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Guitar Terms and Glossary

The following guitar terms are mentioned on most videos and text in this website.

Guitar Terms Video Tutorial

Tablature or tab: A system of music notation involving symbols and letters to show how a series of notes is to be played. Six horizontal lines represent the six guitar strings, from top to bottom starting with the 1st string, then the 2nd, down to the 6th.

While the lines represent the strings, the numbers indicate where (on which fret) you should press or fret the string.

Example 1:

E ---2---------- (1st String)
B -------------- (2nd String)
G -----3-------- (3rd String)
D -------------- (4th String)
A -------5------ (5th String)
E -------------- (6th String)

This means playing the 1st string on the 2nd fret, then the 3rd string on the 3rd fret and lastly the 5th string on the 5th fret (ex.1).

If the numbers were aligned vertically, it would indicate that the notes be played simultaneously as guitar chords are played (ex.2).

Example 2:

E ---2---------- (1st String)
B -------------- (2nd String)
G ---3---------- (3rd String)
D -------------- (4th String)
A ---5---------- (5th String)
E -------------- (6th String)



Get familiarized with this method of reading music, as most songs and solos on the internet use this means of writing music. A powerful tool I always use and highly recommend is the Guitar Pro Software which plays the note of the song while moving through the tablature so you can easily follow the timing of the notes. They have a great free trial version. Check it out here.

Hammer-on: The technique of playing two or more notes with only one stroke to the string (from a lower to a higher fret).

This technique is really appropriate and frequently used when playing very fast speed licks because the right hand (or picking hand) does not have to move at the same speed as the left hand. In tablature language, the letter "h" is used to refer to this action.

Pull-off: The contrary of a hammer on. This technique involves the exact contrary motion; playing two or more notes with only one stroke to the string (from a higher to a lower fret). This technique is also frequently used when playing very fast speed licks as coordination between left and right hand are often lost at high speeds. In tablature language, the letter "p" is used to refer to this action.



Finger Reference: I've gotten a couple of e-mails about this, so I wanted to include this picture as part of the Guitar Definitions. Sometimes I'll refer to the fingers by numbers on the videos and on this site. Here is a picture to clarify this.







Bending: The stretching of a string to acquire a higher note; usually the next note in the scale. This technique can be applied with an upper or downward motion. While most guitarists bend the string to 1/2 (half) note and one note ranges, some guitarists (like Blues Saraceno) use bendings of 1/4 of a note and 1 1/2 notes. Technique abundantly used in blues soloing. I usually use 2 fingers to help me bend the string, rather than just using the finger that is on the fret. In tablature language, the letter "b" is used to refer to this action.

Slide: The action of moving from a low note to a higher one (or vice-versa) without removing your finger from the string and only hitting the string once. In tablature language, the symbols "/" is used to refer to a slide up (or ascending slide) and the symbol "\" is used to refer to a slide down (or descending slide). For example, 3 / 5 \ 3 in a tab means sliding from the third fret up to the fifth and then back down to the third.

Vibrato: As its name indicates, this effect requires a vibrating motion of the finger pressing the string. A similar effect can be obtained with the whammy bar (or tremolo).

Classical guitar players (acoustic guitar players) tend to vibrate the string using a left to right motion, while most electric guitar players vibrate the string using an upward and downward motion. This action can be combined with the bending when sustaining the note. The letter "v" is used to refer to a vibrato in a tablature.

Tapping: Technique involving both hands, usually to hit low and high note at super fast speeds. More experienced guitarists use several fingers from both hands to create faster and more creative solos. Popularized by guitarist Van Halen and most frequently used on metal music and high speed soloing. Commonly used for shredding by professionals such as Yngwie Malmsteen. The letter "t" is used to refer to this action in guitar tabs.

Muting: Resting the external part of your right hand on the strings while hitting them simultaneously. Used frequently in guitar progressions with a distortion effect.

Shredding: Style of playing characterized by playing notes at a super high speed. Although its roots can be traced to earlier decades, it was widely popularized in the 1980's by heavy metal guitarists.

Down Stroke: Right hand movement to hit the string (or strings) from top to bottom only. Used commonly in heavy metal progressions hitting mainly the 6th and 5th strings (when playing power chords).

Up Stroke: Hitting the string (or strings) in an upward motion only. Commonly applied in funk music and when playing chords with the first three strings.

Alternate Picking: The action of hitting each string with alternating upward and downward motions. I would define this motion as one of the most critical for fluent and high speed soloing.

Sweep Picking: This technique involves hitting several consecutive strings with a downward or upward motion. Contrary to alternate picking, strings are hit in a single direction. Frequently used to play arpeggios; common technique in shredding. Guitarists like Michael Angelo and Yngwie Malmsteen have mastered this resource.

Arpeggio: Playing a chord's notes one at a time, rather than simultaneously with a single stroke to all the strings. Sweep picking is recommended when playing arpeggios.

Flat: Means that a note is 1/2 (one half) step lower than the original note (or natural note). In other words, one guitar fret lower (towards the head). A double flat note would mean two half steps lower than the original note (or one whole step), the equivalent of two frets lower. The symbol used to represent a flat note is similar to the letter "b".

Sharp: Means that a note 1/2 (one half) step higher than the original note (or natural note). In other words, one guitar fret higher (towards the bridge or pickups). A double sharp note would mean two half steps higher than the original note (or one whole step), the equivalent to two frets higher. The symbol used to represent a sharp note is the number sign "#".


For a more detailed explanation of some of these guitar terms applied on a tablature enter here. For terms that refer to guitar parts, click here to see a detailed picture. If there is a term mentioned on any of the text in this site or in any of the guitar video lessons which you don't understand, please send it through the contact form below so I can add it in the guitar glossary. If you are interested in sending me additional guitar terms to enrich this glossary, I'll be more than happy to include them in here.

Although common terminology may vary from one country to another, I've tried to keep definitions as general as possible.



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