As guitarists, we are continually looking for new ways to improve our playing, which is why we wanted to provide you with ten guitar tips, tricks, and techniques so that you can reach the next level.
A simple technique that might seem basic to one guitarist could be the “A-Ha” moment for another guitarist. Regardless of your ability, the quest for improving your skills is always important.
Let’s dive in and discover some of our favorite guitar tips, tricks, and techniques that have helped us become better shredders over the years.
1. Sweep Picking
Sweep picking is one of the ultimate shredding techniques. With sweep picking, you play single notes moving quickly from one string to the next in a sweeping motion. You use the fretting hand to fret a series of notes, either with an arpeggio or scale.
2. Behind the Nut Bends
A behind-the-nut bend is one of the slickest guitar tricks around. Plus, it sounds insanely cool. To perform a behind-the-nut bend:
- Play the low E string, and as it rings out, push the part of the string that sits behind the nut down.
- Use your fretting hand to do so
- Push until the string changes in pitch
3. Guitar Rake
One cool technique that guitarists often use to add a percussive element to their sound is known as guitar raking. To rake, simply add a ‘click’ sound to your note before plucking it and letting it ring.
Check out the last measure of the TAB below to get a better idea of raking:
As you can see, you move across all of the muted strings before hitting a note on the high e string and letting it ring out. You should perform this in a fast motion, as guitar raking should feel as if it is one sound rather than a bunch of consecutive sounds.
When you perform guitar sweeps poorly, they might sound like rakes. Make sure to start this technique out slow and build up your speed up as you become more comfortable. Also, feel free to check this post about the history and interesting facts about guitars.
4. Acoustic Body Slap
Body slapping is one of the coolest music techniques for guitarists who play acoustic guitar. When done correctly, it adds an element of rhythm to your playing, allowing you to do two things at once. To perform a body slap, simply hit the body of the acoustic guitar using your picking hand to produce a sound that is similar to that of a drum.
The idea here is that you can play both melody and rhythm parts at the same time while adding a percussive element to your overall sound.
While you can go crazy like Andy McKee in the video above, you can also use body slaps more subtly, such as the soft body slapping the Nuno Bettencourt utilizes in Extreme’s “More Than Words.”
5. Pick Slide
Pick sliding has become a staple in rock, punk, and metal music. However, most guitarists have no idea that there are multiple ways to use pick slides.
For standard pick slides, you can place your pick on the edge of your string (particularly a wound string, such as the low E string) and drag it up or down along the string’s length. For an even more exciting sound, you can place your pick edge on two strings and move through the same motion.
For the treble (G-B-E) strings, you can use a ‘glassy’ pick scrape. With this method, you place your pick edge on the treble strings in the same way you would with a standard slide. However, instead of dragging your pick across the strings, scrape it on the string’s surface as if you were strumming.
With this technique, you get a unique, glassy sound that works great with ambient effects! We highly recommend adding in some reverb or delay with this technique to get some otherworldly sounds.
6. Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs
Hammer-ons and pull-offs are techniques that we use to move from one note to the next without having to pick the note.
- A hammer-onis when you pick one note and hammer your next finger over to the following note on the same string
- A pull-off is when you place two or more fingers on a series of notes on the same string and pull off to the lowest note.
Hammer-ons are much more comfortable for beginner guitarists to grasp.
In the example below, start by placing your index finger on the 5th fret and hammer on to the 8th fret with your pinky. All of this should be done in one fluid motion and should only require one movement of your pick.
Pull-offs are the exact opposite. We use pull-offs in situations where the higher note comes before the lower note. For example, you can bend a note from C to D or hammer-on from C to D, though you can’t do it the other way around.
This is where pull-offs come into play.
To execute a pull-off properly, leave one finger on the note you want to end up on (which is C in this example) and place your next finger on the note D on the same string.
When you pluck the string with your pick, quickly release the note D so that C is uncovered and can ring out.
Here is an example of a pull-off with TAB:
There are a few ways to slide on the guitar, including:
- From one note or chord to the next note or chord
- With a slide
With regular sliding, you can fret a note or an entire chord and slide to the next note or chord in the same position moving up or down the fretboard.
Practice this technique slowly, as it is fairly easy to overshoot where you want to end up.
More advanced players or blues players tend to get into slide guitar playing. For this, you can either use a finger slide (which is typically made of glass or metal) or a bottleneck.
For a great example of slide playing, check out Derek Trucks, arguably one of the greatest slide players in modern music:
8. Natural Harmonics
One of the best ways to unleash harp-like qualities from a guitar is with natural harmonics. You can play natural harmonics from the fifth, seventh, and twelfth frets of any of the strings.
If you put a capo on the neck of your guitar, you can play harmonics five, seven, or twelve steps away from that capo as well.
To play a natural harmonic, start by hovering a finger of your fretting hand directly atop a fret. Your finger should feel as if it is barely touching the string. If you add too much pressure to the string, you will dampen the sound.
Next, pick the string that your finger is hovering over. You should get a light, airy tone.
Fun Fact: You can even use the harmonics on your guitar to tune it without a tuner.
9. Toilet Paper Mute
Yes, this sounds crazy, but stick with us here!
One unique thing you can do to get a muted, plucky sound is to use toilet paper.
Start by removing a few sheets of toilet paper from a roll and fold them into a small rectangle. Slide that rectangle toilet paper underneath your strings back towards the bridge of your guitar.
If you have enough toilet paper, the strings should sound slightly muted. If you put too much toilet paper, however, your strings won’t sound at all. On the other side, not having enough toilet paper won’t alter the sound in any way.
You must find just the right amount, depending on the height of your strings.
The beauty of this technique is that you’ll be able to play dynamically while getting a muted sound without having to keep your palm on the strings.
Guitarists like Mac DeMarco and Connan Mockasin have been seen using this technique to get funky tones.
Guitar feedback is a completely different beast compared to traditional microphone feedback. Guitar pickups, unlike microphones, are not meant to pick up soundwaves. Rather, they pick up vibrations from the strings.
When you place your guitar in front of the speaker on an amplifier, the soundwaves coming from the amp act as a catalyst, creating string vibration. As the guitar vibrates, the string sound is altered, creating what we know as feedback.
To produce feedback, all you need is ample volume. Your guitar amp must have enough volume so that it vibrates the guitar when you stand in front of it.
One great example of amp feedback can be found on “I Feel Fine” by the Beatles. In fact, this was the first instance of guitar feedback ever recorded on a popular album!
Tyler Connaghan is a producer, composer, and engineer based in Los Angeles, CA. He studied music for two years at the University of Southern California before landing a job at Killingsworth Recording Company, where he currently produces music for television and film.