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Guitar Glossary

 Guitar Glossary 

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1/4, 1/2, 3/4-Size Guitars - Guitar sizes smaller than a normal guitar with shorter strings and less space between frets.


Action - Refers to the height of the strings above the frets and fretboard.


Altered and Open Tunings - The result of changing the tuning of one or more strings from standard EADGBE. e.g. DADGAD


Alternate Picking - Picking in alternate directions (down-up-down-up to be economic with movement).

Arpeggio - A 'broken chord' using chord tunes usually played evenly low to high and back again.


Arrangement - The setting of an original or standard tune for a given solo instrument or group of instruments.


Barre Chord - From the French term barré. The technique of placing the left-hand index finger over two to six strings in the fingering of a chord. The great advantage of using barre chords is that they are "moveable shapes" that can be applied at practically any fret.

Bending - The act of pushing or pulling a string upwards or downwards to raise the pitch of a note by a half up to a full tone or more. Used extensively in rock and blues playing as well as in jazz.

Capo - A mechanical barre that attaches to the neck of a guitar by various means. The capo can be used to raise the key of a song to suit a vocalist as well as to lower the action and shorten the string length.

Chord - Three or more notes sounded simultaneously. (see blog post on how to learn open chords)

Chorus (of a tune) - Strictly speaking, the portion of a song (sometimes called a lyric or melody hook line)that is repeated, often with other voices joining in. In jazz improvisation, however, "playing a chorus" would mean taking a turn improvising over the tune's chords progression.

Closed Voicing - The term "voicing" refers to the vertical arrangement of the notes of a given chord in terms of pitch. "Closed voicing" places the member notes as close together as possible, no matter the inversion as opposed to "open voicing" which spreads the member notes of the chord at larger intervals.

Cutaway - A concave area generally in the upper right bout of a normal right-hand guitar that allows the player easier access to the higher frets.

Drop-D tuning - The practice of lowering the sixth string (E) by a whole tone down to the pitch of D, one octave lower than the fourth string.

Finger Picks - Banjo-style picks that fingerstyle guitarists use when playing steel-string instruments to get more volume.


Fingerstyle - Playing with the fingernails or fingertips with or without finger picks, as opposed to playing with a plectrum.


FlatpIck (or plectrum) - A triangular or teardrop-shaped piece of nylon or plastic used to pluck single or strum guitar strings. Flatpicks are available in a large variety of shapes, sizes, designs and thicknesses.


Footstool - A small adjustable stool used to raise the height of the guitar by resting a foot, usually employed by classical guitarists.


Hammer-on - A note sounded by "hammering" down with fretting hand finger, often performed in conjunction with a note first plucked by the right hand on the same string.

Harmonics - Touch harmonics are an artificial harmonics technique. To play them, fret a note on any string between the first and tenth frets. Place the index finger of your right hand very lightly at the note twelve frets higher on the same string to produce the harmonic plus a series of overtones.

Headstock - The part of the guitar, which is found on the end of the neck. It houses the tuning pegs also known as machine heads where the end of the strings are wrapped around

Interval - The distance between two notes e.g. minor third, fifth, major seventh, octave.

Inversion - Forming a chord with a note other than the root as the lowest note.

Lead Guitar - The part or passage played by a guitar soloist in a rock style band.

Modulate - To change a key or keys within a piece of music.

Open Voicing - A manner of chord construction in which the chord tones notes are broadly separated. See closed voicing above.

Palm Mute - Applying the side of your palm (picking hand) lightly to the strings to dampen the ringing of the strings. It is used extensively with distortion to add a more percussive sound.

Pentatonic Scale - A five-tone scale used often in rock and blues.

Picking - Plucking or producing a sound on the guitar in general, either with the fingers or a flatpick/plectrum. Sometimes refers to playing a single-note melody line.

p i m a - letters derived from the Spanish names for the fingers of the right hand: pulgar (thumb), indice (index), medio (middle), and anular (ring). Used to indicate fingering.

Plectrum - Another name for a flatpick.

Pinched Harmonics - Achieved through catching the string with both the plectrum and string. Using distortion, it creates a high pitched squeal which is prevalent in heavy rock music especially.

Positions - A reference to placement of the left-hand index at various fret positions.

Power Chord - A chord consisting of the first (root), fifth and eighth degree (octave) of the scale. Power chords are typically used in playing rock music. Note the lack of a minor or major third which means that the chord does not fit into any chord family e.g. major. minor, dominant, diminished, augmented.

Pitch - How high or low a note is in the musical register.

Pull-off - The opposite of a hammer-on. Performed by plucking a note with a finger on a higher note and pulling parallel to the fret to sound a lower note on the same string. This produces a different sound to picking or plucking the note.

Rhythm Guitar - Rhythmic strumming of chord backup for a lead player, singer, or ensemble/band.

Riff - A guitar riff is as a group or sequence of notes or chords that are used in a song. It can be repeated over and over again, or it may only be heard once in, say, a lead guitar solo. Riffs can be minor decorative elements or they can be the basis of a song. Many riffs are very memorable — they usually are the most immediately recognizable thing about a song — and that is why they are so important. e.g Smoke on the Water, Sweet Child O’ Mine, Layla etc.

Set-up - The adjustment of the action of a guitar which affect both the playability and sound of the guitar.

Slide or Bottleneck - A plastic or glass tube placed over the third or fourth finger of the left hand and used to play "slide" or glissando effects in rock and blues and other forms of traditional music.

Standard Tuning - The guitar is generally tuned EADGBE low to high but can be tuned to other 'open' tunings.

String Winder - A swivel device with a handle with a fixture that fits over the tuning keys to save time.

Strumming - Performed with a pick or the fingers. Generally consists of brushing across 2-6 strings (or 12 on a 12-string guitar) in a rhythmic up and down fashion appropriate to the tune and rhythm being played.

Tablature or Tab - A system of writing music for fretted instruments whereby a number or letter appears on lines representing the strings, indicating the fret to be played. This is an alternative method to music manuscript which that although you do not need to read music, tab does not show note values, rests, time/key signature, rhythm. There are many sites with free transcriptions of 1000's of songs, riffs or guitar solos but be aware, they are not always 100% accurate.

Transcription - To write down in tab or manuscript a solo, note for note, off of a recording.

Transpose - To change the key of a piece of music by a specific interval such as Dm to Am.

Tremolo - A technique performed with either a very rapid down-up movement of the pick or plucking of the fingers.

Triad - A basic three-note chord.

Tuner - An electronic device which can tune guitars through reverberations, microphone or a digital signal.

Vibrato - To vibrate the string by slightly altering a pitch higher and lower.

Voicing - The arrangement of the member notes of a chord, or placement of the melody or bass line within a harmonic progression.

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