Beginner Techniques for Acoustic and Electric Guitars

Here are some of the most basic and essential techniques needed for beginner guitarists.
Fortunately for the novice these simple techniques are fairly easy to master and it won't take that long to nail most of them perfectly every time.

You can add these techniques in when you are practicing scales to make scale-playing a touch more interesting, as well as on their own, however do not neglect proper scale practice, which is memory training for your fingers, yeah, it's boring as hell, 'wax on - wax off'  type of thing, but it's a must, just like it was for the Karate Kid!

Picking

Obviously picking is the first technique you need to learn, as usual, start off as slow as you have to without mistakes, gradually increasing in speed as you get better at it.

Holding The Plectrum

Hold the pick or plectrum between your first finger and thumb, curling your first finger at the knuckle, as seems the most comfortable for the type of pick you are using, there should be about 1/4 inch sticking out past your thumb, adjust to what seems right to you. You will likely find the larger tringular, Fender-type picks are the easiest to hold as a beginner.

Rest the heel of your hand on the bridge of the guitar, far enough down to ensure you are not resting on the strings, anchor your pinkie and/or your third finger on the body for extra picking-hand stability. All picking movement should come from your wrist, not your elbow or anything else!

When playing scales always pick down-up-down-up as you move across the strings from low to high, and pick in reverse, up-down-up-down when moving across the strings from high to low.

However some scales have 3 notes on the same string, so you would pick down-up-down to get the three notes, then on the next string you would begin with a downstroke again, because it is a faster and more natural fluid movement to do it that way. The same applies when picking from high to low with three notes, play up-down-up then up again on the next string.
 

Picking Practice

For basic picking practice, fret any note on each string in turn, and use repetitive down-up striking, making sure the notes ring cleanly, keep practicing this drill until you can do it very fast on every string. You can also practice this picking rhythm on open strings as well.

Use this down-up pattern when practising scales.
With scales, when there are three notes on any string, pick down-up-down, and when moving to the next string pick down again first.

Fingerpicking

Fingerpicking is completely different to flatpicking, the simplest technique, with or without picks, your thumb plays downstrokes while the first, second and third (and sometimes pinkie) fingers pick the higher strings upwards.

If buying a set of fingerpicks, be aware they come in different sizes, they should be a snug fit on your digits, not cutting off your finger's blood supply!

Basic Strumming

Once you learnt your first open string chord fingering, and E major is probably the easiest, but you should learn A and D as well as a starting point, you can begin strumming practice.

Hold down the E chord, play each string one-at-time and check each note rings out cleanly, if they don't readjust your fingers and/or hand postion, don't play any chord incorrectly, this can be frustrating sometimes, but persevere and ensure you get it right, you must train your fingers to land in the correct positions, eventually you will be able to do this without any readjustment.

Now strum down slowly and evenly by sweeping the picking hand across all six strings, do this four times, and count as you strum, 1,2,3,4.

Practice this until you get it right, now change to another chord and repeat, I suggest the sequence A, D, E to start, practice changing chords after four strums, slowly at first, with no mistakes.

When you have got the hang of it, now try following the down-strum with an up-strum across all the strings, this time add an 'and' to your counting and count 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and for each chord.

Tap your foot to keep time, (on the 1,2,3,4 beats)  and gradually increase the tempo as you get better at it.

Next try this pattern, strum down, then down-up, for the count use: 1-and-a-2-and-a-3-and-a-4, with the 1,2,3,4 being the single down stroke, the 'and' the second downstroke and the 'a' the upstroke.

There are dozens of variations in strum patterns and timings, the timing can make all the difference into to how a chord progressions sounds.

The Hammer-On

With the hammer-on, a finger is brought down sharply onto a string and just as sharply taken off again, all in one fluid movement, basically a finger tap.
You will find your first and second fingers are the easiest to control to begin, but eventually you should be able to hammer-on and off very fast with all four fingers.

A hammer-on is very often combined with a pull-off, with the latter being the second part of the movement.

The Pull-Off

With a pull-off, a finger is removed from the string with a slight sideways plucking action so the string sounds, pull-offs are very often preceded by a hammer-on, but may be performed on their own.

String Slide

With a slide, one finger or more of the fretting hand, slides up or down one or more strings to the required fret, whilst maintaining
pressure on that same string, to continue the sound of the first note played, once again a slide is usually done quite smartly.

Thus after the first note is struck, the pitch changes with the slide, fading it into or out of, the next note to be struck. Sliding down the neck, toward the bridge,  is easier than sliding up, but the slide is fairly simple to master quickly.

String Muting

String muting can be applied in several ways depending on what you are playing, a unwanted open string note can be muted by touching the string with a convenient fingertip, The low E string can be muted if necessary by bringing the thumb further around the neck to touch it.

A related technique is palm muting, where the heel or palm of the hand is used to mute some or all of the strings at the bridge end. Palm muting is used a lot in heavy Rock music to produce a percussive effect.

Those few techniques are all you need for basic playing, however you will also want to practice string bending with and without vibrato right away too.

Finger Vibrato

Vibrato is moving a string from side to side very slightly and very quickly with one finger, to get a 'wobbling' effect of the note played, i.e. the note alternates very slightly between the note played and higher pitch of the note.

This is a difficult technique and requires a lot of practice to get fully competant at with all fingers. Your early attempts will probably consist of a lot of finger wobbling but no vibrato, keep at it, you can also include vibrato practice in your scale drills, by trying to play every note with it!

String Bends with Vibrato

String bending with and without vibrato form an essential part of Rock and Blues guitar playing, and both techniques are very difficult, take a long time master, and require a LOT of practice, to bend up to two full tones, or 4 semitones.

Don't be disappointed by your first attempts (yes they will be pathetic :-) just keep on going until you get them right, i.e. bending to perfect pitch then applying very fast vibrato with the third and/or second fingers while maintaining your hand shape on the bend.

If you are wanting to play electric guitars, then start string bending practice without delay once your fingertips have hardened, and add it to your practice routine, you may very likely be able to play everything else very well before you have bending properly nailed and can do it like a pro.

Use the third finger to push the note up, and for added support use your second finger as well (behind the third).

First finger bends are popular in many Blues riffs, these bends often on the G and B or both together, are sligthly different and easier to play, because the first finger pulls down with a dragging motion rather than pushing up, these bends can be a semitone
or less, if its less then it's called a microtone bend.

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