Technique

44. How do you hold a guitar?

There are many ways to hold the guitar. The trick is to hold the guitar in such a way that you don’t have to support the neck of the guitar with your left hand. The left hand needs to be free. You can elevate your left foot on a short stool and put the waist of the guitar on your left leg. You can support the guitar with both of your legs and your right forearm. You can use a number of different devices that you can stick on your guitar with suction cups. These will elevate the guitar on your left leg doing away with the need of a foot rest. Guitar straps can be very effective. Just be sure that you mount them with two strap buttons. Don’t tie one end of the strap to the headstock of your guitar because it’ll slip off your shoulder.

45. What's flat picking?

Flat picking is when you play the guitar with a small flat pick that you hold between your thumb and forefinger. This style evolved from 19th century mandolin technique and gained a lot of popularity in the 20th century.

46. What’s the difference between finger picking and fingerstyle?

Finger picking and fingerstyle means you play the guitar with the fingers of your right hand instead of using a pick. In finger picking you generally use repetitive right hand patterns. In fingerstyle you play melody, bass lines and harmonies based on your knowledge of music and the fingerboard. I recommend if you want to play fingerstyle that you study classical guitar technique and music theory.

47. How can you stretch your fingers out enough to play big chords?

Proper thumb placement is the key to playing bigger chords. If the thumb opposes the center of your left hand, your fingers will have an easier time spreading out. It’s also good to angle the neck of the guitar so that the headstock is level with your face and you don’t have to bend your wrist.

48. Why don’t I get a clear sound?

One of the main reasons for muffled tones on a guitar is the placement of the fingers of the left hand. As you press the strings down, you need to be right behind the fret because you want a clear path for the string between the fret and the saddle. If you play right on top of the fret, you’ll get a muted sound. If you play too far away from the fret, the string will buzz on top of the fret. You have to get your fingertips to point straight down to the sweet spot behind the fret.

49. Are the chords different in alternate tunings?

Yes. You have to learn a lot of new chord shapes. But it’s fun.

50. What's tapping?

Tapping is actually a form of slurring. To slur on the guitar means to hammer on and pull off the string with the left hand. This produces notes without plucking. When you “tap” you employ the fingertips of your right hand to join the fingers of your left hand in hammering on and pulling off.

51. What are harmonics?

Harmonics are very pretty sounding notes that you play by deadening the sound at various points of the string length – to in effect split the string into different sections. The easiest harmonic to play is the twelfth fret harmonic. If you lightly touch a string right above the twelfth fret and pluck it really hard near the bridge you will get the octave of that string. If you do the same thing at the seventh fret, you will get the fifth above that. And if you do it at the fifth fret, you will get the second octave of that string.

52. What's shifting?

Shifting is when you bring your hand either up or down the fingerboard. A shift would be moving from first position, that is first finger on the first fret, to fifth position, which is when your first finger plays on the fifth fret.

53. What are hammer ons and pull offs?

Hammer ons and pull offs are the folk guitar players term for slurring. To slur up, you pluck the first note, but you hammer the second note with a finger on your left hand. To slur down you pluck the first note, and then pull your finger of your left hand off to in effect pluck it with your left hand.

54. What's a trill?

A trill is a rapid series of slurs between two notes.

55. What's a bend?

A bend is when you stretch a string by pushing or pulling it to the side of the fingerboard while it’s ringing in order to make the pitch go higher or lower.

56. How do you play with nails?

A lot of guitarists play with nails on their right hand. This gives you five picks instead of one. When you play with nails you begin your stroke on the flesh and release from the fingernail. If you don’t have a good manicure, you can snag your fingernail on the string. Nails take a long time for most people to adjust to. It’s best to start with very short nails and work your way up. Some people prefer long nails, some people prefer short nails. This debate has been going on for two hundred years. 

57. How do you play with a pick?

It’s best to hold a pick lightly between the tip of the thumb and forefinger of the right hand. Only have a small amount of the pick exposed from between your fingers and make sure that it’s pointing straight down at the strings. Control the pick mostly with your thumb. With a lot of help from your index finger. And keep your wrist loose. If you’re going to be a good flat picker, you’ll need to work on speed and accuracy.

58. How do you use finger picks?

Finger picks can be very useful although you can only pluck the string in one direction with them. The most common kind of finger picks are generally made out of metal and they fit on the underside of your finger. These come in different sizes. If you buy a set, make sure they fit your fingers and then spend some time bending them to the exact shape you need to play. Thumb picks are usually made of plastic. The flat side goes on the pad of your thumb. There are other kinds of finger picks on the market, like the Alaska pick. These are plastic and are designed to mimic the natural nail. I’ve never had any luck with them.

59. How would I play a 12-string differently from a 6-string?

Although your chords are the same between six and twelve string guitars, there are a lot of really neat tricks you can do with a twelve. One of my favorites is the backstroke. If you play fingerstyle, you can reverse the direction of your right hand strokes by pushing your fingers away from the palm of your hand rather than pulling them toward the palm of your hand as you normally would do. By doing this you favor the high octave strings. It’s almost like having a guitar within a guitar. This of course adds another layer of complexity, but it sounds good.

60. What does it mean when my hand goes numb?

If your hand, especially your left hand, goes numb it probably means that the tendons are swelling, or the flesh around your tendons is swelling. This is really dangerous. It could be the beginning of carpal tunnel syndrome, which could end your guitar playing career. If your fingers are actually numb and tingling, it’s a very bad sign and you should check your form. But first rest your hand.