If you are tired of holding your guitar to play some fine tunes, but have no idea what you should do to make things sound a bit nicer, don’t worry—We’ve all been there.
Being able to play some tunes or melodies might get a few claps from the near and dear ones but if you really want to daze them with your skills, you need to play techniques.
I have already shared some content that helps absolute beginners learn how to play guitar, understand music theory, and compose songs.
Today, I am focusing on people who know how to play a tune but are looking to improve their playing. One way to do this is by adding, as I mentioned earlier, a variety of techniques to your repertoire.
Why Learn Guitar Techniques?
Playing the guitar isn’t just limited to holding a fret position and plucking a string. It is far more than that! Guitarists all around the world use a multitude of techniques to add that additional punch, that flair, and finesse that everyone falls in love with right away.
Applying various techniques while playing can help make a song more sonically appealing and unique. So, what do professionals use? To be honest, they use the same techniques that we know and use ourselves. These include:
- Pinch harmonics
- Bending —The string, not the guitar!
- Hammer-on and pull-off
- Palm muting
Once you learn these, you will instantly see your music coming to life. We will be looking at playing some of them in a while now.
Licks and Riffs
First things first! We begin by addressing these two terms, often used interchangeably, that are not at all what you might imagine. In fact, many guitarists do not know how to differentiate a lick from a riff.
There is a subtle difference between the two that everyone should know about. You don’t want to be in a situation where you are posing as a master but you can’t answer a simple “what’s the difference between...” question. That would be really awkward.
Riffs are a sequence of notes or chords that are played as a key part of the song. Take these away and the crowd would have no idea what you are playing.
It is like listening to Staying Alive without that iconic bass groove that kicks in at the start. Remove the bass line and it is just some drums going “bang, splash, bang, splash.”
There are many examples where you can pick out melodies, rhythms—primarily in the introduction—that set the tone of the song. Riffs can be what make a song iconic. To give you an example of some cool riffs, here are some you should listen to:
- Sweet Child ‘O Mine
- Nothing Else Matters
- Stairway to Heavens
- Smoke on the Water
These are some fine examples of guitarists using riffs right at the start, and if you think about it, these riffs are what provide these songs with their legendary status.
Riffs can be used at the start, in the middle, at the end, or even during the entire length of the song. Now that you have some idea about riffs, let’s flip the coin and see what licks are all about!
Steve Vai may have licked his guitar during one of his concerts, but I assure you, that has nothing to do with the ‘licks’ that I am talking about.
Similar to riffs, they can be anywhere in the song. However, they may not even be directly related to the song at all. Simply put, licks are improvisations that you come up with during a performance or a recording.
Every guitarist, when performing live, executes solos or intros differently. These are improvisations. The rest of the performance or riffs will remain the same, but the licks are where guitarists find the room to do something extra, just to add a little fire to the song.
Take Slash’s Godfather solo performance from Tokyo, Japan. Before he started, he executed a massive lick that instantly dialed into the actual track. Even if you remove those notes, bends, slides and pull-offs, you would still end up with the actual song and enjoy it all the same.
I have explained this concept in a recent post, What is a Riff and a Lick? using some iconic riffs and samples of practice riffs and licks for you to try. Be sure to check those out as well.
Okay! Now that we are done with riffs and licks, it is time to move on to the main course!
Psst! Do you want to play riffs and licks like your favorite legendary guitarist? Check out 'Guitar soloing techniques for beginners.' Not only will you learn how to play in the style of legendary guitarists like BB King, but you will also access a ton of knowledge that will certainly help you boost your skills to another level.
Guitar Techniques For Beginners
There are a lot, which should you master?
Well, stating one number would be wrong and limiting. However, for the sake of reading, I would count the following as techniques you should know:
- Hammer-on and pull-off
- Dead notes
- Alternate picking
- Palm muting
- Natural harmonics
- Pinched harmonics
- Sweep picking
Learn these 15, and I assure you, you will always be taken seriously whenever you pick up a guitar.
Since this is a beginner-friendly approach, I will not be teaching all of these, but I will certainly let you know where to learn them (hint: you don’t have to go elsewhere). For now, I will focus on the top three techniques every beginner should not just learn, but master!
How To Play Vibrato?
You might be picking all the right notes but you can tell something is missing. Sometimes, just a little bit of vibrato can add a lot of life to your playing. Vibrato is a technique that allows you to create a unique sound that literally vibrates. It humanizes your music, in a way, and allows you to gain additional sustain on a note.
When it comes to vibrato, the beauty is that you can add vibrato with string bending, harmonics, and many other techniques. However, when it comes to executing vibrato, that’s where a lot of guitarists struggle, especially beginners.
The idea is to pick a note on the neck, play it, and then move it back-and-forth, or bend it up and down (slightly). If you bend it too much, you will skip on to the next note. That is essentially bending. It isn’t about how you place your finger or what the motion is, rather it is about how you move your hand.
Take a look at Steve Vai. He ended up infusing horizontal and lateral vibrato and created a circular motion vibrato that provides both sustain and the vibrato effect.
Whatever works for you, just practice as much as possible. To help you along, here is a great exercise:
The above uses the “A minor” key. Do not worry if you have no idea about some of the symbols. You can learn t all about how to read music, compose your own, and play it the way it is supposed to be played in Guitar Music Theory.
Of course, the above is easy because I want to encourage beginners to learn this incredible technique.
How To Paly Hammer-on & Pull-offs?
Sometimes, you want to play more than one note without moving your pick. You might have even seen guitarists pulling off amazing solos, sweeps, and licks in just a few smooth strokes of the pick. Before learning legato (playing more than one note in a single pick strike), it is imperative that you first master hammer-ons and pull-offs.
Hammer-ons and pull-offs are fairly easy to execute. Don’t believe me? Pick up your guitar and do the following:
- Pick the 5th fret on the D string (4th string) using your index finger.
- Pick the note using your pick as you normally would, only once.
- As soon as the note sounds, use your middle finger and strike the 7th fret on the same string, but don’t pick the note using the pick.
- Voila! You just executed a hammer-on.
- That is it. To make things better, the pull-off isn’t hard either. Ready?
- This time, using your middle finger, press on the 7th fret on the D string (4th string). Do this while holding down the 5th fret on the same string with your index finger.
- Pick it as you normally would, using your trusty pick.
- As soon as the 7th fret rings, pull off your ring finger.
- Wow! The fifth note played without you picking the note.
See? Hammer-ons and pull-offs are the exact opposite. They do the same thing, but they work somewhat differently. Now, to get your fingers warmed up, here is another beginner-friendly exercise for you to work on.
The ‘P’ represents pull-offs, and the ‘H’ represents hammer-ons. Try it!
How To Play Alternate Picking?
I am sure that there are many who would love to pick up their pace, play more notes than they can right now, and as it turns out, I have a solution for you. Master alternate picking, and you will play twice as fast, may be even faster.
The concept is quite simple. Using your pick, play any note. Pay attention to whether you pushed your pick down (downstroke) or pulled it up (upstroke). For the next note, do the opposite.
Now, to demonstrate how fast and easy guitar playing can become, let me give you a simple chromatic scale exercise. First, try to play it using a metronome set to 90 bpm and use only one stroke. Next time, use alternate picking by switching between up and down strokes. It takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, you will be thanking me.
The bridge-like thing is a downstroke and the V-like thing is an upstroke. Have fun doing this!
Advanced Guitar Techniques
So far, you have learned the difference between a lick and a riff and learned three major techniques that I know will help you excel your guitar playing and take it to the next level. The question is, what is the next level? That is where some advanced techniques come into play.
There are many different advanced techniques but I will talk about a few techniques that you should definitely try and master.
Sweep Picking For Beginners
Sweep picking is just how it sounds: you execute a number of notes in one smooth sweep motion. It uses alternate picking, but not in the way you might imagine.
If you want to sweep through the neck from top to bottom, you start with an upstroke and then continue with a smooth downward motion until the last note, and vice versa.
I have provided three exercises that are beginner-friendly. The first one uses a two-string sweep, followed by a three-string sweep, and ends with a six-string sweep.
The first two bars, you play all the notes using the strokes that are mentioned. Continue the same throughout. Just to make things easier, I have only marked where to change the stroke. Be careful—Do not confuse blanks with skips.
Now, let’s look at what a true sweep picking exercise looks like, once you have mastered the control, of course.
Intimidating? It is, but once you start playing, you will learn just how exquisite this skill can be. Oh, I didn’t mark the strokes deliberately. I am sure that you will have these figured out easily.
Tapping For Beginners
Made notoriously famous by the late Eddie Van Halen, this is one of my all-time favorite techniques to add in a barrage of notes at an extremely fast pace, all while not doing much—simply using your picking hand to tap on the neck while the other hand just holds the positions (usually).
The idea is that you hold a note or two and add in other notes on the same strings that are significantly far away from the reach of your palm. It involves a mixture of sliding, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and some other techniques. It is advanced, but it is worth the effort.
So how do you play this? Follow these easy steps:
- Play the A string open (no frets held)
- Use your index finger of the fret-side hand to tap on the 5th fret of the same string hard (hammer-on).
- Use your pick hand’s index finger and then tap on the 12th fret (hammer-on) while letting the fifth fret go.
- Pull-off your index finger from the 12th fret so that the guitar plays an open note.
- One note picked, the rest tapped away. It’s like magic. What’s more fun is that you can speed up as fast as you dare to go and the technique will continue to work. Plus, you get to use both the hammer-on and pull-off techniques with this one. Once this is mastered, you can incorporate the same technique on multiple strings.
How To Do Palm Muting?
This may not sound like an advanced technique, but its execution takes time, and it is not always the easiest to do as people often end up muting the entire string to silence. The idea is to use the palm of your picking hand to dampen the sound by slightly muting the string. This is what rock guitarists use to create that ‘chug’ sound we all love.
For this, I will be using power chords A5, G5, F5, and C5 to demonstrate the use of palm muting.
You are more than welcome to change any aspect of the above. You can throw in all the skills you have learned so far. It will only make this that much more interesting.
How to Learn Every Guitar Technique?
To be honest, it takes time, practice, consistency, patience, a lot of blisters, and string sets to master all of these techniques. The good news is, it can be done! It is very much possible for you to learn all the skills you want with the right guidance.
I have already taught you a few techniques. The next big question is “what’s next in line for me?”
As it happens, I have a list of techniques that you should focus on once you have mastered these. This list should help you to learn some of the most important skills you will need to take your guitar playing skill set to the next level.
- String skipping
- Pinch harmonics
- Natural harmonics
- Slides —with and without the use of sliders
“But how can I learn them all?”
Remember when I said you do not have to go anywhere else? I am a man of my word, and my word is my bond. On this little platform of ours, I have compiled a small book, Guitar Soloing Techniques For Beginners, that helps absolute beginners and amateurs alike to learn different techniques in the friendliest manner possible.
FAQ’s on Guitar Techniques
Of course, everyone has questions, which is why I decided to save those for last. Without further ado, let’s dive into the world of FAQ’s and answer some of those burning questions right away.
How Long Does it Take to Master Guitar Techniques?
Technically speaking, you can master a technique in a single day, but I wouldn’t advise you to bet on that. It takes practice, time, patience, and all that I have already mentioned earlier on. The key element here is consistency. The more you play, the better you become.
Give it a couple of months of vigorous training, practice, and self-analysis, and you should be a respectable player by the end of your first year.
To Improvise or to Speed?
Generally, I prefer improvisation over speed. There is no point in focusing on shredding just yet if you cannot control your notes or play the right ones at the right time. For now, I would advise you to improvise on whatever you know. Create something new or even throw in some additional techniques. The more you improvise, the more you gain command on your playing.
Which is the Hardest Technique?
To be honest, the answer varies. For me, sweep picking consumed most of my time. For you, it might be tapping or legato. It depends on your style of playing and what you prefer.
How to Practice the Techniques?
Whatever techniques you may be using or practicing, practice daily. Be diligent, make a routine. Dedicate a couple of hours to practicing your techniques. It will certainly help if you use metronomes. You can download metronomes for free on android or iOS.
Furthermore, it helps if you can record what you are practicing. That way, you can listen to what you have done or see what went wrong and focus on fixing the problem. You can also download backtracks or practice tracks from a variety of sources and use them to play along.
But I Want to Play in the Style of BB King, Steve Vai, or Van Halen
Well, look no further. I've written an entire book on guitar techniques, this book is for anyone who is looking at soloing and leave the audience shaking their heads to your musical charm.
With that said, I leave you with this guitar lesson. Enjoy and remember, consistency is the key to it all!