Guitar Glossary


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All you need to know about the guitar, from the parts of the guitar, the articulation vocabulary , musical terms and harmony definitions

Accent. To emphasize a specific note.

Accidental. A note that falls outside of the normal key signature of a work.

Acoustic guitar. The standard guitar, with no amplification.

Acoustic-electric guitars. Acoustic guitars with a built-in electric pickup for amplification.

Action. The height of the strings over the fingerboard.

Arch-top guitar. See jazz guitar.

Arpeggio. Literally, “harp-like”; playing the notes of a chord in succession.

Arrastre. See slide.

Axis. The angle at which you hold your picking hand. A 90-degree axis indicates the hand is
held fully upright against the strings.

Bar. To place the left or fretting finger across a single fret to play a chord. Also called a full bar.

Bass guitar. A four-string guitar tuned like a standup bass but held like a guitar.

Beguine. A syncopated Latin dance with the emphasis on the first two upbeats.

Bend. A blues technique for varying the pitch by pulling the left-hand figure sideways.

Binding. Material used to hide the joints between the face and the sides of the guitar.

Boogie bass. A left-hand rhythm pattern derived from boogie-woogie piano styles, and commonly heard in rockabilly-style accompaniments.

Boom-chick strum. Alternating a bass note with a downward brush stroke across the three highest strings.

Bossa nova. Popular Latin dance of the sixties that combined jazz chords with a Latin rhythm.

Bridge. An attachment to the face of the guitar that is used to anchor the strings.

Bridge bone. A small piece of wood, plastic, or bone located on the bridge to separate the strings.

Cante chico. The more popular form of flamenco.

Cante hondo. The more serious form of flamenco.

Capo. A device that is placed around the neck of the guitar used to raise its pitch

Carter-style accompaniment. An accompaniment style popularized by “Mother” Maybelle Carter, which consists of picking out the melody on the bass strings and brushing the high strings in between.

Case. A protective carrying unit designed to hold your guitar. Some cases are made of chipboard or paper, and others of cloth (called gigbags). The best are so-called hard-shell cases of laminated wood or fiberglass.

Chord. A group of notes sounded simultaneously.

Chord block. A graphic representation of how to finger a chord on the guitar’s fingerboard.

Chord chart. A diagram that shows the number of beats given to each chord.

Chord sequence or succession. A common pattern of chords used to accompany a specific style of music, such as a 12-bar blues. Also called a chord progression.

Chorus. A special effect available on electric guitars to add fullness to the sound.

Classical guitar. A guitar designed for playing the concert repertoire, usually smallish of body, strung with nylon strings, and having a slotted peg-head.

Common time. 4/4 time.

Damp. To stop a string from vibrating.

Diminished seventh chord. A chord formed by stacking three minor thirds on top of any note. The interval between the tonic and the highest note is a diminished seventh.

Dominant chord. The chord based on the fifth note of the scale. Also called the five chord. 
When the seventh scale note is added, it is called the dominant seventh.

Dotted note. A note whose time is increased by half, indicated by placing a dot after the note. A dotted quarter note, for example, is held as long as a quarter note plus an eighth note.

Downbeat. The primary or first acent in a measure.

Downstroke. To move the pick downward (toward the treble strings).

Dreadnought. A large-bottomed guitar developed by the Martin company and preferred by folk guitarists.


Electric guitar. An amplified instrument with a solid body having no inherent sound of its own without amplification.

Electronic tuner. A device that produces exact pitches used to tune a guitar.

Equivalent note. The same note sounded on a different string.

Face. The front or top of the guitar.

Falseta. An improvised melodic part placed at the end of each vocal line by flamenco guitarists.

Fan bracing. A system of internal braces often used on Spanish or classical guitars, in which the braces are placed in a fan pattern.

Fender guitar. An electric guitar developed by Leo Fender. Fender’s two most famous models are the Telecaster and Stratocaster.

Fingerboard. The neck-like extension of the guitar, equipped with frets; the player presses on these frets to change the pitch of the strings. Also called fretboard.

Fingerpick. A small, metal extension placed on the fingers to help pick the strings.

First string. The highest-pitched string.

Flamenco. A popular Spanish folk-guitar style.

Flat pick. A triangular pick held between the thumb and first finger, used to strum the guitar.

Folk guitar. An acoustic guitar strung with steel strings and a larger body size than the classical model.

Footstool. A low stool used by classical players to elevate one leg so that the guitar is positioned correctly against the player’s lap.

Free stroke. Movement of the right or picking hand freely against the strings.

Fret. A small piece of steel inserted into the fingerboard that is used to set the pitch of the strings.

Full bar. See bar.

Fuzztone. An electronic, artificial distortion device added to the guitar.

Gauge. The width of a guitar string; heavier-gauge strings are harder to play.

Golpe. A rhythmic tap against the faceplate of the guitar, used in flamenco.

Guide finger. A fretting finger that is held just above the string, used as a method of guiding the hand up the neck.

Guitar synthesizer. An electronic or digital synthesizer shaped and played like a guitar.

Gut strings. See nylon strings.

Half bar. Placing the left or fretting finger across two to five strings at a single fret. Compare bar.

Half step (half tone). The distance between one note and the next adjacent one.

Hammer-on. Dropping the left or fretting finger onto a string after picking it, to produce a
second tone.

Harmonic. The partial tone that is created when a string is touched lightly at a specific point, known as a node.

Harmony. A pleasing combination of melody and accompanying chords.

Heel. The back of the neck where it joins the body of the guitar.

Hollow-body electric guitar. An acoustic guitar with a built-in electric pickup.

Independent voice. A separate melody line.

Jazz guitar. A larger-bodied guitar, often with an arched or carved top and back, and sometimes having f-shaped sound holes.

Key signature. Indication at the front of a staff showing which notes are to be sharped or flatted, and showing the specific key that a piece of music is written in.

Laminate. A thin wood veneer applied to a inexpensive base to make an instrument appear to be made of a better (and more expensive) wood; plywood.

Measure. A unit of rhythm defined by the time signature. Also called "bar"

Metronome. A mechanical device used to establish a regular beat.

Mixed rhythms. Measures that include a mixture of different time values, such as quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes.

Movable chord. A chord that, when played in a different position, produces a different chord.

Music notation. A system of writing music down on paper using a music staff.

Nut. A small piece of plastic, bone, or wood placed at the bottom of the peg -head to align the strings properly.

Nylon strings (or gut strings). The customary strings used for classical guitars. These strings have a soft tone and are made from nylon or animal gut.

Octave. Two notes having the same tone but pitched eight scale steps apart.

Pedalboard. A system of foot-operated pedals used by the electric guitarist to control special effects, such as chorus or wah-wah.

Peg -head. A device located at the top of the guitar’s neck, used to hold the tuning machines that tune the strings.

Picado. Picking of melody notes in flamenco.

Pickup. A transducer mounted in an electric guitar that converts string vibrations into electrical signals that can then be amplified.

P-I-M-A. The thumb (p), index finger (i), middle finger (m), and annular ring finger (a); designations used to specify the picking fingers of the right hand in classical music.

Pitch pipe. A small set of six pipes used to tune the guitar.

Portamento. Gliding from one note to another; the first and second notes are both picked. 
Compare slide.

Position. The placement of the fretting hand on the fingerboard; for example, anchoring the fretting hand at the fifth fret is known as “fifth position.”

Pull-off. Removal of the left or fretting finger after a note is already sounded, to create a second tone.

Purfling. See binding.

Rasgueado. Literally, “scraped”; rhythmic,  percussive-strumming in flamenco.

Relative minor. The minor chord formed from the sixth note of the major scale; for example, A minor is the relative minor to C major.

Relative tuning. Using one string as a reference, tuning all the others by fretting the required notes.

Rest. An indication that no notes are to be played for a specific length of time.

Rest stroke. The technique of picking the string whereby, after the pick strikes the desired string, it comes to rest on the string below it.

Rhythm. The basic organization of beats within a piece of music.

Rhythm of bulerías. A twelve-beat rhythm common in flamenco music.

Rosette. A fancy inlay around the sound hole.

Rumba. A syncopated Latin dance with the emphasis on the second half of the second beat.

Shuffle beat. A long-short accompaniment rhythm pattern.

Sixth chord. The major triad with the addition of the sixth scale note.

Slide. Moving the fretting finger from one fret to another, creating a sliding sound; also called arrastre. The second note is not sounded by the picking hand. See also portamento.

Slur. Moving from one note to another by using the fretting finger. See hammer-on and pull-off.

Solid body. See electric guitar.

Sound hole. Round, oval, or f-shaped sound holes are said to enhance the sound of the guitar.

Spanish guitar. A guitar similar to the classical variety, but usually made of cypress wood because of its more metallic sound.

Silk-and-steel strings. Midway between nylon and steel strings, these are made with a nylon core that is wound with metal.

Sixth string. The lowest-sounding string.

Staff. In music notation, the five lines on which notes are placed. In guitar tablature, the six lines used to indicate the six strings.
Steel strings. Strings made from various types of metal; used for both acoustic and electric guitars.

Strap. For players who prefer to stand, a strap is used hang the instrument against the body, so the hands are free to play.

Subdominant chord. The chord based on the fourth-scale step; also called the “four chord”.

Syncopation. Melody notes that fall on the unstressed beats (off-beats).

TAB. Abbreviation placed in front of a line of music to indicate that it is tablature and not standard notation.

Tablature. A system of notation showing the position of the fingers on the guitar’s fingerboard or neck.

Tango.  A syncopated Latin dance with emphasis on the up-beat.

Tempo.  The speed at which a piece is played.

Thumbpick. A small, metal pick attached to the thumb.

Tie. A mark used to indicate that two notes of the same pitch are to be played as one, and held for the duration of their combined time values.

Time signature. A symbol that takes the form of a fraction whose upper number indicates how many beats are in each measure, and whose lower number shows which type of note equals a beat.

Tonic. The first note of a scale from which it takes its name; for example, C is the tonic of the C major scale.It is also the name of the chord derived from the first scale note—in this case, the C-major chord (C-E-G).

Transposing. Moving a melody from one key to another.

Travis picking. A style of folk picking developed by guitarist Merle Travis. A regular bass note is established with the thumb, and a syncopated melody is played against it.

Tremolo. Moving the pick rapidly up and down to make a wavering sound. See also vibrato.

Triplet. Three notes played in the time usually allotted to two; for example, three eighth notes linked together would equal a single beat in common (4/4) time.

Tuning fork. A fixed-pitch instrument used to tune a single note.

Tuning pegs. The gears or machines used to tune the strings.

12-bar blues. The most common blues chord accompaniment pattern.

12-string guitar. A large-bodied guitar with six pairs of strings, tuned in octaves.

Upbeat. The unaccented beat between the main beats.

Upstroke. Moving the pick upwards (toward the bass strings).

Vibrato. Bending a string rapidly with the fretting hand to make a wavering sound.

Vihuela. A sixteenth-century Spanish guitar, with six pairs of strings.

Wah-wah pedal. A special device that adds a “crying” effect to the electric guitar.

Waltz. A Viennese dance characterized by its 3/4 rhythm and heavily accented first beat.

Whole step. Two half steps; the distance between a note and the second pitch above it in the common 12-tone scale, called a major second.

X-bracing. A system of internal bracing that makes a guitar strong enough to withstand steel strings; first used on Martin guitars.