightly touching it with the fingernail. Classical guitarists use this technique and it is also found in jazz finger-style guitar.
These harmonics, as opposed to natural harmonics, end up being much more practical to use while playing and when mastered can be used boldly like Zakk Wylde making the harmonic part of the riff, or subtly and possibly unintentionally to add color and character to the notes or chords while playing almost anything.
Pinch harmonics can easily and effectively be combined with other techniques, such as bending or vibrato.
To hear pinch harmonics in action check out the following:
- Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzmosis (and several other albums) features many different examples of pinched harmonics in various solos.
- In the movie Rock Star at the beginning, the lead guitarist (Nick Catanese of Black Label Society/SPEED X) in Blood Pollution (the Steel Dragon cover band) is "not hitting the squeal". The squeal they're speaking of is a pinch harmonic.
- One of the best examples of a bend and a pinch harmonic is Judas Priest's Lochness off the album Angel of Retribution at about 1:10.
- In System of a Down's hit song BYOB it is the first bend in the chorus (Every bodys going to the party) part. It is the only PH in the song, so listen carefully
Don't despair if you can't get harmonics as clear as Judas Priest or Zakk Wylde, they've got equipment made just for making sounds like that. They both have expensive high gain amplifiers and their guitars are equipped with pickups that are naturally very good at pinch harmonics. Some pickups amplify pinch harmonics better than others (some pickups hardly amplify them at all). Judas Priest and Zakk Wylde both play guitars with EMG humbuckers, which are some of the hottest pickups and some of the best at amplifying pinch harmonics. Hot pickups (EMG, Duncan JB, Duncan Live Wire, Bill Lawrence 500XL) do an excellent job of picking up pinch harmonics. Once you've practiced at home, ask to try out a guitar with "hot pickups" and a "high gain" amplifier at the local guitar shop if you want a taste(warning: it's easy to get spoiled/hooked!).
Tapped harmonics[edit | edit source]
This technique, like tapping itself, was popularized by Eddie van Halen. Tapped harmonics are an extension of the tapping technique. The note is fretted as usual, but instead of striking the string, the string is tapped at one of the frets listed in the natural harmonic list. Do not hold the string down with the tapping hand, just bounce the finger lightly on and off the fret. This technique can be extended by fretting a note, then tapping relative to the fretted note. For instance, hold the third fret, and tap the fifteenth fret, for the twelfth fret harmonic, because 12+3=15.
Other techniques[edit | edit source]
A final technique (known as the harp harmonic) is a sort of combination between the natural and tapped harmonic techniques. Fret the note normally, and place the picking hand index finger on a natural harmonic relative to the fretted note (just as in tapped harmonics). Pluck the string with another finger and release the index finger, just as if producing a natural harmonic.
Tremolo Bar Techniques
The tremolo bar was originally only found on Fender guitars, but now they are on many types of electric guitar. Unfortunately, it has an inappropriate name, because "tremolo" means a fast succession of two different tones. A more accurate but less common name is the vibrato bar, and they are also known as whammy bars.
There are several different types of tremolo bars, details of which can be found in the Anatomy of the Guitar section, but certain types can only perform certain techniques. Thus, you should make sure the tremolo bar you have can do what you want it to do, before you buy it.
In general, it is good to learn to hold the tremolo bar between your third and fourth fingers, so you can use the bar and hold a pick at the same time.
This section will provide a description of how to accomplish various techniques, but it will be up to the guitarist to discover how to perform them.
Dive Bomb[edit | edit source]
A Dive Bomb may be achieved by striking a natural harmonic then lowering the tone. An "explosion" may added by keeping the bar pressed down and flicking the low E string repeatedly.
Also, there is an alternative way to do a dive bomb, by flicking a string, dipping the bar down, tapping a harmonic, then manipulating the resulting note however you want. This technique is also known as a "Squeal", or "Dime Squeal" named after Pantera guitarist, Dimebag Darrel.
Dipping[edit | edit source]
Dipping is a technique that allows you to make note changes a little more interesting. Before you change to a higher note, use the bar to quickly lower and then raise the pitch.
Cat Purr[edit | edit source]
With this technique, a pitch is held for a beat, and then raised up a tone. The lever is moved slowly, and once you reach the upper or lower tone, you immediately hold, and then reverse direction. This results in a sound that can sounds remarkably like a cat.
Ruler Sound[edit | edit source]
If you press the tremolo bar down, and then suddenly release it upwards and quickly alternate between high ups and down, it makes a snap-away sounds, like a ruler vibrating off the edge of a table. The principle behind this is similar to the cat purr.
Windmill[edit | edit source]
The "windmill" develops if you just keep turning the tremolo bar in a circle. Naturally, the tone moves up and down at a regular pace. However, this can sound very "outer space" and can easily be over done, and you should use this sparingly.
String Choke[edit | edit source]
If the strings are really slack, you can quickly whip the tremolo bar back up until it clicks, making a string choke. Sometimes overtones will remain, and you can get some interesting sounds and harmonies. However, these tend to disappear quickly as it is drowned out by the harmonics of the new string pitch.
Fretboard Tapping[edit | edit source]
Tapping is the short name of fretboard tapping or finger tapping, a technique where the fingers hammer down (tap) against the strings in order to produce sounds rather than striking or plucking the strings. If both the left and right hand are used then it is called two-handed tapping.
It is not clear who first developed tapping but it was certainly popularized by Eddie van Halen. Van Halen was listening to Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin and he was quite inspired by the solo, which contained a variation of tapping. This is arguably the song that pushed Van Halen to use "tapping" frequently.
A rather different kind of independent two-handed tapping was discovered by Harry DeArmond and named "The Touch System" by his student Jimmie Webster. The "Touch System" is a complete playing method rather than a technique. Another method of independent tapping was discovered by Emmett Chapman, where the right hand comes over the fretboard and lines up with the frets like the left. The three kinds of tapping techniques are:
Interdependent tapping[edit | edit source]
Interdependent tapping is by far the most common type of tapping. It is generally used as a lead guitar technique, most commonly during solos; however, a small number of songs are entirely tapped. The player's picking hand leaps out to the fretboard and begins to tap the strings with the fingers. However, one must get the pick out of the way in order to tap. Some players do this by sticking the pick between their fingers; others simply use the middle finger to tap.
The Van Halen technique of getting rid of the pick is done by moving the pick into the space between the first and second joints of his middle finger. Eruption by Eddie Van Halen is a good example of this technique.
The Touch System[edit | edit source]
As mentioned before, this is a whole playing style and a whole book could be written about it. The first musician to play this way was pickup designer Harry DeArmond in the 1940's, who used tapping as a way to demonstrate the sensitivity of his pickups. While each hand could play its own part, DeArmond held his right hand in the same orientation as conventional guitar technique. This meant the ability of that hand to tap scale-based melody lines was limited. He taught his approach to Gretch Guitars employee Jimmie Webster, who wrote an instruction book called "The Touch System for Amplified Spanish guitar." Webster made a record and travelled around demonstrating the method. Even though it inspired a few builders (Dave bunker, for example), the Touch System was limited by the lack of equal movements for the right hand and never caught on.
The Free Hands Method[edit | edit source]
In 1969 Emmett Chapman, who had no previous knowledge of DeArmond, Webster or any other tapping guitarists, discovered that he could tap on the strings with both hands, and that by raising the neck up could align the right hand's fingers with the frets as on the left, but from above the fretboard. This made scale-based melody lines just as easy to tap in the right hand as the left, and a new way of playing a stringed instrument was born. Chapman redesigned his home-made 9-string guitar to support his new playing method, and began selling his new instrument (The Chapman Stick) to others in 1974. In 1976 Chapman published his volume of collected lessons he used for teaching guitarists and Stick players as "Free Hands: A New Discipline of Fingers on Strings."
It has been popularised by players such as Tony Levin, Nick Beggs, John Myung, Bob Culbertson, and Greg Howard, and is currently experiencing a surge in popularity due to the internet. Stanley Jordan became famous in the 1980s for using the same method on the guitar. Jordan discovered the method independently after Chapman did, was signed to Blue Note Records, and released several successful albums.The method that Chapman invented and Jordan also used allows complete self-accompaniment and counterpoint, as on piano.
Octaves[edit | edit source]
Using octaves is a useful way of reinforcing melody lines. When a melody is played simultaneously at different octaves; the ear interprets it as a single melodic voice. Octave lead playing stands out and is not that difficult to master. Any melody you know can be expanded to include octaves. The diagram below shows three octave pairs of the note C. All are movable and once grasped can be incorporated into your playing with ease. Wes Montgomery was a jazz guitarist who made octaves his trademark and his influence is heard in the work of the guitarist George Benson.
C major scale using Octaves[edit | edit source]
F major scale using Octaves[edit | edit source]
A chord is two or more different notes played simultaneously. Most chords have three notes though. Chords derive their names from the root note; so a C chord has C for its root note and a G7 chord will have G. The interval between the root note and the third determines whether a chord is a major or minor. Chords may be strummed or the notes picked individually though beginners find strumming much easier. The more advanced technique of picking is examined in the Picking and Plucking chapter.
While chords are primarily used for rhythm guitar, basic chord knowledge can be important for lead playing as well. Knowing how chords are constructed can help when learning the lead parts of many songs since there is always a relationship between a chord and the lead part. For example, if you have to play a lead part over a C major chord (C-E-G) and you use the notes of a D flat major chord (Db-F-Ab) then the result will be very dissonant. Additionally, many lead patterns revolve around arpeggios. These are chords with their notes played in sequence (the word "arpeggio" actually means "broken chord") rather than together. For more information on arpeggios, see the Arpeggio and Sweep Picking chapter.
Chords are easy to play though understanding the theory behind chord construction (harmony) will require some understanding of scales. While it is not essential to have a knowledge of scales to be able to use this section, understanding scales will definitely improve your general musicianship. With that in mind, go ahead and learn and use these chords without worrying too much about the theory and when you have the time take a look at the page on general music theory and the page on scales.
Beginners are advised to start with open chords, which are often the easiest chords to form. Learning open chords is important because it sets the stage for learning how to form barre chords. Barre Chords are chords you form by pressing all (or some) of the strings down with the first finger. This finger acts as the barre (the same job that the nut of the guitar does when you are playing open chords). Because of this barre chords don't usually include open strings and can be moved freely up and down the neck. As you move your barre chord, the shape of the chord remains the same although all the notes change. Barring is an important technique and greatly opens up the neck of the instrument.
Different Kinds of Chords[edit | edit source]
Major chords[edit | edit source]
The most basic chord is called a triad and consists of three different notes. A major triad consists of the root, a major third, and a perfect fifth. The early study of chords should be based around how to build the tonic triad (chord) from any major scale. To build the tonic triad you take the first note of any major scale and the third note (a major 3rd) and the fifth note (a perfect fifth). Take for example building a tonic triad (chord) from the C major scale. If you look at this C major scale:
you will notice that the first, third and fifth notes of the scale are C, E, and G. The most obvious thing that most guitarists become instantly aware of is that the C major played in the first position actually involves playing 5 strings and therefore must have more notes than a triad. The C major chord shown below has these notes C, E, G, C, E. If you cancel out the doubles you are left with a C major triad. This brings us to an important rule: any chord tone (note) can be doubled without affecting the chords designation. Therefore a C major triad (C-E-G) and the first position C major chord below (C-E-G-C-E) are both still C major chords though the 5 note version will sound fuller due to the note doubling. Major chords have a characteristically bright and happy sound.
Minor chords[edit | edit source]
The minor triad consists of a root, a minor third and a perfect fifth. The interval between the root and third is a minor third and the interval between the root and fifth is a perfect fifth. Minor chords have a dissonant quality due to the interval of a minor third. It must be remembered that we are talking about building chords from scales and that these intervals, the minor third and perfect fifth, are the interval designations from the scale which are then applied to naming the intervals in a chord. Which is why the triad intervals are not named 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively.
Minor chords are best understood in relation to their major chord counterpart. In the example below we will use E major and E minor. When we play an E major chord, we can flatten the third of the chord by lifting the finger that is holding down the third string at the first fret, making it an open string. By altering this one note so that the interval is changed from a major third to a minor third, we have formed a new chord: E minor.
Switching between major and minor chords can be relatively easy, as it involves the change of only one note. Some chord changes, for example changing between an open F major to a F minor, will need a little more effort.
Dominant Seventh chords[edit | edit source]
A minor seventh is added to a major chord. When a minor seventh is added to any major chord that major chord is changed into a dominant seventh. The dominant chord always refers to the chord built on the fifth degree of any major scale. Look at the C major scale below:
The fifth degree of the scale is G. The chord built on the fifth contains the notes: G-B-D. To change this dominant major chord to a dominant seventh you need to add a fourth note. The note you add is F (the minor seventh) which now makes: G-B-D-F. This chord has very strong need to resolve usually to the tonic. The reason the interval in G-B-D-F is called a minor seventh and not a perfect fourth is that interval designation is determined from the root of the chord being discussed. Take for example the G major scale below:
As you can see the interval G-F# is a major seventh. You can form a minor seventh interval by lowering the seventh by a semitone: G-F. This holds true for all major seventh intervals.
At first it seems quite strange looking at the interval relationship of another key to determine the chord intervals of the key you are playing in. With practice it becomes very easy but does involve learning a few major scales.
Sixth chords[edit | edit source]
Add a sixth to the chord. The two chords below are major chords from the key of C with a sixth added.
Suspended chords[edit | edit source]
To form a suspended chord the third is replaced with either a second or a fourth. The third of a chord defines its modality - whether a chord is major or minor. By removing the third and replacing it with a second or fourth you have suspended the chord's modal quality. This creates a chord that is neither major or minor and the ear interprets the chord as harmonically ambiguous.
Suspended chords derived from a D major chord:
Suspended chords derived from the A major chord:
Suspending an E major chord:
Slash chords[edit | edit source]
Chords that are not in root position. For example, a C/G is a C chord with a bass note of G. They are also referred to as "inversions". Slash chords are always notated with their chord name first followed by the bass note.
Diminished chords[edit | edit source]
These consist of a stack of minor thirds. You can extend a diminished triad (three note chord) by adding another minor third; which gives you a four note chord called a diminished seventh chord. The diminished seventh chord is notated as Co7 or dim7. Diminished seventh chords are built entirely from minor thirds, so you can move the chord shape up the neck in intervals of a minor third (three frets) and this will be exactly the same notes as the original chord but in a different order. The term "inversion" is used when chords have their notes rearranged.
A half-diminished chord consists of a diminished triad with a major third on top. In other words, a half-diminished chord is a diminished triad with a minor seventh.
Diminished chords are full of tension because of the dissonance created by stacking minor third intervals and they are normally resolved to a consonant major or minor chord.
Barre chords are chords that involve using one finger, usually your first finger, to press all the strings down at once on a single fret. Barring turns your first finger into a movable capo. You can then use your remaining three fingers to play open chord shapes, but in any position on the fretboard. Not all open chord shapes are easy to play with a barre, but once you have learned barring techniques, your chord vocabulary will increase and you will be able to play all along the fretboard.
Initially, barre chords are much more difficult to play than open chords. Before being able to play a barre chord, you first must train your hand be able to barre the fretboard. To do this, you take your first finger and press it lightly against the strings (applying no pressure) so that the finger covers all the strings along the same fret. Keep increasing the pressure until all the strings can be heard to sound clearly. A common mistake for beginners is to barre with full pressure which leads to hand fatigue. By lightly touching the strings and increasing the pressure in small increments, you will find that the pressure you need to apply to make the strings sound is much less than you imagine. Your thumb should be directly behind your first finger on the neck for full support. To illustrate the concept of a barre, compare the difference between the open strings (where the nut acts like a "zero" barre) and the full barre at the third fret.
Six String Barre Chord[edit | edit source]
A six string barre chord is a chord in which all the strings are being played. It can be compared to E chords, because, since the guitar is tuned to E, it effectively is an open barre chord. (you can view all open chords as a form of barre chords, which do not require you to press all the 6 strings somewhere [ because you use the open strings - 0 - hence their name ]. Let us examine the form of a major six string barre chord, in this case G, along with the major E chord:
In both of these chords, the relationship between the individual notes is identical, which is why the G chord is still a major chord. The difference is the root note, which determines the keys of the respective chords. By looking at the root note, we can see that the difference between all the notes of the E major and G major are three frets. But so long as the relationship remains the same, the major barre chord form can be played on any fret neck. For example, it could be played as an A major or a B major by putting it in these two positions:
The usefulness of barre chords comes from this ability to be played anywhere on the neck. Sliding the chord shape up and down the neck allows you to play many different chords relatively easily, and barre chords are a fundamental tool for rhythm guitarists since they can easily be used to create syncopated chord progressions.
As we saw earlier, the difference between a major and a minor chord is a flattened third. Using a barre chord, the transition between a major and a minor chord is relatively simple. The difference between an E major chord and E minor chord is the lifting of a single finger, thereby lowering the note by a semitone. With any barre chord that is formed using the E major shape, you can lift a single finger and play the corresponding minor chord. The minor barre chord form, shown beside the major barre chord form:
The same idea can be applied to seventh chords, or any other chord you can think of.
Five String Barre Chords[edit | edit source]
The same principles hold for five string barre chords, except instead of using the E chord shape, the A chord is used. Additionally, it should be emphasised that only five strings are played, which means that the low E string should not be allowed to sound.
Because of the relative tuning of the strings on a guitar, it is very easy to play a variety of chords that can be moved up and down the neck. The most basic types of movable chords are the power chord and barre chord. This section deals with chords that, in general, do not use open strings. Once the shape of the chord is memorised, it can be played anywhere on the fretboard.
Major and Minor shapes[edit | edit source]
Movable chords often use the general shapes of open chords. However, not all open chords are easy to play as a movable chord. Note that C major and G major is absent. This is because the shape of the chords, particularly G major, demands of the guitarist an advanced technique. Classical guitarists use a foot-stool and adopt a specific playing posture and hand position when they play and this allows them to form these chords with relative ease. The classical guitar also has nylon strings and these offer hardly any resistance to fretting. That is not to say that the C major and G major shape cannot be played on a steel-string acoustic; its just more difficult because of the string tension. They are slightly easier to play on the electric guitar. After mastering the easier shapes, try learning the C major and G shapes. The D major shape and D minor movable chords (as shown below) are usable but tend not to be used regularly due to the shape being slightly awkward to hold and move to other chords. The easiest shapes to learn are the E major and A minor chords shape. Tip: the more difficult shapes can be broken down into smaller units and they also make ideal arpeggio studies where you can approach them more as a succession of notes in a riff without the need for forming the full chord.
If you examine the notes that make up the chords, it becomes clear that the thickest string plays the root note of the chords. Thus, in order to turn these into movable chords, you also have to fret down an extra string to complete the chord. Here are the same chords, but higher up the neck in a movable shape. Notice how the shapes of the chord on the strings you play are exactly the same as the open chords, except with the thickest string now being fretted.
Inversions of Major and Minor[edit | edit source]
"Artist" Chords[edit | edit source]
Although these guitarists certainly did not invent the chords, they made them popular by using them in many of their songs. More often than not, a player will first encounter them trying to learn a famous song. These are loose categorizations, and are easily applicable to more than one artist, so please keep that in mind.
7#9 (Hendrix Chords)[edit | edit source]
No chord reminds people more of Jimi Hendrix than the 7#9. These are also used widely by Prince. The voicing for this shape is 1-3-7-#9.
7/9 and 7/9/13 (James Brown Chords)[edit | edit source]
These chords are essential for getting a funk sound. The voicing for this 7/9 shape is 1-3-7-9-5.
The 7/9/13chord is an easy modification of the 7/9 chord. It was perhaps most famously used in "Sex Machine" by James Brown, as a change between the 7/9 chord. Little changes like that give music some extra texture and they also work particularly well in jazz.
Because the 7/9/13 chord requires five notes, you cannot play it with less than five strings, or else you would be playing a different chord. The voicing for this shape is 1-3-7-9-13.
A knowledge of chord progressions will help you communicate and play with other musicians. Knowing the most commonly used chord progressions allows for greater enjoyment and unity when playing with other musicians.
The I-IV-V[edit | edit source]
The most common chord progression is I-IV-V. Note that Roman Numerals are used to describe these chord progressions, where the "I" chord stands for the chord on root note, the "II" for the chord on the second note of the scale, and so on. Many songs use only these three chords. If one views chords as a set of balancing scales with the root note and octave root at opposing ends it will be noted that the IV and V chords are at equal distance respectively to the root and octave root. Take for example the key of C major:
C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C
You will see that the G note (or chord) is a fifth above the root note. The note F is a fifth below the octave. This movement of a fifth is very pleasing to the human ear in its sense of balance and cohesion in relation to the root note. Another way to view chord progressions is that of a journey. In the sense that the root (or tonic) chord is the starting point and the octave root is at the end. All other points (chords) provide interest and variation with the fourth and the fifth chord occupying a special place on the journey due to them being half-way.
Many chord progressions start at the tonic (I), moves away to somewhere else, only to come back to the tonic. You can play this progression with major chords or you can substitute minor chords for the IV or V.
Applying the I-IV-V[edit | edit source]
Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly are two artists who have used this progression extensively. Note that this chord progression uses a V7 chord. A V7 chord is just a V chord with an extra note. It is so common a device that when learning a chord progression many guitarist will play it through a few times using I-IV-V (normal V chord with no extra note) and then will play the chord progression I-IV-V7 a few times before switching back to the normal I-IV-V.
I-vi-IV-V[edit | edit source]
This progression is commonly referred to as the 50's progression, because it was common to many of the popular songs of the 1950's, notably "Stand by Me". Note that the vi chord is a tonic extension, as it contains many of the same notes as the tonic (I) chord. You may see this progression with sevenths added in a blues song (e.g., G7, e min 7, C7, D7). Here is the progression in the key of G major.
The I-V-I-I[edit | edit source]
This is a popular progression at the beginning of a much larger line, and can be combined with many other scale degrees.
II-V-I[edit | edit source]
As its name indicates, the progression is: IImin7, V7 and Imaj7. In a pop song, the chords might be IImin, V7, IMaj, with the first and last chord being three-note chords (triads). In jazz, all three chords are usually seventh chords. The II/V/I is important in jazz, where some songs have the progression in a number of keys.
Alternatively you can change the chord type on the II, and alter the voicing of the V. Some examples are:
- IIm7b5(9)/V7alt /Imaj7
(with a V7alt, the performer alters the 9th to b9 or #9 and/or makes the 11 into #11 and/or makes the 13 into b13)
Applying the II-V-I[edit | edit source]
II-V-Is can be chained together, creating complex progressions. Here's an example that starts in C major and moves to the relative minor, a minor:
C Bm7b5 E7 (I ii V) Am7 Dm7 G7 (I ii V) C (etc...) (I etc..)
An example of complicated progression that can be created this way is the "Coltrane Changes", where the "I" chords move by Major 3rd intervals. Here's a simple example:
Dm7 G7 Cmaj7 (ii V I ) F#m7 B7 Emaj7 (ii V I ) Bbm7 Eb7 Abmaj7 (ii V I ) Dm7 etc... (I etc...)
The way the ii-V-I progression works is first that it moves by 4ths upwards, which very often produces interesting results, and the 7th goes down a half tone below and becomes the following chord's 3rd.
Minor ii-V-i[edit | edit source]
Another commonly used chord progression is the minor ii-V-i. One can derive this from the melodic minor scales shown above, while substituting a IminMaj7 for the IMaj7 chord, or by using three modes from one harmonic minor scale , which produces the following chord progression:
- ii m7 b5/ V7 / i
In the key of c minor, this would be:
- d m7 b5/ G 7 / c min
Alternate picking is an important skill, because it allows you to play more than twice as fast than with just down picking. The basic idea is that if you are picking just on down strokes, every time you bring the pick back up to stroke down again, you are missing an opportunity to hit the string again. Essentially alternate picking is more efficient, because you have to move you hand less distance to hit the next note, and it can be an important difference between hitting the note on time or struggling to reach it.
As with other guitar skills, it doesn't sound even a little difficult until you actually try and do it. It will take some time to master it and get really fast. After doing it for a long time, you will begin to notice that you are subconsciously deciding whether to alternate pick or not, depending on the underlying rhythm. Ultimately alternate picking allows you to play more efficiently, and thus faster.
Hold the pick in whichever method feels best for you. Only the top of your pick should be seen and touch the string, because when you pick you cover less distance and use less energy. Your movement should only come from your wrist, not from your whole arm, and it should be precise. There are many ways to practice alternate picking, but really it is something that you have to merge into all of your guitar playing. Being able to alternate pick at the right time is a very important step, and it is one of the barriers that separate good guitar players and people who just play guitar.
Lesson 1[edit | edit source]
To introduce yourself to alternate picking, start with a simple exercise beginning on the low E string.
e|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------1--2--3--4--------| B|--------------------------------------------------------------1--2--3--4-----------------------| G|-----------------------------------------------1--2--3--4--------------------------------------| D|--------------------------------1--2--3--4-----------------------------------------------------| A|--------------1--2--3--4-----------------------------------------------------------------------| E|-1--2--3--4------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| e|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| B|-4--3--2--1------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| G|----------------4--3--2--1---------------------------------------------------------------------| D|--------------------------------4--3--2--1-----------------------------------------------------| A|-----------------------------------------------4--3--2--1--------------------------------------| E|--------------------------------------------------------------4--3--2--1--2--3--4--5-----------|
Play this pattern up and down the strings, and then up and down the whole neck. When you hit each note, you should make sure that you are always picking in the opposite direction of the previous note. Try playing faster, but always make sure you are fretting and picking each note clean to develop good habits. A metronome is a good item to help you with these sorts of exercises, because it helps you keep a steady pace. Always spend time practicing at your maximum speed, but not for the whole time; playing at an even pace is more important and builds your internal sense of rhythm.
Once you are comfortable alternate picking, try fingering some chords and pick through them, using alternate picking where appropriate. You can stumble onto some famous songs completely by accident like this.
Lesson 2[edit | edit source]
This pattern is a little more complicated, as it is a walk, where you play a repeating pattern that always starts on the next highest note.
e|------------------------------------------------------------------------------| B|------------------------------------------------------------------------------| G|------------------------------------------------------------------------------| D|-----------------------------------------1-------1-2-----1-2-3---1-2-3-4------| A|---------1-------1-2-----1-2-3---1-2-3-4---2-3-4-----3-4-------4--------------| E|-1-2-3-4---2-3-4-----3-4-------4----------------------------------------------|
Continue the pattern up the strings, and make sure you are always alternate picking. You will start to notice when sometimes it is better to pick up or down twice in order to make the picking more efficient overall.
Lesson 3[edit | edit source]
This riff combines palm muting and alternate picking.
e|--------------------------------------------------------------------| B|--------------------------------------------------------------------| G|-------------2---------------2---------------2---------------2--3---| D|-------------2---------------2---------------2---------------2--3---| A|-0-0-0-0-0-0-----0-0-0-0-0-0-----0-0-0-0-0-0-----0-0-0-0-0-0--------| E|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
The open notes should be muted, and you should be using alternate picking. This riff is very similar to a riff from Metallica's One.
Additional Lessons[edit | edit source]
If you want more exercises, please see other sections of this book, and perform the exercises there, except add in the alternate picking. Alternatively, you could take a song you already know, and then pick the chords using alternate picking. You will soon see how you can apply alternate picking into every part of your guitar playing.
What is Tremolo Picking?[edit | edit source]
Tremolo means a modulation in volume; in the context of stringed instruments, usually refers to repeatedly striking or bowing a single string in a steady rhythm, especially the fastest rhythm the player can maintain. (This technique is particularly common on the acoustic mandolin.) In guitar literature, this is called tremolo picking, and one of the few places the term "tremolo" is consistently used "correctly" in guitar literature (whose convention usually reverses tremolo and vibrato). This technique has nothing to do with a "tremolo bar" (really a vibrato bar) or a "tremolo" effects box.
How to hold the Pick[edit | edit source]
Tremolo picking, though appearing hard at first, is actually quite easy. It is merely alternate picking at a faster speed. To start off, a pick makes tremolo picking much easier and is highly recommended when attempting it, but even though most people find tremolo picking much easier with a pick, it is possible without a pick. The best way to hold your pick is between your thumb and the side of the first knuckle of your pointing finger, but if you feel more comfortable holding it another way, such as with your thumb and middle finger then go ahead.
How to Pick[edit | edit source]
The movement should come mostly from the wrist. A little bit of arm movement is okay, but shouldn't be done intentionally. It is possible to tremolo with the elbow, but the wrist is actually easier and faster for most people with practice.
The motion done with the wrist should be like drawing quick zig zags, or Vs. Picking should feel just like writing. Imagine drawing as many connected V's as possible.
Do not play with your hand parallel to the strings. Pick like you write, with your wrist at an angle.
Grip[edit | edit source]
An important aspect of tremolo picking that many beginners fail to realise is that you must have a relaxed grip on the pick, as when you try to pick when holding the pick tensely, you will find that the pick hits the string harder therefore making it harder to pass through the string, causing it to sound sloppy. Maintaining a relaxed grip becomes harder when playing faster, but you will get used to it.
Things to Remember[edit | edit source]
When tremolo picking make sure you use just your wrist, as this will make it much easier to pass through the string. Also, when you pick the string, make sure your hand doesn't go to far away from it, as this will slow you down. The impact from hitting the string usually forces your hand to leave the string, but after practice, avoiding this will become easier.
It's also important to remember that many beginners start to use the thin side of the pick to tremolo, since the thin side has a smaller surface area and passes through the strings easily. This is incorrect, as the pick start to not only damage the strings, but also causes damage to the wrists, and may further start to ring other strings. Use the flat side of the pick to tremolo, not the thin border.
Good rhythm is almost essential to good guitar, and probably the simplest to understand. Let's start with some terms:
- Time signature
All bars (measures) consist of a number of beats. A very easy way to grasp the idea of bars is to learn a 12 bar blues. The time signature shows the number of beats in a bar and the note that will be used for counting. For example, 4/4 - the top of the fraction shows the number of beats and the bottom of the fraction shows the note unit used for counting; which in this case is a quarter note. 4/4 is usually referred to as common time. It may appear on the stave of printed music as either 4/4 or as a "C" as shown below. Whichever way the same information is given - the piece of music has four beats to a bar and the counting note is the quarter note.
All the notes in Western music have a fractional relationship. We know that in 4/4 time we will be using the quarter note as the reference for counting. Play an open string note slowly and repeatedly while counting in fours. Now play the open string note only when you count 1 and 3. You have just played a half note. To play eighth notes count "1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and" in the same time you would normally count "1-2-3-4". For sixteenth notes the count is "1-e-and-a-2-e-and-a-3-e-and-a-4-e-and-a". Here is a list of note values used in Western music:
- whole note
- half note
- quarter note
- eighth note
- sixteenth note
In common time a whole note consists of four quarter notes or four beats. Each half note is two beats and quarter note is one beat.
There are other possible signatures, 3/4, 2/4, 6/8, 7/4 are some. However it must be noted that over 90 percent of the music ever written has been in common time. Triple time or 3/4 is the second most used time signature. Once again the bottom of the fraction tells us that the counting note is to be a quarter note but this time each bar is to only have a count of 3. This is easily felt by playing and counting "1-2-3". Triple time may also be called "Waltz time". Since time signatures are fractional the question will arise as to what is the difference between 3/4 timing and 6/8 timing. If you come across a 6/8 time signature it is best to take this as an indication to play the piece of music "briskly" with even emphasis. It must be remembered at all times that 4/4 timing is the most widely used time signature especially so in rock and pop music.
To further apply the concept of beats, bars and time-signatures; let's play a simple chord progression. Play G and D over two bars with a 4/4 time signature.
It will look like this (each measure separated by a pipe and each beat denoted with a dash):
G D |- - - - |- - - -| v v v v v v v v
The "v" from now on denotes a downstroke and a "^" denotes an upstroke. Here. you are playing a downstroke on each beat (each tick of the metronome) and nothing in between. Some people find it easier to practice this without playing any chord, and muting all the strings. Try that too.
Let's do some upstrokes now.
G D |- - - - |- - - - | v^v^v^v^ v^v^v^v^
Here, you are downstroking on the tick (intuitively called the 'downbeat') and upstroking in between the ticks ( the upbeat. A good way to do this is to count your beats, "one-and two and three and four" going down on the numbers and up on the ands. Most strumming patterns you can here this going on, but slightly more complicated. Make sure you are going down on downbeats and up on upbeats. A lot of people who start playing tend to not follow this, and it mixes up your rhythm badly. If you keep to this pattern, even with more complicated patterns, you will not lose track of the beat.
If you listen to the above pattern, it will start to sound boring. But it is the basis of all other patterns. When you hear a more complicated pattern, most likely the player is missing some strums. Like this:
G D |- - - - |- - - - | v^v^v^v^ v^v^v^v^
Introduction[edit | edit source]
Folk music is considered to be music that originates from the people. It is not the preserve of professional composers because its themes and melodies are derived from the experiences and lives of people who usually have no professional musical training. The lyrics are usually an expression of social or personal conditions. Work songs are a common folk theme and are an excellent example of community and the lives of those who exist within that community. Sea shanties and farming songs are two types of folk music that have work related themes. It is only natural for communities to express their joy at the arrival of spring and the promise of a bountiful harvest or for sailors to celebrate their arrival home after a long time at sea.
Folk music before modern recording tended to be regional and sung in local dialects. The invention of sound recording meant that for the first time these regional songs could be captured and preserved and heard by people from different backgrounds and countries. Folk music had always been passed down orally from generation to generation but industrialization had led to the fragmentation of traditional rural communities as people moved to industrial urban towns and cities. Musicologists became very aware that the old songs were disappearing and soon there was a movement to capture the songs using the technique of field-recording. Alan Lomax is one of the most famous of these early scholars who took to the roads of America with the aim of recording folk music for the Archive of American Song of the Library of Congress. In England the work was done by the composer Percy Grainger.
Despite all these changes, folk music will always have its place in society. The form that the music takes may change but never the reason for its existence.
Playing Folk Music[edit | edit source]
The recording of an old Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter) song "Goodnight, Irene" by The Weavers in 1949 revived general interest in folk music and gave rise to a new movement in the 1950s that was called the American folk music revival. The next decade saw the distinction between popular music and folk music becoming blurred. In the US and many other countries, folk music and folk guitar became very popular and musicians like Bob Dylan wrote contemporary folk music that encapsulated the feelings and politics of the 1960s. This style most often uses an acoustic guitar, open chords, simple chord progressions and vocals. You can play folk guitar with a pick, or by finger picking. This style is simple, yet diverse enough to let you play a variety of tunes.
Folk music evolved during the 1960s into folk-rock and the electric guitar started to take on the role once reserved for the acoustic guitar. However many of the 1960s rock bands also featured acoustic guitar songs on their albums. These songs are not "folk music" in an historical sense but they are a modern adaption of the older folk style and are now generally referred to as "acoustic music". Often they use the same progressions as older folk songs but incorporate a catchy strumming pattern, rhythm or singing style. Here's a short list of songs that have a folk influence:
- House Of The Rising Sun - The Animals
- The Times They Are A Changing - Bob Dylan
- Sloop John.B - The Beach Boys
These are songs that have become immensely popular, such that many people can sing them communally though they may need prompting to remember the next verse. Although these songs can often be performed on an acoustic guitar, they are not quite "folk". You are encouraged to learn these songs and perform them with the view of encouraging others to sing along.
This section will provide the basics of folk guitar. By taking open chords and learning some common (and important!) chord changes, you will learn the principles of folk guitar.
E to A[edit | edit source]
This is an E major changing to an A major. This is one of the easiest progressions to play since the chord forms are so similar.
C to G[edit | edit source]
This is a C major changing to a G major.
D to G[edit | edit source]
This is a D major changing to a G major.
F to C[edit | edit source]
This is a F major changing to a C major.
Am to C[edit | edit source]
This is an A minor changing to a C major.
Em to G[edit | edit source]
This is an E minor changing to a G major
Dm to Am[edit | edit source]
This is a D minor changing to an A minor
Introduction[edit | edit source]
The blues is an American form of music whose origins can be traced back to the African-American communities of the southern states in the early 1900s. Its a music of African performance aesthetics played upon European instruments that not only draws upon a remembered African tradition but also alters the standard technique of each instrument. The uniqueness of this cultural exchange is the result of using established Western musical instruments, such as the tempered piano and fixed-valve trumpet, in a distinctly African micro-tonal and rhythmic context. The opening trumpet solo of "West End Blues", played by Louis Armstrong on a fixed-valve trumpet, illustrates all the points so far stated. In contemporary African music modern instruments of European origin are combined with traditional instruments. The guitars on the song "Djam Leelii" by the West African musicians Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck are the result of the same aesthetic approach. Baaba Maal is firmly rooted in the culture of Senegal and Louis Armstrong in the culture of America. The differences between the two artists reflects the importance of American culture to the development of the blues yet the link to African aesthetics is there for all to hear. The punctuation of percussion at certain points, the rhythmic variation of a single motif, the independence of each musician to temporarily introduce a melodic or rhythmic counterpoint to another part, and the space afforded to improvisation.
The twelve bar blues[edit | edit source]
The twelve bar blues is a simple chord progression that can be easily transposed to different keys. Each box in the diagram below represents one bar with four beats. The roman numeral inside the box indicates which chord is to be played for that bar.
Below are the chords of the key of C major. The I is the tonic chord for which the key is named.
Substituting the roman numerals with the chords from the key of C major we see that I is a C major chord, IV is an F major chord and V is a G major chord. This is how the boxes look after replacing the roman numerals with the chord names:
Note that the three minor chords and the one diminished chord of the key of C major are not used. The twelve bar blues exercise above consists of only the primary chords.
Basic blues shuffle rhythm[edit | edit source]
This exercise is a twelve bar blues shuffle in A. Observe that the lower note in each bar is always an open string and will be one of the roots of the primary chords I, IV or V.
The minor pentatonic and blues scales[edit | edit source]
The minor pentatonic scale is a five note scale. It can be derived from the natural minor scale by omitting the second and sixth which in this exercise are the notes B and F. The notes of the A minor pentatonic scale are:
A, C, D, E, G, A
In any key, the pattern of intervals in between the notes of this scale is (in half-steps, or guitar frets):
3, 2, 2, 3, 2
So the second note, in this case C, will always be 3 half-steps, or 3 frets, higher than the first note, A. The third note is 2 half-steps or frets higher than the second, and so on. The exercise below allows you to visually map all the notes of the A minor pentatonic scale on the low E string up to the twelfth fret:
Here are two octaves of the A minor pentatonic scale in the 5th position:
The blues scale below is the A minor pentatonic scale with the addition of a flatted fifth. The addition of the diminished fifth introduces an element of dissonance and tension to the scale. In this exercise the flatted fifth blue note acts as a chromatic passing note which resolves to a consonance. Observe that you always refer to the scale degrees of the minor pentatonic scale by the interval names of the natural minor scale. The fourth note of the scale below retains the designation of a fifth whether it is diminished or perfect. The omission of the second and sixth note of the natural minor scale to form the minor pentatonic scale does not alter the interval relationship between the A and E which remains a perfect fifth.
Exercise 1[edit | edit source]
Exercise 2[edit | edit source]
Exercise 3[edit | edit source]
Playing The Blues Using Only Seventh Chords
You can use seventh chords when playing the blues. Try the 12 bar blues in A using the chords below. No fingering has been given for the D7 and E7 since they have the same fingering as a C chord.
Further blues exercises can be found in the appendix Blues Exercises
Introduction[edit | edit source]
A slide is a metal/glass/ceramic tube which fits over a finger (most commonly the ring finger or little finger, but any will work). If you wish to experiment with slide guitar, but do not have a slide, objects ranging from lighters and glass bottles to sections of metal pipe and batteries can work just as well, and in some cases provide entertainment and stage presence to a performance. Do not press the string down. The slide rests on the string, not enough to give fret buzz, but enough to stop the string buzzing against the slide. Some players will lightly deaden the string behind the slide with a trailing finger to stop any unwanted vibrations.
Practice getting a crisp note without sliding first. Because the slide rests on the strings, the slide playing a single note should be directly above the fret, not behind it as with the fingers. Usually the slide guitarist keeps the slide moving backwards and forwards slightly to create a vibrato effect.
A common technique found in slide guitar is playing fingerstyle as opposed to the use of a pick or plectrum. The benefits of fingerstyle playing includes the ability to more easily pick the desired strings, while using the other fingers to dampen the other strings from undesired vibration. Raising the action of the guitar is also recommended. The normal low action, which is ideal for playing lead in standard tuning, is counter-productive when playing slide because of string buzz and lack of a clear sounding note. For this reason many guitarists have a second guitar where they raise the action to such a height to make it almost unplayable using normal technique. This high action guitar is permanently kept in an "open tuning" and is used exclusively for slide playing. Note that raising (or lowering) the action means that the intonation of the guitar has to be re-set. This can simply be done with a guitar tuner and just involves turning the string adjuster until the open string and its octave at the twelfth fret (fretted and harmonic) produce exactly the same note. Basically the needle or display of an electronic guitar tuner should settle exactly dead center regardless of whether you are playing an open high E string or fretting its octave at the twelfth fret. A guitar that is correctly set up will show this on all strings. Setting the action of electric guitars is very easy due to the string adjusters; however, acoustic guitars have their intonation set at the factory and don't have string adjusters. Adjusting the action of an acoustic should be left to a guitar shop or luthier who specializes in repair and maintenance.
Though slide guitar is often played in open chord tunings, Open G and Open D being the most common, playing slide in standard tuning is also possible and can add a new dimension to your playing. Slide guitar has always provided a fascinating approach to playing the guitar and the sound of the slide has found a home in genres such as rock and country.
History[edit | edit source]
One of the earliest mentions of slide guitar is in W.C.Handy's autobiography "Father Of The Blues":
"As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularized by the Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars"
This is also one of the earliest references to the blues. As you can tell from the quote above the use of the slide in no late-comer to the blues genre and there is large body of work from the 1920s to the present day. No guitarist can confuse the slide playing of Duane Allman with that of Robert Johnson. Each period informs of itself the dictates of taste and style.
1930s[edit | edit source]
Robert Johnson is cited as the first great slide guitarist. Other famous blues performers had comer before him, Blind "Lemon" Jefferson was a major entertainer during the 1920s but Robert Johnson is considered to be the first major exponent of the slide. During his life-time he only recorded a handful of tracks and though known locally for being a fine entertainer; the world-wide fame that is associated with his name now is more down to later blues fans and guitarists who have sought the roots of the blues.
Introduction[edit | edit source]
Rock guitar developed out of the rock 'n' roll guitar style of the 1950s and rock 'n' roll evolved out of the blues and country 'n' western music of an earlier period. In all these genres the guitar has played a central role and the interchange of ideas and style has provided the guitarist with a large volume of work to draw from.
The term rock was first used to describe the bands of the 1960s and 70s. Though the label rock 'n' roll was still in common use. It was during the 1960s that advances in sound technology allowed musicians to explore the sonic spectrum. The Beatles were one of the first bands to take advantage of the new studio technology and effects with their album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This focus on the studio being an integral component in rock music has led to some producers and sound engineers becoming as well-known as the bands whose careers they shaped.
Many of these sixties bands started their careers playing rock 'n' roll or the blues. The music began to change in this decade; stereo became the standard and bands started to experiment with effects and amps and the blues form gave way to extended jams. The studio evolved new recording techniques and equipment and this led to a higher fidelity for long-playing vinyl records. Driven by the freedom that all these developments allowed, Rock music moved further away from its blues roots and into the realms of psychedelia.
The standard four-piece rock band line-up was a product of the fifties and sixties. It is still many decades later considered to be the ideal. The guitarist as soloist was always a feature of rock 'n' roll with artists such as Chuck Berry (an admirer of the rhythm and blues artist Louis Jordan and notably copied the guitar introduction of Jordan's 1946 hit "Ain't That Just Like A Woman" for his own composition "Johnny B Goode"), Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy and Buddy Holly cited as early influences on later guitarists. These early rock 'n' roll solos were short and rhythmic. The idea of the virtuoso rock guitarist began with the early psychedelia experiments. Guitarists were experimenting with effects and feedback and were free to play extended pieces. This led to a new approach to the guitar: extended lead guitar solos, delay effects, double-tracking, improvisation, and feedback. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck are three guitarists who took the sixties forms they had been playing into the decade of the seventies. All three added or expanded the sounds and techniques for playing rock guitar.
The rock bands that had defined the sixties went on to dominate the seventies. Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones are some of those sixties bands. As the seventies progressed, rock music created three important sub-genres: heavy metal, glam rock and progressive rock. All three styles still featured the guitar and if there was any differences between this new music and the earlier rock music, it was one of style not form. As the seventies neared the end of the decade; there was a turn away from the seventies rock sound with the arrival of punk rock. Punk rock guitar style still relied on the rock 'n' roll favorites: barre chords, chordal rhythm and distortion. However punk rock didn't feature long guitar solos and the songs were generally short. This was a return to the short length of the original rock 'n' roll ideals. The roots of punk music can be heard in the first album by The Stooges (released 1969), which didn't sell that well in America and England on first release. However the anarchic life-style and music of The Stooges caught the imagination of the next generation of rockers most notably leading to the Sex Pistols covering "No Fun" on their debut album.
Exercise One[edit | edit source]
Play with a steady rhythm.
Exercise Two[edit | edit source]
Note the open string of the Fmaj7 and G6 chord.
Country and Western
Introduction[edit | edit source]
Country music is an American genre of music that can trace its roots back to earlier European folk songs that the arriving immigrants brought with them. It developed in the Appalachians and surrounding states; changing the forms and sounds of the earlier folk songs until the music reflected the conditions that these early American settlers experienced. The music itself has never stopped absorbing elements from other genres such as blues, ragtime, jazz, rock and contemporary folk. It is this vitality that has kept country music at the heart of American culture.
History[edit | edit source]
Country music, like most early folk music, was passed down orally from generation to generation; with each adding to the existing tradition. The guitar, being cheap and portable, was ideal for country musicians and from the earliest days has been associated with the music.
It was the invention of the phonograph and radio that led to the creation of the first national country stars The Carter Family. The Carter Family also sung gospel, Victorian ballads and vaudeville songs. The guitar solo in their song "Wildwood Flower" is an early example of characteristics that are still to be found in country lead breaks.
Country guitarists also absorbed elements from the blues and slide guitar started to be featured shortly after the success of the Carter Family. Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) was the first solo star of country music and his guitar style is a mixture of country alternating bass and the blues form.
Country music took on some on the elements of the big band era of the 1930s. The growth of bigger bands that included instruments such as drums and saxophones led to the creation of Western Swing. Whereas the music of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers had retained some of the earlier folk ballad qualities; Western Swing was primarily for dancing.
Guitars[edit | edit source]
Acoustic guitars have been a firm favourite for country musicians since the 1920s. The open resonating sound of these guitars suit the country and western chordal style. The Gibson L-5 was popular, the instrument played by Maybelle Carter, as were Martin guitars. It must not be overlooked that Gibsons and Martins are professional marque guitars and that many players would have started on cheaper models by other manufacturers.
The Dobro Resonator guitar was also used from the 1930s onwards. Its unique timbre appealed to country guitarists and its volume allowed it to be heard amongst the expanding line-up of instruments.
Other instruments that are commonly used in country music are the fiddle and banjo.
Exercise One[edit | edit source]
This exercise uses these chords:
This is an exercise for alternating the bass. It is recommended that this exercise be played without a plectrum. Use the thumb of your right hand to play the alternating bass notes. The right hand fingers must also form a "claw" and be placed on the three treble strings to start this exercise. The ring finger of the right hand always takes the highest note. After playing the bass note with your thumb; slightly lift your right hand fingers to sound the treble strings. Do not pluck or pull away your right hand. A slight lift of your right hand index, middle and ring finger is enough to sound the chord and then return your hand back for the next lift. Practice this exercise slowly for accuracy especially placing the claw correctly and ensuring that after the lift the fingers are only millimeters away and ready to be placed again. There should be no movement of the forearm or wrist; all the work is done by the fingers. The left hand holds down the chords as shown above. Most tab exercises will have chord diagrams that show the chords to be used.
Essential Country Guitarists and Recordings[edit | edit source]
- The Carter Family - a long career has led to many Carter Family recordings. The original Carter Family line-up recorded between 1927 and 1941 for the Victor label. Many of the original Carter Family radio performances are in the public domain and can be found online for listening or download.
- Jimmie Rodgers - his first hit record was "Blue Yodel (T for Texas)". The first country solo artist to achieve national fame in the US.
- Hank Williams - the writer of "Your Cheating Heart" and "Hey, Good Lookin"
- Willie Nelson - the country performer and song-writer who wrote "Crazy" which was a world-wide hit for Patsy Cline.
- Chet Atkins - one of the architects of the Nashville sound. A guitarist and arranger of wide skills who has performed on the records of Elvis Presely and the Everley Brothers as well as issuing his own solo releases and duos with the guitarist Jerry Reed.
- Leon McAuliff - one of the great Western Swing steel guitarists. Played with Bob Wills' Texas Playboys.
This article uses musical notation called tablature. If you are inexperienced in reading tablature, you might want to visit this page
Metal is a genre of music that stemmed from rock in the late 70's. Today, there are many sub-genres of heavy metal that share similarities and differences. Guitars in heavy metal are almost always distorted and are often downtuned.
Techniques[edit | edit source]
These are some techniques that are mostly unique to metal or hard rock.
Power Chords[edit | edit source]
A major element of heavy metal is the use of power chords. Standard tuning of a guitar is (from the thickest string to the thinnest) E,A,D,G,b,e Power chords in this tuning can be performed as follows:
e|----------------| A power chord consists of a root note, its higher octave, and the lower note's fifth. b|----------------| G|----------------| D|2-5-7---2-5-7---| <-----Octave A|2-5-7---2-5-7---| <-----Fifth E|0-3-5---0-3-5---| <-----Root
Not always, however, does a power chord have to have an octave. It may be simply the root and fifth.
Drop D and Drop Tunings[edit | edit source]
In dropped tunings, such as dropped D (D,A,D,G,b,e), power chords are more easily played by lowering the bottom (thickest) string two semi-tones. In dropped D, this note is a D. The same riff, transposed and played in dropped D follows:
e|----------------| b|----------------| G|----------------| D|2-5-7---2-5-7---| <-----Octave A|2-5-7---2-5-7---| <-----Fifth D|2-5-7---2-5-7---| <-----Root
Playing in this tuning makes it possible to use only one finger to fret all three strings, allowing faster and more complex riffing.
Palm Muting[edit | edit source]
Also, in metal, palm muting plays a large role, although it is also used in other genres. Palm muting is placing the side of your palm, while playing, close to or on the bridge, and lightly muting the strings. This, combined with heavy distortion, creates a thick, "chug" sound. Just one example of this occurs in DevilDriver's "I Dreamed I Died."
X's are placed on the line underneath notes which are to be muted. C#|--------------------------------|--------------------------------| A|--------------------------------|--------------------------------| E|--------------------------------|--------------------------------| B|0--------------00-0-0-3=========|0--------------00-0-0-6=========| F#|0--------------00-0-0-3=========|0--------------00-0-0-6=========| B|0--------------00-0-0-3=========|0--------------00-0-0-6=========| xx x x xx x x
Pinch Harmonics[edit | edit source]
Used in lots of kinds of metal, but more in death metal or extreme metal, pinch harmonics create a "screaming" or "squealing" sound. They are sometimes referred to as "Squealies," and mostly are played on the higher strings of the guitar. To perform a pinch harmonic usually requires the use of a plectrum, or pick. The technique involves holding the pick between the thumb and index, lower on the thumb than normal. By doing this, the bottom of the thumb is closer to the strings, and when a note is hit, the thumb should barely touch the vibrating string.
e|----------------| b|----------------| G|----------------| D|3-2-3-2-3-2-3*--| Often, pinch harmonics are shown by placing an asterisk next to the note that is a harmonic. A|3-2-3-2-3-2-----| D|3-2-3-2-3-2-----|
Exercises[edit | edit source]
Here are some tabs that will help you train and condition your fingers.
Power Chords[edit | edit source]
Here's a basic power chord sequence, no palm muting.
e|----------------------------------------------------------------| B|----------------------------------------------------------------| G|----------------------------------------------------------------| D|0-3-2-1-0-1-2-3-0-3-2-1-0-3-6-3-0-5-3-6-0-5-3-6-0-5-3-6-0-6-9-5-| A|0-3-2-1-0-1-2-3-0-3-2-1-0-3-6-3-0-5-3-6-0-5-3-6-0-5-3-6-0-6-9-5-| D|0-3-2-1-0-1-2-3-0-3-2-1-0-3-6-3-0-5-3-6-0-5-3-6-0-5-3-6-0-6-9-5-|
Here's a similar riff, a little harder.
e|------------------------------------------------------------------| B|------------------------------------------------------------------| G|------------------------------------------------------------------| D|0-3-2-1-0-1-2-3-0-3-2-1-0-3-6-3-0-5-3-6-0-3-5-6-0-5-3-6-0-10-12-13| <-\ A|0-3-2-1-0-1-2-3-0-3-2-1-0-3-6-3-0-5-3-6-0-3-5-6-0-5-3-6-0-10-12-13| <-Understand this is "10", "12", 13" D|0-3-2-1-0-1-2-3-0-3-2-1-0-3-6-3-0-5-3-6-0-3-5-6-0-5-3-6-0-10-12-13| <-/
An even tougher riff, using palm muting.
e|----------------------------------------------------------------| B|----------------------------------------------------------------| G|----------------------------4-------------5-7-8-----------5-7-8-| D|003-2-1-001-2-3-003-2-1-003-4-3-003-6-3-005-7-8-0-5-3-6-0-5-7-8-| A|003-2-1-001-2-3-003-2-1-003-2-3-003-6-3-003-5-6-0-5-3-6-0-3-5-6-| D|003-2-1-001-2-3-003-2-1-003---3-003-6-3-00------0-5-3-6-0-------| xx xx xx xx xx xx x x
A riff that requires clever use of fingers:
B|----------------| F#|----------------| D|--------------7-| A|----------------| E|223-5-3-6-3-225-| A|223-5-3-6-3-22--| xx xx
Fast Riffing[edit | edit source]
The audio file of the riff below.
|Problems listening to this file? See media help.|
e|--------------------------------| Remember to start slowly and build up speed once you understand the riff. B|--------------------------------| G|--------------------------------| D|--------------------------------| A|----------5-----------5-0-3/6---| D|0-3-6-0-6---0-3-6-0-6---0-3/6---| x x x x x x x x x
e|--------------------------------| b|--------------------------------| G|--------------------------------| D|0-0-0-3/6-0-0-0-----0-1/3-0-1---| Note: You may find it easier to slide from 3 to 6 with your middle finger A|0-0-0-3/6-0-0-0-----0-1/3-0-1---| rather than your index. D|0-0-0-3/6-0-0-0-3/6-0-1/3-0-1---| x x x x x x x ^^^ Hold note
This riff does not only involve power chords:
e|--------------------------------| b|--------------------------------| G|--------------------------------| D|--------------------------------| A|----2---1---2-----------5-2-2-3-| D|2-2---2---2---2-2-2-2-2-5-2-2-3-|(x2) x x x x x x x x x x x e|--------------------------------| b|--------------------------------| G|--------------------------------| D|----0-------0-------------------| A|----0---4---0-----------3-0-0-1-| D|0-0---0-6-0---0-0-0-0-0-3-0-0-1-|(x2) x x x x x x x x x x x
Pinch Harmonics[edit | edit source]
Metal Styles[edit | edit source]
This section should explain some differences between many genres of metal and provide example riffs in the style of each.
Progressive Metal[edit | edit source]
Progressive metal tends to use long, dramatic song structures as well as unusual time signatures. Typically progressive metal draws influence from both metal and progressive rock. There is no defining progressive metal sound, and many progressive metal bands also fit within other genres. Some examples include Neurosis, Fates Warning, Dream Theater and Opeth.
Death Metal[edit | edit source]
Death metal evolved out of thrash metal. Death metal tends to use a lot of dramatic tempo and key changes as well as atonal chromatic riffing. The genre is famous for its distinct vocal style; called the "death grunt" which is a low, growling form of singing that often make lyrics very hard to make out. Some examples include Origin, Necrophagist, Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Deicide, Behemoth and Death. Another variant of Death Metal is melodic Death Metal. Some examples include Amon Amarth, In Flames, The Black Dahlia Murder and Dethklok.
B|--------------------------------| G|--------------------------------| D|--------------------------------| A|--------------------------------| E|----4---3-----------4---3-------| B|2-3---3---2-0-1-2-3---3---2-0-1-|
Doom Metal[edit | edit source]
Doom metal focuses on very slow tempos and atmospheric riffs, with the purpose of creating an eerie and depressive sound. This is probably the metal subgenre with less palm muting and "chug" riffs. Some examples include Candlemass, Cathedral, Funeral, Paradise Lost and Solitude Aeternus.
Black Metal[edit | edit source]
Black metal is death metal's faster, grimmer sounding cousin. Instead of focusing on being as heavy as possible black metal tends to focus on atmospheric riffs. Some black metal uses keyboards to add a symphonic sound. Some examples of black metal include: Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Emperor, Gorgoroth, Cradle Of Filth and Celtic Frost.
Grindcore[edit | edit source]
Grindcore is not (by common misconception) a form of metal. It is a punk sub-genre before all else, although it has had a great influence on the more extreme sub-genres of metal, most notably Brutal Death Metal It is characterized by blisteringly fast and abrasive riffs and downtuned guitars, usually detuned to Drop-C. The band that pioneered this sub-genre of punk was Napalm Death with their album "Scum".
Speed Metal[edit | edit source]
Speed metal, as the name indicates, focuses greatly on speed. Speed metal is generally considered the precursor to thrash metal (as seen with the first Megadeth and Metallica albums), focusing more on NWOBHM-style riffs at an increased than general thickness of guitar tone. Still, speed metal is an ill-defined genre and is usually paired with power metal. Despite insistence from some metal fans, DragonForce and acts that focus on shredding are not speed metal.
Thrash Metal[edit | edit source]
Thrash metal started as a hybrid of speed metal and thrash, an offshoot of hardcore punk. Thrash metal tends to employ fast, gallop picked rhythms and complex, technical parts. Some examples of thrash metal are Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, early Sepultura and Metal Church. Some examples of thrash/thrashcore/crossover thrash are Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Stormtroopers of Death, Municipal Waste and Charles Bronson.
Alternative/Groove Metal[edit | edit source]
Groove metal/post-thrash evolved out of thrash metal. Groove metal bands tend to include slow, chunky riffs alongside more thrash oriented riffs. Groove metal was rather successful during the mid-90s and spawned nu-metal. Some examples of groove metal are Pantera, DevilDriver, later Sepultura and Lamb of God.
Metalcore[edit | edit source]
Metalcore is hardcore punk with metal influences. Metalcore evolved in New York. As New York Hardcore bands added beatdown parts and gradually added more and more metal influences the common 'tough guy' sound became more and more heavy. Some metalcore bands are Shai Hulud, Botch, Killswitch Engage and Throwdown.
Jazz basics[edit | edit source]
Early jazz bands used the banjo as an accompaniment instrument because its loud volume gave it the ability to be heard, unamplified, against brass and percussion. As an acoustic instrument, the banjo was limited to a rhythmic role.
The electric guitar eventually replaced the banjo mainly due to its extended range and improvements in timbre and the volume boost provided by amplification. The early jazz guitarists played block chords to provide the rhythmic support that was once the role of the banjo. They had to adopt an economic chordal style to match some of the fast tempos they were expected to play. This involved three or four note chords and this legacy is to be found in all jazz guitar styles. Here are three movable exercises illustrating the basic jazz chord vocabulary:
Exercise one: Four note jazz chords in root position
Exercise two: four note jazz chords in first inversion
Exercise three: three note jazz chords in second inversion
Note that in each of the above exercises there is a change of only one note to form the next chord and that this change takes place on one string.
Jazz forms[edit | edit source]
The two main forms in Jazz are the twelve bar blues and the thirty-two-bar ballad. The "rhythm changes" chord progression is a 32-bar form.
The thirty-two-bar ballad will normally take the sectional formː
A - A - B - A
Each section consisting of eight bars. Section B is sometimes described as the bridge and will usually modulate to a related key eventually returning to the home key towards the end of the section. Each section can respectively be labelledː
Statement - Statement - Development - Recapitulation (Return of Statement)
A famous thirty-two bar ballad is "Misty" by Erroll Garner with lyrics written by Johnny Burke. Using the lyrics from the Sarah Vaughan version of "Misty" and taking into account the four bar instrumental introduction we can separate the sections into their respective componentsː
"Look at me. I'm as helpless as a kitten up a tree. And I feel like I'm clinging to a cloud. I can't understand. I get misty just holding your hand"
"Walk my way. And a thousand violins begin to play. Or it might be the sound of your hello. That music I hear. I get misty the moment you're near"
"You can say that you're leading me on. But it's just what I want you to do. Don't you notice how hopelessly I'm lost. That's why I'm following you"
"On my own. Would I wander through this wonderland alone. Not knowing my right foot from my left. My hat from my glove. I'm too misty and too much in love"
Jazz style[edit | edit source]
Jazz rhythms are meant to swing. While not all jazz consists of swinging rhythms, some may have a straight eighth note feel, it is important to become familiar with this style of playing. Swing is a difficult style to notate because it involves pulling and pushing against the beat and therefore students approach jazz by listening to the music first. If you are new to jazz then the song "My Favorite Things" from the musical The Sound Of Music is a good place to start. Listen to John Coltrane's jazz version and compare it against the original soundtrack version. You will notice that the original version swings less and that Coltrane's version lasts longer. Jazz musicians are expected to be able to improvise and this is exactly what Coltrane does by extending the song's harmony and melody beyond its original form. The drums and piano in Coltrane's version swing in comparison to the backing instruments of the original. Swing may be difficult to notate on manuscript paper but it is easy to hear in performance.
The use of octaves is a common technique in jazz guitar. Once a jazz guitarist has learned the notes to a melody they will then play the same melody using octaves. Audiences hear octaves as a single melodic line and therefore using octaves is a highly effective technique for reinforcing the melody line. Jazz guitarists are also very adept at playing scales backwards. The jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell on the album Midnight Blue uses simple minor pentatonic scales to great effect starting on their highest note and descending through the scale to the lowest note. Playing scales backwards is a technique that provides for surprise openings, unusual bridges and tension releasing.
Many famous early jazz guitarists cited horn players as a major influence. The rise of jazz coincided with the development of the radio and gramophone and early recordings of jazz played a major role in developing the main stylistic elements of the genre. Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" (Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five - 1928) is considered one of the masterpieces of early jazz and cemented the role of the brass soloist. Jazz guitarists from that period took note and soon it became standard practice for guitarists to copy horn riffs.
Charlie Christian (Benny Goodman Band 1939 - 1941) is still considered by many as one of the great players of the instrument with many of his riffs displaying horn-like qualities. Christian also played a role in the development of Be-Bop participating in jams with Dizzy Gillespie and Theolonius Monk at Minton's Playhouse in New York (1941) which were recorded by a jazz fan. These recordings represent the transition from Swing to Be-Bop and offer a rare chance to hear the informal after-hours meetings of some of the greatest players in jazz.
A good jazz guitarist will normally have a few horn riffs in his vocabulary. Try playing along to a Miles Davis or John Coltrane recording and preferably choose a slow tempo ballad which will allow you time to hear and emulate. Brass instruments are melodic instruments and therefore, unlike the guitar, horn players cannot form chords. This means that horn players develop very strong melodic capabilities and this provides an ideal opportunity for a guitarist to improve their solo lines.
The sound of the city. The age of the automobile. The wireless radio and electric neon lights. Jazz must be placed in its social context. Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" invokes a New York train journey and the pace of urban life. A listener's response to the Miles Davis and Gil Evans interpretation of the slow movement from "Concierto de Arunjuez", the most popular guitar concerto in the Classical repertoire, can only conclude that the style is jazz but the themes are Spanish. Music transcends geography and time offering the listener's imagination new ground to traverse.
The study of jazz styles is the study of context. The importance of this should be borne in mind to avoid dismissing certain jazz styles. The validity of "Early Autumn" by Woody Herman is equal to the validity of "Take The A Train" by Duke Ellington. The soulful sound of "Mercy Mercy Mercy" by Cannonball Adderley is no less jazz than the live performance in Berlin of "How High The Moon" by Ella Fitzgerald. Context must be extended to take into account the length of career and the artist's complete output. The later work of Billie Holiday was marred by personal problems and is not a true indication of her artistry. The popularity of Louis Armstrong and his later commercial pop music does not tell you why he was so important to the development of Jazz.
The black-tie Sinatra singing "My Way" in his later years masks the original vocal phrasing that he developed with the Tommy Dorsey Band that Miles Davis based his own trumpet style upon. To know that Benny Goodman acquired some of his music charts from Fletcher Henderson provides the opportunity to discover Chu Berry and Coleman Hawkins. Context provides the means to see that jazz style is not exclusively or independently developed by genius or any one group or person. Two versions of "Sugar Foot Stomp", as performed by Fletcher Henderson, will illustrate the style analysis of early Jazz stated in the introduction - block chords, fast tempos, and the change from banjo to guitar - "Sugar Foot Stomp" recorded in 1925 by Fletcher Henderson with banjo played by Charlie Dixon and the 1931 version recorded by Fletcher Henderson under the name Connie's Inn Orchestra with guitar played by Clarence Holiday.
Exercise one[edit | edit source]
The following exercise is a single chorus of the twelve bar blues with a solo in the style of Charlie Christian. It is a simplified version of the first chorus from "Profoundly Blue" and is transposed down a semi-tone from the original key of E flat.
You can tune your guitar up a semi-tone to compensate for the transposition. Play the Charlie Christian version and tune your open D string up a semi-tone to E flat which is the key of the original recording. Tune the rest of the strings to the open D string.
Movement exercises[edit | edit source]
These three exercises lend themselves to the 12-bar blues form. They are designed to aid movement along the fretboard and to give the student the chance to practice applying one chord on each beat of a bar.
Jazz Movement Exercise Three
Essential guitarists and recordings[edit | edit source]
The following list of influential jazz guitarists illustrates the major stylistic changes in Jazz ranging from Swing to Progressiveː
- Django Reinhardt was gypsy guitarist born in Belgium who played swinging jazz lines on a Maccaferri acoustic guitar. His signature tune was the Debussy inspired "Nuages" whose opening motif alludes to the Impressionist composer's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun".
- Charlie Christian was the first guitarist to popularize the electric guitar as a solo instrument in jazz. Listen to the recordings he made with Benny Goodman in the late 1930s, including "Solo Flight."
- Tal Farlow brought the harmonic and melodic innovations of the Bebop style of jazz to the guitar. His mid-1950s recordings are recommended listening.
- Jim Hall brought a motif-based style of improvisational development to the jazz guitar. His recordings with Bill Evans are an excellent starting point.
- Wes Montgomery is renowned for his horn-like single lines, innovative octaves, and chord solos. The three essential Wes Montgomery recordings, all from the early 1960s, are The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, Full House, and Smokin' At The Half Note.
- George Benson is known for his improvisation as well as his more popular later works. Listen to his work with organists Jack McDuff and Dr. Lonnie Smith or the album Live At Casa Caribe.
- Pat Martino is known for his fluid single-line improvisation. A good introduction to his playing is Live At Yoshi's, featuring organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Billy Hart.
- Joe Pass was a great improvisor, but he is known especially for his solo chord-melody arrangements of jazz standards. Essential listening includes the Virtuoso series of recordings which showcases his solo pieces.
- John McLaughlin is known as a pioneering jazz-rock guitarist. His work in the 1970s with the Mahavishnu Orchestra should be considered essential listening.
- John Scofield is known for his angular lines and use of dissonance. For new jazz listeners, his two recordings with Medeski Martin and Wood are probably the best introduction to his playing.
- Allan Holdsworth is a jazz-rock guitarist known for his peerless technique and his unique approach to harmony. Believe It, a mid-1970s jazz-rock album by the New Tony Williams Lifetime, and None Too Soon, a more straight-ahead jazz album by Holdsworth, are both essential listening.
- Pat Metheny is a modern Jazz guitarist whose popularity has never diminished his art. His collaboration with Steve Reich on "Electric Counterpoint" is a notable example of his commitment to creativity. The Pat Metheny Group debut album, Bright Size Life, features the electric bassist Jaco Pastorius.
Classical Guitar[edit | edit source]
The classical guitar was preceded by the lute, vihuela and five-string baroque guitar. This legacy is reflected in the repertoire of the Classical guitar which ranges from the Estampie, a thirteenth century dance, to the modern twentieth century masterpiece La Catedral by Agustín Barrios. One of the greatest past masters of classical guitar, Andres Segovia:
"The strongest advice I give to my pupils is to study music properly from the beginning to the end - like the career of a sergeant or a physician, it is the same. It is a shame that most guitarists are absolutely clean of this knowledge. My advice is to study music properly and not to omit any knowledge of music and not to be very impatient about giving concerts. He who is impatient mostly arrives at his goals late. Step by step is the only way"
Quote from Segovia! A 13-part series aired on National Public Radio. First aired April 1983 and produced by Larry Snitzler (Classical Guitarist) and hosted by Oscar Brand (Musicologist/Folk Guitarist).
Classical guitar studies are designed to develop sight-reading skills at the optimum speed. Classical guitarists use standard works to learn from; especially the works of Fernando Sor (1778–1839), Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), Matteo Carcassi (1792-1853) and Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909). For complete beginners the author Frederick Noad has provided the books Solo Guitar Playing One and Two. Book One assumes that the student has no previous experience of reading music and the lessons have been carefully arranged with this in mind.
The Parts Of The Classical Guitar[edit | edit source]
Equipment[edit | edit source]
A foot-stool allows the left leg to be raised when the student is sitting. The early classical guitarists explored all the various playing positions and the seated position with a foot-stool was found to give the greatest access to the fretboard while also allowing barres to be played with ease.
A music stand allows the guitarist to maintain the correct playing position and also ensures that the music is at eye level. Despite its usefulness a music stand is usually one of the last items that guitarists buy. Placing a book on the edge of the bed or on the floor means that the guitarist is looking down at the music and is constantly having to adjust their head and body position to scan the guitar neck when changing chords. Placing the music on a stand at eye level ensures that the guitarist only has to glance at the neck to check for correct finger placement.
A metronome is an ideal tool for improving timing. A wooden metronome provides an organic click which is pleasing to play along with for extended periods. Many guitarists warm up by playing scales to a metronome.
The classical guitarist plays without a plectrum. The right hand produces sound. Although the quality of tone is determined by both hands, the type of tone and the volume are controlled primarily by the right hand. There are seven ingredients that go into tone production: 1. Nail length and shape; 2. Choice of stroke: free stroke (tirando) or rest stroke (apoyando); 3. Hand position and the angle of fingers to the strings; 4. How the fingertip and nail approach the string; 5. How the fingertip and nail prepare on the string; 6. Finger pressure against the string; 7. The release of the fingertip and nail from the string.
Each of these ingredients influences all the others. One will generally determine what come next. For instance, your choice of rest stroke or free stroke will determine your hand position, and therefore the angle of the finger to the string.This will then determine how the finger approaches the string, and thus how the finger will prepare on the string. All of these contribute to the security of the fingers on the string and your ability to apply the appropriate pressure; and the pressure inevitably affects how the string will be released. The length and shape of the fingernail effects how successfully you will be able to carry out all of the various parts of the stroke.
If the nail is too long, the speed and ease with which the fingertip and nail can go through the string is considerably diminished. This is because resistance has been increased. A bad nail shape can also create undesirable resistance against the string and can cause some interesting but unsavory sounds. The reason we play with our fingernails at all is to assist us in securing and controlling the string, to enhance volume and tone. So it is important to grow and shape [the nails] in a way that will make it easier to play and sound good. Scott Tennant: Pumping Nylon 2nd Edition Copyright 2016 by Alfred Music pg 56
Therefore it is essential that your nails should be considered. Professional guitarists may use a nail hardening solution, such as Mavala, which can be purchased from any chemist. The nails should be filed with a fine-grade nail file. Professional guitarists always file their nails in one direction only; never back and forth. This ensures a much cleaner tone.
Your guitar should be kept in a case when you are not playing it. A hard body case will offer the most protection to the instrument.
Learning To Read Music[edit | edit source]
Learning to read music involves mastering reading one note at a time. It is common to find second-hand music books with the letters of the notes handwritten above each note. The idea that you can learn to read music by deciphering a single piece of music that you like should be discarded.
The early stage of learning to read music involves only the open strings. The idea is to introduce the notation for the fretted notes after the notation for the open strings has been mastered. The first day might involve starting with the notation for the open high e (thinnest string), followed by the B string, then the G string and so on. When a student can read the notation for the open strings comfortably the notation for the first three frets of the high e string is introduced and then the first three frets of the B string and so on. The early stages of mastering the open strings does not allow for extended phrases to be played though once the fretted notes are introduced the guitarist will find much of melodic value and interest.
At an advanced stage of reading music the guitarist should note that familiarity with their own sheet music collection can be counterproductive. It is not unusual to find that a guitarist who has used the same sheet music to learn a piece suddenly struggles when the same piece is presented from another publication. Fonts, staff spacing and even elements as benign as paper size and colour can cause difficulties in sight-reading. You should vary your sight-reading by using different publications.
At some point a piece of seemingly simple music may prove too difficult to play. It is not uncommon to find beginner's books with studies where certain passages in the music present a technical challenge that the beginner has yet to master. This is simply a reflection of the author's own advanced technique and a minor lapse in the author's desire to provide studies of value to the beginner. If at any time a study presents a passage of music that is difficult to execute than move to the next study.
Standard Works[edit | edit source]
Please note that the following list of works will not teach you how to read music. For that purpose you need to use the three Noad books: Playing the Guitar and Solo Guitar Playing 1 and 2 which have proved very popular with teachers and self-taught guitarists.
25 Etudes op. 60 - Matteo Carcassi
This work contains a series of studies designed for intermediate players. Consisting of arpeggio and scale studies this work has served generations of players with its inventiveness and melodies. Though didactic in purpose Carcassi has provided audience-delighting studies that form part of the repertoire of many professional and amateur players. A highly regarded edition of Op. 60 was published by Zerboni with revisions by Ruggero Chiesa.
Espanoleta - Gaspar Sanz (Pujol Transcription)
The Espanoleta by Sanz is deservedly famous. Its simplicity and beauty is accessible to the early-stage guitarist who can read music in the first position. Its common to find a transcription of the Espanoleta in many sheet music compilations and tuition books; including Playing The Guitar by Frederick Noad. The Pujol transcription is a simpler arrangement than the Noad transcription and provides the guitarist with practice in recreating Baroque ornamentation.
The Guitarist's Hour Books 1, 2, and 3 (Walter Gotze)
These collections of studies for beginners consists of pieces by Sor, Carulli, Aguado and many others. They are designed to encourage the student to observe note duration as well as providing an introduction to the works of Sor and Carulli. These progressively graded studies are ideal for metronome practice. Though most of these studies can be found in other compilations; the choice and arrangement of the studies in all three Guitarist's Hour books are exemplary with regards to progressing the beginner's technique.
Greensleeves - Francis Cutting
Francis Cutting was an English lute composer whose patronage eventually led to a position in Denmark. Greensleeves was a popular song in the fifteenth century. The Cutting lute variation has been transcribed for guitar and is part of the beginner's repertoire being easy to play with a recognisable melody. Greensleeves was made widely popular in the twentieth century by the orchestrated version "Fantasia on Greensleeves" by Ralph Vaughan Williams. A modern romantic interpretation of "Fantasia on Greensleeves" by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St.Martin is recommended.
Other Works[edit | edit source]
Harmony - Walter Piston revised by Mark Devoto
The revised edition of this standard University text is a complete overview of Western harmony. Limiting itself to the common practice of the Classical Period it provides a clear and concise introduction to harmony.
The Classical Guitar: Its Evolution, Players and Personalities Since 1800 - Maurice J. Summerfield
This work presents a comprehensive overview of the personalities that shaped the history of the classical guitar. It includes biographies of all the major classical guitarists of the past and present. Extensive use of images brings the biographies alive and its comprehensive coverage places this work at the forefront of Classical Guitar literature.
Ways To Improve Interpretation[edit | edit source]
Playing along to recordings is an ideal way to improve your interpretation. At the end of Solo Guitar Playing One is a short ternary piece called "Adelita" by Tarrega which Julian Bream has recorded. After memorizing "Adelita " the student should play along to the Bream recording as it will improve their interpretation of the piece and will impart a deeper understanding of the popular Salon style primarily associated with Chopin.
The famous "Leyenda" by Albeniz is a technical challenge for any guitarist. Transcribed for guitar from the original piano work it has become part of the classical guitar's repertoire. On film we have two master classical guitarists performing "Leyenda" - Segovia at the Alhambra Palace and John Williams in the Concert from Seville. Due to the popularity of the piece it regularly appears in compilations though it must be noted that original transcriptions of "Leyenda" are personal expressions of the transcriber's own technique. The two guitarists mentioned have chosen to adapt the piece to their own technique and a visual analysis by the student of both performances is recommended.
Many classical pieces have their origins in the dances of the past. The Bourrée was a popular dance that became part of the Baroque Suite. The Canarios and Écossaise are further examples of dance forms that the classical guitarist will come across. The Canarios was originally a lively jig associated with the Canary Island and the classical guitarist will be expected to play a Canarios at a lively tempo. Beginners will find that a small amount of historical investigation into the origins of the pieces they find in the books recommended in this chapter will prove invaluable to interpretation and will help demystify some of the time signatures and tempos given.
Classical Guitarists[edit | edit source]
- David Russell
- Fernando Sor
- Ferdinando Carulli
- John Williams
- Julian Bream
- Christopher Parkening
- Andres Segovia
- Ida Presti
Introduction[edit | edit source]
Flamenco is one of the folk music genres of Spain. In Spain the word flamenco is not just associated with the guitar but also the people, songs and dances of Spain. The history of flamenco follows that of Spain. When the Moors ruled Southern Spain they brought with them their instruments and the most important of these was the Oud. This eastern lute is still to be found all over the world but in Spain it collided with European ideas and flamenco is the product. Flamenco is woven into the life of the region of Andalucia where it originated and the people actively engage in the songs and dances. The guitar has always been the main instrument used in flamenco to support the dancers and singers due its percussive timbre. The early flamenco guitarists very rarely played solo; their role was purely to provide music for the dancers and singers. The rise of the solo flamenco guitarist is a late development and many of the great flamenco soloists are also renowned for their ability to accompany singers and dancers.
Flamenco Guitar[edit | edit source]
The modern classical guitar and its physical development can be traced back to the Spanish guitar-maker Torres. Alongside the classical guitar is the flamenco guitar. The flamenco guitar has the same history and the greatest luthiers in Spain have always made both types of guitar. The main structural difference the flamenco guitar has in relation to the classical guitar is a thinner body. This creates a timbre that is sharp and percussive. This is considered the ideal sound with which to accompany dancers. The flamenco guitar also has wooden tuning-pegs, which is the traditional method of construction for all early guitars. The need for the classical guitar to be able to be heard in a concert hall and the demand for greater resonance from classical composers; means that the classical guitar has left behind the use of wooden tuning-pegs and its body size has increased in comparison to the flamenco guitar. In many respects the flamenco guitar is similar in construction to the guitars of earlier centuries.
Flamenco Artists[edit | edit source]
Paco de Lucia and Sabicas are two flamenco guitarists that students of the guitar should be aware of. Both have played a major part in the changes of this evolving art form. Sabicas developed the technique of tremolo and Paco de Lucia extended the harmonic framework with his use of jazz chord voicings. Juan Martin is a flamenco guitarist who keeps the traditional forms sharply in focus and provides the clearest guide for beginners wishing to study the various flamenco forms.
Flamenco Forms[edit | edit source]
The flamenco forms have been developed over a long time. There is a distinction of terms when flamenco forms are described. When flamenco vocal forms are described they are called "cantes" and the guitarist forms are called "toques". Each flamenco form has certain rhythmic and tonal qualities that encapsulate the form and flamenco guitarists are expected to have a knowledge of the origin and usage of these.
Flamenco Chord Progression[edit | edit source]
This is a very common chord progression that most guitarists who wish to learn flamenco start with.
A descending one octave Phrygian mode starting from the note "E" which can be played over the above chord progression.
Flamenco Technique[edit | edit source]
- Golpe - the Spanish word for "tap". This technique involves "tapping" the body of the guitar to produce a percussive sound. The third finger of the right-hand strikes the table of the guitar with the nail and flesh. Flamenco guitars have a "golpeador" (plastic cover) which protects the wood of the guitar during the use of this technique
- Rasgueo - this is the most common strumming technique for flamenco. The right-hand is formed into a closed fist with the thumb resting against the guitar or low E string for support, and each finger is flicked out one at a time (4-stroke rasgueo) to sound the strings with the nails. A common variation is to use the technique with only the index finger. The index finger is also used for the up-stroke which only strikes the treble strings after the completion of the 4-stroke rasgueo.
Introduction[edit | edit source]
Reggae is a musical form that is rarely treated in guitar books. Its a syncopated music which is often difficult to notate and reggae guitarists are rarely given the chance to play extended solos. In many respects, the reggae guitarist is a fundamental part of the rhythm section. The guitar is often heard doubling the bassline with muted pick work or providing a steady chordal backbeat on the 2nd and 4th beat. This simple assignment of guitar role belies the true complexity of what is a fascinating guitar style.
Reggae was born out of the West Indian 1950s rhythm 'n' blues music scene. It was a unique local rhythmic twist of a very popular world-wide genre. An excellent example is Easy Snappin' by Theophilus Beckford. This huge 1950s West Indian hit record is pure rhythm 'n' blues in structure but there's a change in the syncopation. Its more emphasised and the vocals have a vernacular flavour. The guitarist on this seminal record is Ernest Ranglin. Ranglin plays an incredibly fast blues inflected line to support the rhythm. The guitar sound belongs to the period that gave us Chuck Berry but the solo itself is uniquely Jamaican. The guitar work of Peter Tosh with The Wailers provides a blueprint for the 1970s. To hear Tosh play "Stir It Up" on the recording is a revelation. The effect laden guitar part is so integrated into the performance that it difficult to hear it as a single entity. Rock guitar has given us riffs such as "Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones or "Sweet Child Of Mine" by Guns and Roses and these riffs can be learned and enjoyed separate from the songs they originated from. Reggae is the opposite; it demands of the guitarist complete rhythmic awareness of the other instruments and the ability to submerge the guitar into the harmonic and rhythmic framework.
Harmony[edit | edit source]
The chords used in reggae are the same as most other genres but due to the need to create a syncopated rhythm open chords are rarely used throughout a piece. The most common chord shapes are barres or half-barres with emphasis placed on the treble strings. It is quite common in reggae to use minor keys and to use the dominant chord in its minor form and therefore the music may never form a perfect cadence. Here is a sixteen bar reggae chord progression in the key of Gm:
Try to play the chord progression with a reggae rhythm using the chords below. Note the fingering given for the Dm chord.
Offbeat[edit | edit source]
The most common approach to reggae rhythm guitar is to play the chords on the offbeat. The majority of reggae songs use common time. Common time has four beats to a bar and the offbeats are 2 and 4. To play a reggae rhythm you count "1 - 2 - 3 - 4 -" and only strike the chord on 2 and 4. Its a common technique to dampen the chord after striking so as to create a percussive short sound. Damping can be achieved in two ways: either by using the right-hand palm flesh to stop the notes from sounding or by releasing the finger pressure of the left hand that holds a chord shape. The left-hand technique is favoured by reggae guitarists since the placing of the right-hand palm edge against the strings near the bridge is more awkward to use. When you relieve the finger pressure of the left-hand; do not remove your fingers from the chord. To produce a short precussive sound you only need to release the pressure you are applying ensuring that the chord stops sounding and that your fingers are in-place to press down again. The left-hand offbeat technique is not ideal for chords that contain open strings and is most typically used with chords that have no open strings sounding (see chords above).
Exercise One[edit | edit source]
Here is a typical reggae rhythm played on the offbeat. After striking the chord remember to release the pressure on the strings immediately to produce a short percussive sounding chord.
Doubling The Bassline[edit | edit source]
Reggae guitarists often "double the bassline". The top four strings of the guitar are the same as the bass guitar. The guitarist will play the same notes with the same rhythm as the bass usually in the same position. Sometimes the guitarist will choose to dampen the strings by placing the fleshy edge of their right-hand palm lightly against the strings near the bridge. The aim of this is not to stop the strings from sounding but to slightly dampen the strings so that they have a percussive attack.
Its not always the case that the guitar doubles the bass exactly. A common variation, borrowed from the soul and blues genres, is the playing of triplets using a fast up-and-down pick technique and using the same notes usually in the same position. This use of triplets against a "four-to-the-floor" bassline can impart a sense of driving rhythmic unity with variation.
Working Out Horn Riffs[edit | edit source]
Horns riffs are used in reggae to provide melodic support. For guitarists it helps when counting bars to understand what the horns are doing. A common device is to use horn riffs across barlines. This further adds to the syncopated feel of reggae. The horns may start on the 3rd or 4th beat of a bar playing the riff until the 2nd beat of the next bar. With practice it becomes very easy to count out these "across the barline" horn riffs. It may also provide the guitarist with riffs that he can use across barlines when playing with another guitarist who is strictly playing rhythm.
Tone and Volume
3 zones of distortion[edit | edit source]
The starting point for dialing-in various electric Rock guitar tone is not a crystal-clean full-range amplifier and speaker, but rather, a tube power amp pushing a guitar speaker that has limited frequency response, with the power tubes on the edge of breakup.
With power-tube distortion, and to a lesser extent with preamp tube distortion or solid-state distortion pedals, there are three zones: Clean, Compressed, and Distorted, somewhat corresponding to the terms Clean, Crunch or Rhythm, and Lead. The Clean zone ranges from literally clean with linear response, to the beginning of warmth and some smoothing and coloration. The Compressed zone ranges from slightly warm, smoothed, and colored, into slightly audible distortion. The Distorted zone runs from slight breakup to full distortion. Mathew laframboise
Controlling distortion voicing[edit | edit source]
An electric guitar has a volume control and tone control. The volume control almost always has a side-effect on equalization as you turn it down, affecting the pre-distortion equalization (EQ). The tone control reduces the amount of treble, affecting the pre-distortion EQ and thus the distortion voicing.
For increased control of the pre-distortion EQ, place an equalizer pedal in-between the guitar and the first distortion stage such as a distortion pedal or the guitar amp's built-in preamp. Switch between all the pickup settings, in conjunction with changing the distortion settings and EQ settings, to use the full range of basic sounds or "tones" the amp can produce.
The preamp Gain control on the distortion channel of the amp, or the Distortion control on a distortion pedal, sometimes has a side-effect of changing the equalization and thus the distortion voicing. In that case, you can use a lower distortion setting combined with a higher volume setting prior to the distortion stages, to dial-in a different distortion voicing with the same amount of distortion.
The tone stack on a standard tube amp is in-between the preamp distortion and the power-tube distortion. Thus the tone stack acts as the final part of shaping the preamp distortion voicing and also shapes the power-tube distortion voicing, together with the Master Volume control, which affects the amount of power-tube distortion voicing. For maximum power-tube distortion, set the tone controls and Master Volume to maximum, which is equivalent to bypassing them entirely.
When setting the preamp distortion, learn all the ways to adjust the equalization before the preamp distortion, including the guitar's volume and tone controls, a wah pedal, an equalization pedal, and any other volume or tone controls prior to the distortion stage. These affect the distortion voicing. More treble causes the treble to predominate in the complex clipping, resulting in a glassy liquid breakup tone; more bass prior to a distortion stage causes a dry, crusty breakup tone.
The same principles hold for controlling the power-tube distortion voicing. Learn all the ways to affect the equalization and level prior to the tube power amp, but after the preamp distortion.
Obtaining distortion independently of volume[edit | edit source]
To get power-tube distortion quietly or independently of volume level, use a power attenuator or an amplifier that has a built-in power attenuator, or a built-in power-supply based power attenuation (Power Scaling, Power Dampening, a Sag circuit, or a Variac).
It is possible to further voice the power-tube distortion by placing a dummy load (usually a power attenuator set entirely to use its built-in dummy load), an equalizer, and then a solid-state power amp between the power tubes and the guitar speaker.
A guitar speaker is a complex dynamic filter and transducer. Line-level cabinet simulators attempt to simulate this complex dynamic sound.
In the recording studio, the amp head and speaker cabinet are typically separated and the miked speaker cabinet is placed with microphones in a soundproofed isolation booth or in the live room. Either location is a soundproofed room separate from the control room where the mic signals return and the full-range monitor speakers reside for listening to the resulting power-tube distortion sound or loud quasi-clean amp sound at a controlled volume. In a home studio, the guitar speaker is sometimes placed in an isolation box with microphones.
Place one or two microphones near the guitar speaker. If you use two microphones, this causes some complex comb filtering; be prepared to swing the mixer's equalization for the two channels around very freely, because the effects of comb filtering are unpredictable. If you use a single microphone, setting the mixer's equalization is more straightforward.
Singing and Playing
There are some people who are blessed with a perfect singing voice and excellent coordination, and they sing and play the guitar like breathing. For other people, attempting to sing a single note causes them to immediately lose the rhythm.
This section is intended to help people who already play the guitar and gives advice on how to incorporate vocals into their performance .
General Tips[edit | edit source]
Just keep singing. The worst thing you can do is stop, because stopping teaches you to stop, and only singing teaches you to sing. Start simple. Pick a song with simple chord progressions and simple, on-beat strumming patterns. Start with a very slow tempo and gradually speed up after a successful try.
Other Artist's Songs[edit | edit source]
First learn to play the song really well. Listen and sing along with the song, over and over again. After you have a good handle on both the singing and guitar part, try putting them together. If this still proves too difficult having both parts memorized, you may try just playing the guitar while listening to the song, focusing your mind on listening to the words as closely as you can until you can think about the words while playing. This could take away some of the multitasking confusion prevalent in first attempts.
If multitasking is not the issue but certain songs are still a challenge, practice playing and singing the song without reference to the original, and when you are sure that you have memorised the lyrics and chord changes, practice along to the original version. Sometimes doing this will help you master the harder sections.
Be sure to keep a copy of the words nearby while you are learning, in case you forget a line or two. It is better to stumble through a few lines and keep the song going rather than stopping in mid verse to try to remember something.
Your Own Songs[edit | edit source]
After writing the first few lines of a song and with an idea of how you'd like the song to be (having the basic chords and lyrics ), the next step is to explore the possibilities. The idea is to try different tones and melodies. When singing we can stretch words to fill up some space. change any words and chords, or if creating a version of a known tune, add a chord (or word), later you can decide which one sounds better. Sometimes we subconsciously create music that is a copy of our favourite artist; there's nothing wrong with this. After all, some of the greatest names in music founded their early careers with covers of the music of their heroes. After some progress show it to your friends and ask them for some opinions. Sometimes we may also forget the melody or chords, so a good tip is to record it. You don't need a professional studio, just a normal microphone and a computer will suffice. In relation to lyrics during songwriting, if a word doesn't sit well, look for a synonym. Most of the time, it's the best solution.
Now that you've got some skill and control over the guitar, you want to start writing and performing your own songs. But all your famous artists have such amazing, complicated songs, it's hard to know where to begin.
This page is a general guide to writing songs on the guitar. Although it won't necessarily teach you to write a Top 40 hit, it will give you some general ideas on how to write an effective song. If you haven't already, please read the Singing and Playing section.
General Tips[edit | edit source]
- Keep it simple. The most popular, catchy tune on the radio is probably the simplest, most oft reproduced melody in the world. But that doesn't stop you from humming it all day, does it? Never forget that when some people hear "a complex, thought-provoking piece", others hear "an over complicated mess."
- Have confidence. Your song may not be the best in the world, but a gutsy, less talented performer is always more admired than an amazing performer that is too shy to get a single note out.
- Keep trying. If you don't "figure it out" immediately, that doesn't mean that you never will. If something sounds terrible, try the opposite, or only use the second half of whatever your work on. The key is to keep trying different things until something clicks.
- Don't get frustrated. If absolutely nothing is clicking, then just come back to it later. Record whatever you have, take a break, and play it again later. The song isn't going anywhere you aren't going, and it'll still be there the next day.
- "Borrow" someone else's melody. Often the best melody is the one that already exists. The history of music (and any art, really) is checkered with people taking bits and pieces from other artists and adding their own spin to it. However, this doesn't mean you should just copy some famous song and call it your own, because chances are someone else will notice. Other songs should be used as a source of ideas, not something you can photocopy.
- Ask someone else. You might be stuck in the same rut, but that doesn't mean anyone else is. Ask another musician (or even a regular person) what they think might fit well. Sometimes the advice will be surprising. With this method you have to be careful of copyright issues, especially if you make it big.
Turning Chords into Songs[edit | edit source]
Often players come up with a catchy riff or two, and they're not sure how to develop it into more. Songs typically are built up in layers; for example, in a band, one guitarist creates a riff, and another adds a catchy lick over top, the bass player brings in something to support it and the drummer keeps time and adds some interesting rhythms. Even though the first guitar part might still be the same, it is ultimately the contribution of the other parts that turns a few chords into a song.
The most important thing to remember when writing a song is that very little sounds good completely on its own, and generally it requires at least more than one part to make things interesting. There are many ways to add a second part to a song. For instance, some players (especially those that can finger pick) can simultaneously play a bass line on the thicker strings and a melody on the thin strings. Really complicated riffs can also sound good on their own, however these tend to be difficult to write and you may not have enough technical skill for complicated writing.
Another player can also add depth to a riff. For example, a bass player can add another sound texture, and having two players allow them to bounce melodies off one another. The song Dueling Banjos from the movie Deliverance is a good example of how two players can create an interesting, purely instrumental song.
But if none of these options are available to you, or perhaps you only like to compose songs alone, there is always one other layer you can add to any progression; your voice. Amazing singing can turn even the simplest progression into a groundbreaking song