One reason people gravitate toward the guitar, and any other instrument for that matter, is because it’s always possible to learn something new and enhance your skills.
No matter how long you’ve been playing, you can always find a new riff or even a new technique.
There are many benefits to knowing how to play guitar. But beyond simply knowing songs or even a few hot licks, how deep does your musical knowledge go?
Having a good array of techniques in your arsenal allows you to play more songs, be more creative, and advance your playing at a fast pace.
With these basic techniques, you can create a lot of music. Here are the top 20 guitar techniques that you may not have known about.
Techniques Every Guitar Player Should Know
Sliding is almost an instinctual technique for guitarists – plus it sounds cool, to boot! But rather than just sliding your finger down or up the string to get a cool pitch shift effect before you find the fret you’re looking for, try sliding your pick down it instead.
It will take a bit of distortion to truly get the desired effect from this, but it’s unmistakable once you get it down.
This technique could also be called the pick scrape, as that’s a more accurate way to describe the sound. Some guitarists on stage take this to the extreme – they’ll slide their guitar’s neck along mic stands and more to produce a similar scraping sound.
When you want to get noticeable sound out of the guitar, you’re required to actually pick the strings – right?
Technically, you just need to vibrate the string and ensure you have a firm grip on the string wherever you’re holding it.
With the hammer on, you can accomplish this with just your fretting hand alone.
Let’s say you’re playing the second fret of the first string and want to move to the third fret. Rather than picking the string again, continue holding the second fret and “hammer on” the third fret with another finger. Apply adequate pressure and you should be able to here the note ring out as clean as it would if you picked it. This is a great way to get more notes with less movement required in your picking hand.
This is the effective opposite of the hammer on. Going back to the previous example, imagine you’re still holding the third fret with one finger and the first fret with another, both on the first string. After you’ve picked on the third fret, simply “pull off” that finger while keeping the other on the first fret. What you’ve effectively done is plucked the string with a finger on the fretting hand instead of having to pick it again.
These techniques are designed to be used together. In doing so, you can create a cool trill effect that’s great for getting a ton of notes into a short span of time – without requiring you to exhaust your picking hand’s wrist.
This one could break your string if you get too carried away, so use it carefully. Rather than picking the strings, you can pluck them. It produces a bit of a different sound quality and lends itself well to styles like country and rockabilly. Obviously, you need to use your thumb and fingers for this depending on how many notes you want to pluck at once.
Taking advantage of the science of acoustics and the way the guitar is constructed, you can almost emulate a bell with your playing if you take the right approach. Rather than pressing down a string on a fret, try holding your finger just above it before picking – if done properly, you’ll get a high-pitched sound known as a harmonic.
Also known as a “squeal” this trick requires a gain-filled tone with distortion to sound right. When holding the pick between your thumb and finger, make it so only a small amount of the pick is actually sticking out to make contact with the strings. Also, let your thumb barely graze it right afterwards. If done right, this will make it sound like your guitar is screaming the notes – rock on!
As noted in the section about hammer on technique, clear sound is easy to get out of a guitar even without picking. You just need to press a string down on the fretboard with enough pressure to make it ring out. This is the idea behind finger tapping, which sees the guitarist use their picking hand’s fingers to tap on the fretboard, hammering on at certain points then pulling off to play notes. Though he wasn’t the first to do it, Eddie Van Halen is credited with popularizing this technique.
Also dubbed two-handed tapping, though the term can be deceptive since even normally tapping usually utilizes both hands. This technique involves tapping frets using four, six, or even eight fingers. This technique can require you to hold frets with fingers in odd positions and make some challenging motions with your hands. The tradeoff is you can play some massive intervals that are otherwise impossible through normal picking.
This one requires a special piece of hardware – a whammy bar, or vibrato bar, to be exact. After playing and holding a note, dip the bar down toward the body and listen as the pitch of your chosen note descends rapidly. This sounds especially interesting on the lowest string, as it allows players to access pitches not available in standard tunings. You can also pull up to get the reverse effect, but only if your guitar has a floating system – one that goes up and down.
If a guitarist feels the urge to sing, they may not even need a mic if they have the right pickups. Some pickups have the type of power that enables them to detect voices. This trick is simple – lift the instrument up and sound off into the electronics.
Assorted Vibrato Bar Tricks
This trick allows you to manipulate your strings’ pitches with the vibrato bar. Guitarists – who also double as showmen in this case – have emulated motorcycles, missiles, and even horses by playing notes then using the vibrato bar. Everything from a clean note to a squeal to a harmonic can be raised or lowered in pitch with the bar.
Remember how we mentioned the cool harmonic effects you can create by hovering your finger over the string? Try doing this with your picking hand right along where the pickups are while you do hammer on/pull off drills with the fretting hand. Move each around and you’ll find the possibilities are plentiful.
Here, you’ll need a guitar with a separate volume knob for each of two pickups, both controllable by a selector switch (Les Paul lovers rejoice!) Turn one pickup’s volume on and the other’s completely off. Then use the selector switch to alternate between them quickly. It’s an easy way to get a stuttering effect – just be mindful of the fragile nature of some switches.
Dynamics are one of the four main qualities of sound. But rather than changing your picking intensity on guitar, you can simply alter the volume as you play. Many guitars have the volume knob close enough to the pickups that you can actually control it with your pinky provided your hands are big enough. You can also use a volume pedal for this.
Most guitarists know how to bend strings, but double-stop bends are a little trickier. These can sometimes require you to fret one note and hold it while bending another. It can produce an interesting sound, as you’re bending the pitch of one note up to another as you play them both together. You can also learn to bend multiple strings at once, which gives a whole new sound quality to the technique.
This can be an easy way to mess up your instrument if you get too carried away, which is why some guitarist don’t even use it. However, it is possible to change the pitch of a string by bending the neck itself slightly by pushing it from behind. If you want a technique that removes the risk for a similar effect, simply grab the tuning peg and detune a string slightly before returning it to the original position.
Hybrid picking combines all the great tones and techniques of alternate picking and finger picking together. This is useful for helping you learn to play lead and harmony simultaneously, and for allowing you to play certain combinations of notes in succession that are incredibly difficult doing with your pick or fingers alone.
Usually done on a single note or a short series, this technique allows the guitarist to try to alternate pick as fast as possible. Even as you seek speed, remember to try and get an even and balanced sound regardless of the tempo.
Alternate picking patterns teach us that up-down-up-down is the best way to play quickly. But when you’re moving from one string to the next, a series of upstrokes or downstrokes can make things easier. Sweep picking, as the name suggests, involves sweeping your pick across the strings in the same direction to create a legato-like sound.
Economy picking is a complex technique that combines sweep picking and alternate picking. Let’s say, for example, a person is sweeping down the fourth, third, second, and first string – but when they get to the first, they may alternate pick a series of notes there. Since they’re on a single string now, they’d abandon the sweeping motion in favor of the up-down-up-down style of alternate picking, then switch back to all upstrokes to go back across the second, third, and fourth string. This technique is great for building control in both hands and for creating some face-melting licks.
Improving Your Guitar Techniques with Practice
There are plenty of guitar techniques out there, many of which are used constantly by today’s virtuosos.
Learning new techniques can be exciting since you expand your playing, but it can also be frustrating since learning new things takes time.
Practice things slowly at first, making sure the form is correct.
Once this becomes second nature, it will be much easier to play it quickly.
Whether you want to speed up your playing or simply throw in one of these techniques right between the end of the chorus and the start of the next verse, focus on accuracy first.