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Guitar Glossary

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Neck, frets, head, beats, bars and beams.  Yep, all the new guitar terms and expressions can be quite confusing.  Fret not!  This guitar glossary will help you out, and before you know it, you'll have the definitions of most of these terms memorized...

The guitar glossary covers guitar related terms, if you're specifically looking for the terms of different parts of the guitar and need a picture reference see this guitar diagram page.

Action - The height between the strings and the fretboard.  The bigger the gap the higher the action.

Alternating bass - A style of playing which involves fingerpicking a bass string (1st, 2nd or 3rd strings) to create a rhythmic effect with a bass sound.

Amplify - Increasing the volume of an instrument. 

Arpeggio - A chord played one note at a time, usually done in quick succession.

Bar - A sub division of time in music, usually used in standard musical notation, but sometimes also in guitar tabs.

Beat - A sub division of time usually felt as the pulse within a piece of music.

Body - The main, biggest part of a guitar (not the neck).

Bridge - A bridge is a device for supporting the strings on a guitar and transmitting the vibration of those strings to some other component of the instrument.  See this guitar diagram.

Chord - A group of three or more notes played simultaneously. For more info go here.

Chord chart - A diagram that illustrates which notes and strings need to be played for specific chords.

Chord progression - A sequence of chords played one after another.

Cutaway - An indentation in the body of the instrument adjacent to the neck of the instrument, designed to allow easier access to the upper frets.

Down stroke - Plucking a string in a downward motion with your pick or fingers.

Effects pedal - Foot pedals that electronically alter the sound of an electric or acoustic guitar.  Distortion or overdrive pedals are most common and well known.

Eighth beat - A beat half as long in time as a quarter beat, which indicates a note has a short duration.  Used in standard musical notation.

Electric guitar - A guitar which can be electrically amplified (usually with a solid body).

Fingerstyle - A right hand technique which involves using some or all your right hand (if you're right handed) fingers to pluck individual strings.

Flat - Lower in pitch.  Opposite of sharp.

Fretboard - The front side of a guitar neck which contains the frets.

Frets - The vertical metal bars on a guitar fret board.  The 2nd fret refers to the 2nd open wooden space between the metal bars.

Fretting - Placing a finger next to a fret.

Guitar tablature - A system of reading and writing guitar music used on the internet, also used in guitar publications/magazines.  Abbreviated as 'tab'. For more info go here.

Half beat - A beat twice as long as a quarter beat. Used in standard musical notation.

Harmonize - Playing/singing notes that are in harmony with the melody.

Harmony - Simultaneous combination of notes that are pleasing to the ear, i.e. in tune.

Headstock - The part of a guitar situated on the end of the neck that holds the tuners and machine heads.

Machine heads - The small objects on the headstock to which the strings are connected.  Also called tuning keys.

Melody - A pleasing succession of musical notes played one after another.

Neck - The part of a guitar that houses the fretboard. See guitar diagram.

Nylon strings - The type of strings used on classical guitars.  These strings have a distinct and softer sound that steel strings.

Open - When playing a string without fretting any notes on it, you're playing an 'open string'

Open chord - A chord which contains open strings.  The opposite of an open chord is a barre chord.

Pickups - A device which detects vibrations from musical instruments.  Most commonly used in electric and acoustic-electric guitars.

Plectrum - A small triangular shaped piece of plastic used for plucking strings on a guitar or other stringed instrument.  Most commonly referred to as a 'pick'.

Quarter beat - A sub division of time in music twice as long as an eighth beat.

Rhythm -  The variation of the length and accentuation of a series of sounds or other events.  On the guitar, your strumming hand determines the rhythm of a piece of music.

Rhythm notation - A system of reading and writing music which shows rhythm.  Usually not present in guitar tablature.

Root note - The note by which a chord or scale is named.  The first note of a scale is always it's root note.  For more info go here.

Saddle - The piece of the bridge that holds the strings in place. See guitar diagram.

Sharp - Higher in pitch.  The opposite of Flat.

Shuffle - A rhythm, popular in blues music, of which each main beat is divided into three smaller beats.

Sound hole - The hole in the front of an acoustic guitar body from which the sound is projected.

Steel strings - As opposed to nylon strings, steel strings are usually found on acoustic and electric guitars and have a sharper and louder sound that nylon strings. For more info on strings, visit this FAQ.

Strap - Used to hold the guitar while in standing position.

Strumming - A technique where the right hand (if you're right handed) plays all or most of the notes on the guitar simultaneously, in a single, fluent motion.

Swing - A rhythm in music in which the down beat is felt slightly longer than the up beat.

Tempo - The speed of a piece of music.  Indicated in BPM (Beats per minute).

Three/four time -
A time signature of three quarter beats in one bar of music.

Three quarter beat - A beat which is one and a half times as long as a half beat.

Truss rod - A curved metal bar implanted into the neck of a guitar used to adjust the amount and direction of bend in the neck.  For more info visit this FAQ.

Twelve/eighth time - A time signature of twelve eighth beats in one bar of music.

Up stroke - Plucking a string in an upward motion with your pick or fingers.

Whammy Bar - A thin metal bar inserted into the saddle of an electric guitar.  It's used to stretch the strings and cause a tremelo effect.

Whole beat - A beat in music which lasts for a whole bar in music with a time signature of four/four.
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