If you are just starting out on the guitar, you may be confused by all the guitar terms, slang and language that is used.
Many of the terms used by guitarists are relatively simple and describe simple parts and techniques. Understanding these terms is important if you want to improve your knowledge and guitar playing.
We want to help you build a better understanding of the instrument. Let’s assume you know some of the very basic music terms that are not specific to the guitar like chord or tuning.
Below we have outlined some of the top guitar terms you need to know.
A capo is a common acoustic and electric guitar accessory. The name is derived from the Italian for “head”. It serves as a clamp that can be placed on to the neck of the guitar. It is commonly used because it can allow the guitarist to play songs in many different keys while using the simple 1st position open string chord finger placements.
It works by clamping down the strings of a fretted instrument to shorten the length and raise the pitch. If you want to understand more about the capo and how it relates to the nut of the guitar we recommend this informative Fender article.
2. Hammer-ons and Pull offs
This is a two-in-one. Hammer-ons and Pull-offs are guitar techniques that added some extra flavor to your playing.
A hammer-on is performed by bringing your finger down hard on to the guitar string with your fret hand to produce a note. A pull-off is the opposite movement. You can play a note without picking by placing two fingers on the same string at different points on the fret and lightly pulling off the higher note so the lower note rings out.
Guitarists use these techniques to add nuance and texture to their playing. Both can be executed quite easily by beginners. It is good to know these terms and practice these techniques.
3. Barre Chord
A barre chord (also known as a bar chord) is a chord played by laying one finger over the fretboard to cover multiple strings. They are often used in a similar way to the capo mentioned above. When you are barring you are performing the same function as the capo but with your finger.
This technique requires flexibility and finger dexterity. If you aim to teach yourself guitar then barre chords will come up at some point. However, we would recommend that you only move on to barre chords once you master some of the simple chords and finger configurations.
Over time you will develop the skill and strength to play barre chords and they will become a useful skill in your arsenal.
The action of a guitar is the distance between the strings and the fretboard. Knowing how high or low your action is, is essential to guitar playing. You will find that playing with high action is difficult as you will have to push the strings down with more force to make a sound.
Ideally you would have minimal distance between the bottom of the strings and the fretboard. Having a high action can be painful on your fingers and make your playing imprecise.
You can adjust your own guitar action or you can get it done by a guitar technician.
It is important to understand the role of pickups if you have an electric guitar. A pickup is an electro-magnetic strip that sits beneath the strings on the body of the guitar.
A pick up can alter the tone of a guitar. Pickups come in many shapes and sizes but all are comprised of a magnet and a set of wound copper wire. These components create a magnetic field which changes the sound of the guitar by altering the vibrations.
There are two standard types of pickups: Single Coil and the Humbucker. The single coil is, as it sounds, a pickup with one coil wrapped around the magnet. A Humbucker is a pickup that was designed to reduced the hum of a single coil. The humbucker achieves this by using two coils around the magnet with opposite polarity.
Slide guitar is a technique whereby you place an object against the strings and slide up the fret while playing. This technique is used to produce vibratos and glissandos. It is common to see slide guitar used in blues and folk music.
Slide can often be achieved by using a hollow tube made of glass or metal. The ‘bottleneck slide’ is also used to refer to the same technique. It is a difficult technique to grasp for beginners but is definitely worth trying, especially if you are interested in playing folk or blues music.
You have probably heard of harmony but have you heard of harmonics? Harmonics are musical notes that are produced on the guitar when you amplify or prevent the vibrations of overtones on a string.
When you isolate an overtone from its fundamental note you can hear harmonics. You can do this by plucking and then lightly touching the string on the 12th, 7th or 5th fret. Harmonics can be produced on both acoustic and electric guitars.
Producing harmonics from a guitar is a fantastic way of broadening your guitar playing. It is also one of a few classic guitar terms that can be applied to a number of other string instruments.
Harmonics are an interesting concept and are worth delving into deeper.
8. Standard Tuning/Drop D Tuning
Standard tuning refers to the tuning of the guitar strings. With standard tuning the guitar strings are tuned to E-A-D-G-B-E. There are many ways to tune the guitar and you can mess around with different tunings to your heart’s content.
One of the most common alternative tunings is the Drop-D tuning: D-A-D-G-B-E. Guitarists experiment with different tunings to produce different tones, sounds and make it easier to execute certain chord progressions. The drop-d tuning is often used in heavy metal because it allows guitarists to make quick power chord transitions.
9. Bridge/Bridge Pins
The bridge is a part of the body of the guitar where the strings are held in place. On acoustic guitars you will see bridge pins. These are used to hold the strings down. The bridge may be made out of wood or metal and can be modified.
There are a variety of guitar bridges that can be seen on electric guitars. Normally you will either have a ‘vibrato’ or ‘non-vibrato’ bridge.
10. Chord Diagram
A chord diagram uses X’s, O’s and numbers to show you finger placement for certain chords. It is a useful tool that you will undoubtedly come across as you begin to learn to play the guitar. You don’t need to be able to read music to be a great guitarist but it will certainly help.
A chord diagram is a great visualisation technique and is one of the best ways to learn chords and chord progressions. It is worth learning more about how to read chord diagrams if you want to take your playing to the next level.
Music Theory Bonus
The above terms refer mainly to the composition of guitar or the techniques used to play the guitar. It is also worth mentioning that you will probably come across quite a lot of music theory terminology when learning to play. This is true of most instruments and is not limited to learning the guitar.
Here we have listed some useful music theory terms that you should learn more about to help you understand the guitar. These include:
- Time signature
- Major scale
- Minor Scale
Hopefully some of the guitar terms listed above will help you better understand the guitar and your playing. It is important to become informed of all the ins and outs of the guitar if you want to become a good player.
Remember this is only the beginning. As you become more comfortable with the guitar and start to experiment you will probably come across more unfamiliar guitar terms. Over time you will develop a comprehensive guitar dictionary and you will be able to put this to good use. You will become familiar with guitar parts, guitar terms and guitar techniques the more you practice.
Now that you know what a hammer-on and a capo is, it is time to put that knowledge to good use. As you practice these many techniques and skills your knowledge of guitar terminology will grow naturally. We wish you all the best in your future guitar endeavours.
Are there any other guitar terms that would be useful to know?
Share in the comments below!