Find answers to the following questions:
1). What are the main differences between the most common guitars?
2). What type of guitar should I learn on?
3). What is the fastest way to learn the guitar?
The guitar is a stringed instrument played with fingers or an object called “a pick.” Traditionally, the strings run through the body of the guitar, up through the neck and fastened to the top piece called the headstock.
Objects called guitar tuners raise or lower the tension of the strings, which changes the overall sound emitted from the instrument.
There are generally two types of guitars: acoustic and electric.
Acoustic guitars and electric guitars produce sound by strings vibrating the air around them and creating frequencies.
Frequencies are how fast a note vibrates. These vibrations produce a phenomenon called pitch, which is the way the human ear perceives these vibrations; faster the vibration or frequency, the higher the pitch.
Along the neck of the guitar there are metal, thin objects called frets, which help the strings vibrate and produce different pitches, which humans then perceive as sound.
Fretted instruments create a particular sound and tone, but there are also fretless instruments, which have the ability to produce their own sound characteristics.
A lot of the world’s music styles such as rock, metal, reggae, jazz, pop genres utilize the guitar as a crucial instrument.
The electric guitar has revolutionized sound and modern music.
If electric guitars tickle your fancy, check out the top 10 electric guitars of the year!
The first acoustics contained a guitar’s neck with a fret board, a wooden body/flat back were invented around the 1100’s in Europe.
The origins date back to several centuries prior. The advent of electricity and modern amplifiers progressed the instrument a lot farther in the 20th century, but the original design of the instrument is still paid tribute to today.
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Acoustic guitars were the first version of the instrument to be invented/ there are three styles of acoustic guitar:
1). Classical (which contains strings made of nylon)
2). Acoustic with steel strings (referred to as just acoustic)
3). Arch top guitar
All three styles of the instrument (including electric) do not require electronics to produce sound. For example, an electric guitar’s strings have the ability to make noise when played as an acoustic does. But to optimize an electric guitar, a device called an amplifier is used in conjunction.
Also, there are products called Acoustic/electric guitars, which share characteristics of both styles of the instrument, including classical.
A guitarist will traditionally be sitting or standing when he or she plays the guitar.
Here is a general rule of thumb: if the subject playing is right-handed then most likely they will use his/her right hand to “strum” or “pick” the strings on the bottom of the guitar and then use their non-dominant hand to press down on the strings “fret” the strings on the neck.
As the strings are strummed, vibrations are made which the human ear perceives as sound. The other hand presses and releases the strings concurrently with the left hand. It should be noted each hand has the ability to produce sounds on the guitar on their own, but working together, both hands create limitless sound options.
The player also has the ability to stand with the instrument with the use of a strap, which is attached to either end of the guitar and suspended over the left shoulder for right-handed players and the right shoulder for left-handed players. The strap can be raised up and down in order for the instrument to sit comfortably for maximum playability.
Differentiating from acoustic guitars, electric guitars create sound in conjunction with electronic devices called amplifiers.
Often, the guitars have devices mounted inside the body called pickups, which help capture guitar string vibrations.
The pickups are wire-wrapped magnets wrapped by a coil, which transmit the vibrations emitted from the string to electrically powered amplifiers. The pickups transfer acoustic energy to electric energy.
The amplifier gives the player the option to modulate the instrument’s sound further, including raising or lowering the volume. Acoustic technology came first as electronics and the guitar did not see any real progress until the 1920’s and 30’s.
Today, in 2016, there are many more models of guitars than the original acoustic and electric.
Those models are:
The different models of guitars have distinct disparities between them, but in general, have the following components:
The main part of the guitar, called the body, is the largest section of the guitar. Then the neck and headstock, in relation to acoustic guitars, classical guitars are some of the oldest versions of the instrument.
Although the material composed and played isn’t necessarily classical in origin, the instrument is known for it’s classic, piano-like sound. Like other guitars, the classical model has it’s own distinctive sound and origins. It is also defined with a period of time in the instruments time period predating other versions of the instrument.
With acoustic models, the body composition is similar to classical but the strings are usually made of steel. Steel string acoustic guitars have a bright, resonant sound which projects farther and louder than it’s classical predecessor.
The middle portion of the guitar is usually (not always) hollowed out to produce sound.
There may be additional metal/wood combinations, which are called ‘dobra’ model guitars. Sometimes these guitars are played with glass, metal or plastic objects called ‘slides’ which go around the players finger (usually one) to create an effect when the players fretting hand (the hand which does not strum the instrument) slides up and down the neck. A pick or slide isn’t necessary as any of the guitars can be played finger style.
Acoustics rely on a whole in the middle top portion of the guitar to act as a chamber producing sound.
In an electric model, the pickups (magnets referenced prior in this article) occupy the spot in the top part of the body; under the strings-to capture the vibrations the strings make. In hybrid/electric there are again a combination of both.
The strings go through the body of the guitar and held into place by a bridge system which can encompass a string-thru body style (strings go through the bottom of the guitar) or a piece on the back of the body where the strings are passed through the instrument.
There are other variations including a moving system called a ‘tremolo system’, made famous by such guitar luminaries as Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen.
A 12-string guitar involves having all the 6 strings conjoined by a smaller set of strings. This doubles each string to create a fuller, organ-like tone used by many famous guitarists like Jimmy Page and Slash.
The musical voicings of a 12 string are unlike any other guitar. 12 strings have the versatility be acoustic or electric.
The guitars come with twelve tuning pegs on the headstock, instead of the traditional six. Often times, 12 string guitars which are electric, will have one neck of the guitar dedicated to the 12 string and the other neck the standard 6 string guitar. This is called a “double neck” guitar with the necks of each guitar running parallel on top of one another into a single guitar body.
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If the player wishes to remain seated when they are playing the guitar, the instrument shall sit on top of their right leg (if right handed) or left leg (if left-handed) with the bottom of guitar resting comfortably on the inside/top of the leg.
In order to not be too vague or ambiguous, we will utilize an example of a right-handed guitarist to show proper sitting or standing technique.
The bottom of the guitar will sit on top of the right leg of the guitarist with the neck either perpendicular across the person’s body (90 degree angle) or slightly angled upwards with the headstock at a 20 to 30 degree angle.
Most traditional guitars have six strings, but some guitars called bass guitars developed from the stand up bass instrument.
The neck and body are usually elongated, the scale (length of the neck is longer too). The bass produces a lower registered sound. Most basses are four, five or six strings and usually correspond to the lower pitched sounds (called lower octaves) of the guitar.
Basses can be available in acoustic and electric. Both can be played with finger style or a plectrum, but electric bass has the option to become more percussive when played with the thumb or slapping the strings.
In conjunction with an amplifier and pickups, the electric bass have an array of sound and tonal qualities.
7 string guitars have an extra string (usually on the top of the guitar) to extend the lower bass range of the instrument. The fret board of the guitar is widened in order to accommodate the extra string on top.
Jazz and heavy metal music in particular, utilize this guitar for it’s extended lower octave range and increased tonal qualities.
Fender and Gibson are some of the most iconic and oldest brands on the market. In particular, Fender’s ‘Stratocaster’ and ‘Telecaster’ guitars along with the Gibson ‘Les Paul’ and ‘Flying V.’
Both brands have created a tremendous legacy in the instrument world with each brand selling hundreds of millions of dollars if not billions. Fender guitars commonly have a string-thru body and double cutaways on the top and bottom of the instrument.
Understanding music combines the alphabet and simple arithmetic. In western music, there are 12 notes on the instruments, which repeat, in lower and higher pitches called octaves.
Traveling between these notes is called intervals (the distance between one to another.) Out of the 12 notes on the guitar, 7 have been given significant importance.
These notes are (C, D, E, F, G, A, B). The best parallel description is the sequential white keys on the piano. If one would play a “C” (as referenced in the last sentence) and move from left to right, they would play 8 white keys back to back.
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A piano does not just have white keys though and in between 5 of the 7 white keys have black keys called sharps and flats. These symbols appear as “#” and “b.”
This concept is known as music theory and the most basic understanding is crucial to the basics of the instrument.
As we said before, the distance between two notes is called an “interval.”
It goes a bit further to differentiate the distances between several notes. These distances are referred to as whole and half steps or whole tones and semi-tones.
These tones are what guitarists use as a guide to navigate between the various tones on the instrument. The distances between the notes are “whole tones” or “whole steps” except between notes “B” and “C” and “E” and “F.” Half steps also appear between the sharps (#) and flat (b) notes.
A quick example of both above scenarios in action: Whole tones (steps) are marked with W and Half Tones (steps) are marked with H.
The groupings of these notes and variable sequences they can be played in, are referred to as Scales. Scales are one of the building blocks of music.
W H W W H W W
H H H H H H H H H H H
As we stated before, The 7 main notes and the #’s and b’s are in a constant pattern of repetition as the notes repeat in a sequence and again, referencing the piano which is a lateral instrument going from left to right or right to left (depending on the intention) in a constant sequence that goes on forever. A lot of pianos are around 188 keys, but in reality can go on forever.
Even past the realm of human hearing. Think of your dog and a dog whistle. The dog is able to hear something called a frequency (note vibrating) often times much higher than the human ear can. The note blown on the whistle could be any of the 12 notes above, but in an octave range which is either too high or too low for our ears to hear properly.
In order to avoid confusion, this is the extent of theory we shall get into but using the above information shall explain how a guitar is tuned. The guitar is tuned in various ways and in actuality, has endless possibilities. The most basic tuning of the guitar in western music is as follows-with the guitars tuned from the highest, or thinnest string (marked #1) to the lowest, or thickest string (marked #6)
Simple arithmetic is used to calculate the distances between the notes, in this case, the guitar is primarily tuned in a sequence called “fourths”—this is one of the most common tunings used in western music.
All the note values are fourths, EXCEPT between G and B.
6th string (E) to 5th string (A) fourth
5th string (A) to 4th string (D) fourth
4th string (D) to 3rd string (G) fourth
3rd string (G) to 2nd string (B) third
The term fourth refers to the mathematical relationship between the notes and the strings. Remember how we discussed whole and half steps? Let’s break down each distance between the notes to further understand this.
E-F=half step, F-G=full step, G-A=full step
Half step + full step + full step= 5 half steps
This may seem confusing, but if you also count the letters from:
‘E’ to ‘A’ is “4”
‘A’ to ‘D’ is “4”
‘D’ to ‘G’ is “4”
‘G’ to ‘B’ is “3”
‘B’ to ‘E’ is “4”
In addition to this basic math, a diagram called the circle of fifths was designed to show the relationship between all the notes in music. The circle of fifths is below:
The diagram is essential to not only learning all the intervals in music but also seeing what notes are the main focal point or the center of the music, which is called a “key” signature or key center.
The key center is basically a note which with one another.
See all the 12 notes have an importance as they designate the center or focal point for a piece of music.
The tonic determines the main note in a piece of music, a song or something called a chord progression. A chord progression is a term for several combinations of notes that flow together in a pattern.
The terminology gets more complicated from here, but this the basic terminology.
Now, this musical theory is important, but in no means is essential to playing the guitar. Think of it in this sense: if someone takes a road trip with a “general” idea of where they are going but doesn’t have a road map, can they get to their destination?
The answer is yes. However, if that person has a great general idea of where he or she is headed and uses a road map the results may be just that better.
There are incredible guitarists like Jimi Hendrix or James Hetfield who never had an ounce of musical training-but yet are able to cultivate their ideas through an innate understanding of bringing their ideas alive.
Remember, the ability to hear something in your head and then translate it onto your guitar is something extremely difficult to do.
Theory is a guide for musicians to follow, but in no way shape or form is the absolute answer. Music is a subjective art form containing guidelines, but not absolute rules.
There is a distinct difference. A basic understanding of theoretical knowledge of music cannot hinder a player; it should be used as a guide, not a crutch.
Now that the basics of the guitar have been presented, the relationships of notes and simple theory, we will move on to chords.
Chords are several notes placed in a particular relationship with one another. Instead of picking single notes all the time, chords utilize a combination of notes together to create collective sounds.
There are a total of 12 notes in western music, but a veritable, endless amount of chords may be constructed from these notes. The player has a choice of strings to choose from, what octave range to play in and the placement of the fingers on the neck and picking or strumming patterns. These choices are referred to as chord voicings. There is additional terminology presented below including terms such as “Major, Minor and Diminished.”
Within music and notes, these terms define particular rules pertaining to the make up of chords and how they sound. Each of these terms has rules based on the mathematical formula of the notes as well as a certain sound characteristics. The mathematical terms are a little bit confusing at this stage, so let’s list the chords by the type of feeling or emotion the listener can associate when hearing.
Major= Generally a happy sounding chord or scale.
Minor= Generally a somber or sad chord or scale.
Although theory isn’t essential, knowing particular chords is, the more chords a player knows the better their general understanding of the instrument and music are. Remember though, chords can be discovered by how they sound and not necessarily how they are constructed technically. Find which method works for your playing or the goals you have.
After introducing the various types of guitars, models, and music theory we can say the next question we get is, “how can I learn to play guitar?”
One of the last key components of learning the guitar is where to start. Some people enjoy theory and learning the entire instrument front to back.
Others listen to their favorite songs hoping to play them as well as the recordings which inspired them.
While others take the initiative to immediately start writing songs.
There isn’t a particular right way to learn, but to be a well-balanced player; it helps to embark on a journey encompassing all three of the above topics.
A song inspired most players; record or player and learning this player’s material can be a comprehensive way of learning their style, techniques and approach.
There are endless video lessons of songs and techniques from the best player’s around.
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