Guitar techniques involve everything related to the execution of notes on your guitar.
Every instrument has its own set of techniques that make playing it special, different from any other instrument.
The electric guitar is no exception.
The following guitar techniques are essential if you want to make the notes you play stand out on the electric guitar.
1. String bending
If you pick say, the note C, followed by the note D, as soon as you pick the note D, the note C stops sounding. In an instant, the C is changed into a D.
But when you bend the note C up to the note D the note is changing in minute steps to the other, as the human voice can easily do.
In the following example guitar lick every note is picked separately, but the last note of the first and the third bar is bent up a tone.
This means that this note, which finds itself on the 7th fret of the G string, is bent up until you reach the pitch of the note that would be heard if you picked the 9th fret on the G string.
As simple as it is, the lick you just played, sounds very effective, mostly because of the string bending.
Yet, there is another guitar phrasing technique that could be utilized in this simple guitar lick.
Vibrato also involves bending strings, but this time the bending is very slight, quickly comes back to the original pitch and this action is repeated a number of times.
You execute vibrato by pulling the string slightly down with your finger and rapidly move your finger back to the natural position of the string.
Unlike in string bending, with vibrato, your goal is not to hit the next note and make it sound. If for instance, you apply vibrato the note C, the note that comes is heard with vibrato technique applied would still be the note C.
It just sounds more beautiful and expressive.
Vibrato is mostly applied to long notes and is written like a squiggly line over the note.
The following is the same guitar lick you have learned in the string bending example but has vibrato technique applied to the last note of the second and fourth bar.
Bending strings is only one way you can move from one note to the other without picking both.
When you execute a hammer-on, you just pick the first note you want to play, and literally hammer on the next note with the tip of your finger.
It will take some practice to get your fingers to execute hammer-ons right, but once you do, you will execute them with ease forever.
The following guitar lick is an example of how hammer-ons are used and notated, as well as a good exercise to start nailing this guitar technique down.
The notes that have a slur (that arc that looks like a tie, but is not since you can only tie the same note) over them are the notes to which hammer-on technique should be applied.
The first note below the slur should be struck, while the following note should be hammered on.
4. Pull offs
One thing that neither string bending nor hammer-ons could do is to have that technique applied in situations where the higher note comes before the lower note.
You can bend the note C to the note D. You can also hammer the D. But you can’t do it the other way round.
Which is where pull off technique comes to the rescue.
To execute a pull off you have to leave the finger of the note you want to arrive to (the C in this case) stationary so that when you move from the previous note (D in this case) to it, you kind of pinch the string.
Your left-hand finger, the one that was playing the note D, temporarily takes the role of the pick and plucks the string, so that you get the note C.
The notation for the pull off, as you’ll see in the next example, is exactly like that of the hammer on – a slur between two notes. You know that it’s a pull-off not a hammer on because the first note that is struck, is higher than the following note.
In the next guitar lick, every slur is intended as a pull-off since I’m always starting with the lower note.
You may have noticed that the second bar is just a run from the A minor pentatonic in its most commonly used guitar scale pattern.
Slides are another way you can move from a note to another.
You pick the first note and slide your finger to the intended note. Slides can be used for both lower notes going up or higher notes going down.
In the next example, the notes that have a slur over them, and a small line between them, are the notes over which the sliding guitar technique should be applied.
6. Double stops
Double stops are simply two notes played at the same time, usually for a short duration.
They can be very effective especially when combined with other techniques like string bending and vibrato as in the next guitar lick.
7. Palm-muting technique
While the guitar techniques we’ve discussed so far will help you mostly with licks and solos, palm muting is mostly a rhythm technique.
If you want to become a good guitar player, which I’m assuming is why you’re here, guitar techniques are one of the first aspects you should be focusing on.
The most important electric guitar techniques, especially the above, should be nailed before, for instance, learning to read standard music notation.
The reason is that without the techniques, you can’t express yourself on your guitar the way you want.
On the other hand, if you can play a couple of notes right, you can make your guitar sing!
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