Working on specific guitar techniques and developing good musical habits is the best way to improve your acoustic guitar practice. Many people pick up the acoustic guitar for a variety of reasons.
For many the acoustic guitar is the most accessible instrument. It is also one of the most ubiquitous instruments in modern music which makes it a great choice for beginners.
To improve your playing you must practice, practice, practice! Guitar practice for beginners can be tedious if it is not properly managed. If you concentrate on completing focused practice you will likely reap the benefits and enjoy it.
Below we have outlined some of the top techniques and habits that will help you practice acoustic guitar. Whether these center on developing a good picking technique or becoming a more conscientious listener, they are all geared towards making you a better musician.
1. Hammer-ons and Pull Offs
Hammer-ons and pull-offs are essential guitar techniques that will add versatility and style to your playing. A hammer-on is when you press on the fretboard with your fingers to produce a sound rather than picking with a plectrum or your fingers. A pull off is the opposite movement to a hammer-on as you quickly release pressure with your fingers from the fretboard.
Hammer-ons are a great way of enhancing your legato playing and adding dynamic variety to your play. Many guitarists are able to produce creative guitar lines by incorporating hammer-ons and pull-offs in their solos. In guitar tablature, pull-offs are denoted by a P and hammer-ons by an H.
Developing good hammer-ons and pull-offs are a great way of improving your finger placement technique. By repeatedly paying attention to the exact placement of your fingers for hammer-ons and pull-offs you will become a better acoustic guitar player.
When you become accustomed to using hammer-ons and pull-offs they will probably become a regular part of your musical arsenal. They are a useful technique to get your fingers accustomed to the movement of the strings. Being able to produce sound from the fretboard hand is an easy way of adding variety to your play.
Slide guitar is a technique where you slide one of your fretboard fingers up or down the fret usually by using a finger slide or a bottleneck. It is a technique frequently used in blues and folk music to create vibrato and glissando effects. You should probably only introduce slide guitar into your guitar practice schedule if you are already relatively advanced.
It is not an easy skill to execute but it is incredibly satisfying when used properly to enhance the mood of a blues or folk song. Most guitarists wear the finger slide or bottleneck on their ring finger. It is possible to wear finger slides on your middle finger and your pinky, but wearing it on your ring finger is a good compromise between control and reach.
You should place the slide at the front of the intended fret and not in the middle to avoid producing a flat note. Slide guitar is a great technique to help widen your set of guitar skills. Much like natural harmonics, which we discuss below, slide guitar requires relatively little pressure on the strings to produce wonderful notes.
Slide guitar is most commonly used in blues and folk music. If you intend to play the blues it is important for you to incorporate slide guitar into your acoustic guitar practice exercises.
3. Natural Harmonics
You can produce natural harmonics on the guitar by lightly touching the strings to isolate overtones. Every time you strum a string it produces the note you are accustomed too and various overtones. Producing harmonics is a guitar technique where you control all these vibrations to allow a clear, ringing tone to sing.
Similar to slide guitar, playing natural harmonics is a technique that will be difficult for beginners. The concept is relatively simple but the execution requires some experimentation and precision. Guitar practice for beginners should focus on the fundamentals and then begin to incorporate trickier skills like harmonics.
The acoustic guitar can be used to produce harmonics in a variety of ways. It is best to focus on natural harmonics first as these are the easiest to execute. Lightly touching your finger onto a string on the twelfth, seventh or fifth fret while striking the string with your picking hand will produce a natural harmonic.
Natural harmonics are played on an open string and are the easiest harmonics to get a grasp of as a beginner. You can also play tap and pinch harmonics but these require an added level of expertise. Harmonics are also a useful way of tuning your guitar if you don’t have a tuner to hand.
4. Music Theory
Becoming knowledgeable about music theory is more of a habit than a technique. It does involve becoming acquainted with various music techniques that will enhance your guitar playing. Expanding your knowledge of what the acoustic guitar can do is always a good idea. Knowing your music theory will make it easier to play with others. It will also make it easier to make smart decisions when you are soloing or coming up with melodies.
Some people view music theory as a hindrance. This view is short-sighted. Knowing what key and tempo you are playing in will greatly aid your understanding of the music. If you know more about the music you are playing it follows that you will be able to play better.
Music theory is especially helpful if you want to write your own music. Rather than mindlessly noodling and waiting for a melody to miraculously appear, knowing a bit of music theory will give you a head start. Knowing chord progressions, intervals and how to perform key changes is a great way of making your acoustic guitar practice routine more purposeful.
5. Playing with a Metronome
There is no substitute for the metronome. Whether you are looking to learn a new piece or improve your rhythmic sense the metronome is key. Many of you will probably already be using a metronome to practice but if you are not then you should. The humble metronome has helped many struggling musicians take their playing to the next level.
A metronome can be used to learn pieces efficiently. The best way to learn a tricky passage on the guitar is to play it slow and gradually increase the tempo as you begin to play it without mistakes. The metronome provides great assistance in this method. If you set the metronome to 40 bpm and then slowly increase to a suitable tempo you will learn pieces faster.
A metronome can also be used to improve your overall sense of rhythm and timing. It is easy to become complacent and lose your timing when you practice alone. Using a metronome is a good way of staying precise and locked into a rhythm.
Practicing the acoustic guitar with a metronome is a simple habit to pick up. It is easy for beginners and experts to incorporate into their practice routine. We guarantee that your playing will improve by spending more time with a metronome.
6. Strumming and Picking
It is important to experiment with your strumming and picking technique when you are practicing acoustic guitar. Alternating the way you strum your strings will give a new feel to the rhythm and sound of your playing. Similarly, you will unlock new ways of playing by practicing your picking technique.
As much as your fretboard hand is important your picking and strumming hand can be used very effectively to control the guitar. If you are looking to develop complete control over your instrument it is important to practice these techniques.
Whether you are using up and down stroke strumming or muted strumming patterns, experimenting with your strumming will add a new dynamic to your play. Similarly, alternating between picking with a plectrum or your finger will yield widely different results. Both strumming and picking are great techniques to work on while practicing acoustic guitar.
Acoustic Guitar Practice Makes Perfect
Ultimately, you will be rewarded the more you practice. The acoustic guitar is a great instrument that deserves to be experimented with and played often. If you maintain your guitar and maintain your skills you will be making incredible sounds in no time.
Hopefully, some of the above tips may make their way into your guitar practice schedule in the future. Guitar practice for beginners can be frustrating, so we hope you put some of these ideas to use. Developing your picking and strumming is as important as developing your sense of rhythm. Each technique highlighted above will advance your acoustic guitar playing in different ways.
Whether you want to learn a few simple Beatles songs or you want to be plucking complex flamenco rhythms it is important to nail down the basics. Having some acoustic guitar lessons is a great starting point but you should also learn to practice effectively on your own. We wish you all the best with your acoustic guitar adventures!
What habits have you picked up while practicing acoustic guitar?
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