The Modern Guitarist

Definitions of technical terms

by Milan Polak & Matt Williams

The following aims to simplify those terms most commonly associated with modern guitar playing. It should prove a useful reference for those whose knowledge of playing techniques is limited, and is intended as a handy information source for unfamiliar terms encountered throughout this book.

Alternate Picking: This means that each downstroke of the picking hand is followed by an upstroke, which is followed by another downstroke, etc. An especially difficult technique to execute cleanly since two hands take care of one note at the same time which requires good synchronisation. This can only be achieved by slow and precise practising. e.g. -- Vinnie Moore, Al Di Meola, Steve Morse.

Arpeggios: These are the notes of a chord played separately. Used by all guitarists.

Fingerslides: Sliding with a finger from one note to another without picking the second one.

Legato: The replacement of the down/up strokes of the picking hand with hammer-ons (literally 'hammering' one's finger onto the fret; for instance the index finger of the left hand is placed on a string whilst the 3rd finger hits the next but one fret up; used in conjunction with picking where the index finger position is picked and the 3rd finger 'hammers' the note and is not picked) and pull-offs (the reverse of hammer-ons; usually used together in 'hammer-on-pull-off-hammer-on-pull off' sequences) of the fretting hand which adds fluidity to one's playing. e.g. Allan Holdsworth, Brett Garsed, George Lynch.

Natural Harmonics: Overtones that sound without fretting a note by simply touching a string at certain positions on the fretboard.

Pinch/Artificial Harmonics: Created by picking a note and touching the string with the flesh of the thumb at the same time.

Scales: Used by all guitarists, these are a progression of single notes going upwards or downwards in 'steps'. Several types exist, the most common of which are diatonic (including major/minor scales), chromatic (pertaining to intervals outside the diatonic scale), pentatonic (a scale comprising only five notes).

String-skipping: Very much a technique of the 90s. As the name reveals, a guitarist plays on one string, and then might leave out one, two, three or more, before changing to another string. The technique is used for arpeggio playing as well as for keyboard-like sequences to avoid scalar-pattern oriented playing. It is especially good for translating legato techniques, and is often used in combination with tapping. e.g. Paul Gilbert, Shawn Lane, Todd Duane.

Sweep-picking (aka Raking): This basically means that a guitarist will play 2, 3 or more consecutive down/up strokes with a single 'sweep' of the pick. This makes arpeggio playing much easier than alternate picking, with less work for the picking hand. e.g. Frank Gambale, Mario Parga, Alex Masi.

Tapping: This entails that the guitarist adds extra notes with one of the picking hand's fingers for playing fluid sequences that would otherwise be difficult to accomplish. e.g. Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Reb Beach (Winger). Also a useful technique to use in conjunction with wide/weird intervals. e.g. Buckethead (Praxis) and Ron Thal.

8-Finger Tapping: A more advanced technique of tapping where instead of using one right hand finger, a guitarist will use 2, 3, or even all 4 fingers for a more keyboard-like approach. e.g. Steve Lynch, Jennifer Batten, Jeff Watson (Night Ranger) and T.J. Helmerich.

Taken from The Modern Guitarist: A History of Rock Guitar Since the Seventies, Mad Matt Music Publishing 1995

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