Lessons

PALM MUTING
Palm muting is one of the most valuable you learn in order to play rhythm guitar.  While the name implies that your palm is used in the action of palm muting, it's actually not. The only part of your hand that's at use is the part that you use to karate chop people.

That is, of course, assuming you know what muting is. Simply put, it's using your picking hand (the hand you pick with, duh) and lightly touching the strings as you are playing them. One of the best rhythm guitarists that uses palm muting is Malcolm Young, from AC/DC fame. If you listen closely to any AC/DC songs (especially any off of the Ballbreaker-Stiff Upper Lip era) you can hear Malcolm's line is being almost continually muted. Palm muting is like playing the blues; while you may know how to do it perfectly, it still will sound terrible if you don't put your own touch to it. It's hard to explain. When you palm mute, you do everything normally; picking, fretting, etc. is the same, but the only thing is that you are pressing some of the strings down with the side of your hand.

Palm muting adds a different sound to your playing. Instead of rather just playing the notes, you add these muted notes before some ordinarily played notes and I promise you, your playing will sound a lot better.

Try it. Pick up your guitar, and start playing a chord-based riff, without muting. Sounds ordinary, I can hear it all the way here. Now try putting the side of your palm on the strings above the bridge pickup at random times when you are playing. It's difficult to explain, but it will sound more... suave, more skillful.


HOLDING THE PICK
The way you hold the guitar pick doesn't seem like a very important factor in how well you play, but it takes a gigantic toll of your playing if you hold the pick wrong. So here's a basic lesson on how to hold the plectrum (or pick).

Most guitarists prefer to hold the guitar pick like this:

This is probably the most productive and efficient way to hold the pick. It allows for very fast and precise playing. The only downside I can think of for this style is that you'll have to learn how to tap with a different finger other than your index. And, on the subject of tapping...

Eddie Van Halen holds his pick like this:


That is, between his middle finger and thumb. Because Eddie uses tapping in virtually every Van Halen song, he needs to quickly switch between picking and tapping. Believe me, this style is hard to get used to.

Another alternate style that's used by some is this one:

I personally believe this is the most stupid style ever invented. Simply put, it makes your playing sound dull, rounded, flat, etc. Usually, people want a sharp, cutting tone, not something that sounds like you strung your guitar with tennis racquet strings.

In the end, we come to the conclusion that the first style is the best.



GUITAR ANATOMY


Before sitting down to play the guitar, it's usually a good idea to know what parts do what. This elementary guide will help you reduce your embarrassing mistakes memorize the different parts.

I. THE HEADSTOCK

The headstock is the very end of your guitar. It's where the guitar maker's logo usually is... and it's usually the place where the guitar breaks (if you're not careful).





II. THE NECK
The neck of your guitar is where the majority of the action takes place.




III. THE BODY
And the body. It's the part of the guitar that first catches your eye.


-BRIDGES-
IV. FIXED BRIDGE
The fixed bridge is probably the second most common bridge on guitars today. Pretty much the only difference between a fixed bridge and a tremolo is the fact that the fixed bridge doesn't have a whammy bar (or tremolo, whatever you want to call it). Both bridges have their advantages and disadvantages. With the fixed bridge, it's easier to replace the strings, and they stay in tune longer. The disadvantage is, of course, the fact you don't have the bar. On a tremolo bridge, you get the cool effects that you can employ with the bar, but the strings loose tuning much quicker, and are therefore more prone to snapping.

That's the famous fixed bridge. Excuse me for the dust in the picture, that's what I get for playing in sleeves.

V. TREMOLO BRIDGE
Sometimes it's also called the Floyd Rose. Tremolo bridges are interesting beasts; they look ridiculously complicated, but when you get down to the basic science, it's actually incredibly easy to understand.
The tremolo bridge is built through the body of the guitar. On the back of guitars with tremolo bridges, you'll see something like this:

Those six holes are where you put the strings The strings go up through the bridge. If you would unscrew that back plate, you'd see the bottom of the bridge, and 3 tightly coiled springs attached to the bridge. When you depress the whammy bar (push it towards the body of the guitar), all that you do is push the bridge down, and the springs relax, which in turn loosens the tension of the strings. When the strings loose tension, the pitch drops.

And here's where we come to the difference between an ordinary tremolo bridge and a Floyd Rose...
Usually tremolo bridges can only be depressed. Floyd Rose bridges can also be lifted up, and that actually increases the pitch. When you pull the whammy bar away from the guitar, you are tightening the strings which increases the tension on the strings, which increases the pitch of the strings. (That's also how Joe Satriani does his signature Satch Scream, but with a double harmonic; look at the Other page.)

So basically, pushing the bar down decreases the pitch, and pulling the bar up increases the pitch.

You'll never see a whammy bar on a fixed bridge, because that is impossible. That's what makes a fixed bridge fixed; it's not built through the body, just built directly on top of the guitar. In other words, fixed bridges do not have anything in them to change the tension.

It is possible to get a guitar with a fixed bridge and change it to a tremolo, but that's very uncommon. The guitarist from Rush, Alex Lifeson, is the only professional guitarist I've ever seen that has done that.


On the topic of increasing pitch, go check out the Other page, and my article on the Satch Scream.


GUITAR BASICS


I. READING GUITAR TABS

The ability to read guitar tablature (or tabs) is essential for any guitarist, because it's the easiest way to learn new songs. I remember I struggled to read tabs when I first started to play the guitar, but reading tabs got to be so easy I couldn't believe I had trouble with it. Let's get started.

A standard guitar tablature usually looks something like this:

e|---------------|
B|---------------|
G|---------------|
D|---------------|
A|---------------|
E|---------------|

As you can tell, there are six lines, each corresponding to a guitar string. For example the lowest and thickest string on your guitar is the 6th string, also called the E string. If we were to write tabs with string numbers instead of name, it would look like this:

1|---------------|
2|---------------|
3|---------------|
4|---------------|
5|---------------|
6|---------------|

This means that the lowest string of the tab (the 6th) is the 6th string on the guitar, or the thickest string. Take a look at my picture, edited quickly with MS Paint:


So if you pluck the 6th string, you will hear the note E. If you pluck the 5th string, you will hear the note A, and so on. And please refrain from making jokes about the G string, I've heard them all.

So now that we have the strings down, we can move on to actually playing something!

The first song that I ever learned on guitar was Smoke on the Water. Come to think of it, it's probably the first song everyone learns on guitar, so it only fits if the first thing you learn is Smoke on the Water. There are a myriad number of ways to play it, but here I'll teach you two: the easiest way to play, and the way Ritchie Blackmore plays it. In case you don't know who Ritchie Blackmore is, he's the dude that originally recorded Smoke on the Water way back in 1971.

First, the easiest way:

e|--------------------------------|
B|--------------------------------|
G|--------------------------------|
D|--------------------------------|
A|--------------------------------|
E|---0-3-5---0-3-6-5---0-3-5-3-0--|

Second, the real way Smoke on the Water is played:

e|--------------------------------|
B|--------------------------------|
G|-----3-5-----3-6-------3-5-3----|
D|---5-3-5---5-3-6-5---5-3-5-3-5--|
A|---5-------5-----5---5-------5--|
E|--------------------------------|

Now, to explain what the numbers mean.

Take a look at the neck of your guitar. See the metal bars?

Technically, the metal bar is called a fret, but what it really means is the space behind it. So, if I tell you to go to the 3rd fret, you would find the 3rd metal bar and put your finger on the space behind it.


The zero on a guitar tab simply means the 'open' string. To play an open string, all you do is pluck the string. Really. You don't even do anything with your chord hand. So, Smoke on the Water is just:

1. Open
2. 3rd fret
3. 5th fret
-pause-
4. Open
5. 3rd fret
6. 6th fret
7. 5th fret
-pause-
8. Open
9. 3rd fret
10. 5th fret
11. 3rd fret
12. Open

Simple!




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