Guitar Glossary

Guitar Glossary

Below you will find an alphabetized collection of guitar related terms for your reference. Use this glossary to learn some of the vocabulary that’s encompassed in the music language and expand your understanding of guitar-playing.

A

• Absolute pitch: also referred to as perfect pitch, term given to a person’s ability to recreate a note while unapprised of a reference.

• Acoustic: musical sound or instrument that is not electrical in nature or electrically affected.

• Action: height of the strings above the fretboard/fingerboard of an instrument.

• Amplifier: apparatus that converts small electric waves into larger ones. (ie. Electric waves into sound waves). Used for electric guitars, electric-acoustics and bass’.

• Archtop: name given to a steel-stringed acoustic or acoustic-electric guitar, presenting a curvature on the top of its body as well as f-holes instead of a soundbox for resonance. Archtops are mostly popular amongst the blues and jazz genres.

• Arpeggio: a chord that is played one note at a time.

• Arrangement: adjustment of a composition to instruments or voices.

• Artificial harmonics: harmonics obtained by holding down a note on the neck of the guitar by slightly touching a fretted string and plucking or pinching it as closest to the bridge possible.

• Augmentation: refers to the elongation, or lengthening of notes in a chord, interval melody or rhythm.

B

• Bar Chord: chord played using the barre technique.

• Barre: practice achieved by playing a chord on a guitar or stringed instrument by pressing, with the entire length of a finger, all the strings at a given fret.

• Bridge: material attached to the bottom of a guitar that endorses the strings.

 
C

• Capo tasto: or ‘head tie’ in Italian, refers to a rubber-covered bar-shaped device utilized for shortening the vibrational length of the strings and altering their respective pitch.

• Chord: a combination of three or more notes played simultaneously.

• Cutaway: referring to guitar structures that present an indentation in the body at the lower end of the neck in order to facilitate contact with the upper frets.

D

• Diatonic: pertaining to and referring to a musical scale, such as a minor or major scale, with five whole tones and two semi-tones.

• Diminution: refers to the shortening or narrowing of notes in a chord, interval, melody or rhythm.

• Double-Stop: effect of two strings being stopped and played simultaneously.

• Dropped-D Tuning: guitar tuning method in which the sixth string’s standard E tuning is dropped down to a D. This scheme allows for easy power chord production.

F

• Finger-Picking: technique that consists of the use of one’s fingers to pick a stringed instrument, as opposed to using a plectrum or pick.

• Flatwound String: refers to strings of round core, with a round square cross-section in its wire winding. Even though more costly than roundwound strings, flatwounds cause less wear and tear on the frets as they decrease both slide-screeching and the pressure ejected on your fingers when fretting them.

• Fret: name given to the individual ridges that comprise the fingerboard.

• Fundamental: the loudest and most prominent note produced by striking a string. Along with harmonics, the fundamental defines the sound of each note/chord in different instruments.

G

• Gauge: name given to the diameter of a string. The gauge is inversely proportional to the tonality of each string; the higher the diameter, the lower the tone.

H

• Halfwound strings: (also referred to as ground wound strings or pressure wound strings): round core, with a round wire winding that is ground or pressed flat. They offer the benefits of flatwound strings, while upholding the tonality set by round wound strings.

• Hammer-On: opposite action of the pull-off. Sound is produced by hardly pressing and bringing down a finger on the fretboard behind a given fret.

• Harmonic Interval: the discrepancy between two tones played concurrently.

• Harmonics: harmonics produced through the simultaneous vibration of a string at different points of its length.

• Headstock: located at the top end of the instrument, the headstock is home to the machine heads that adjust the tension and pitch of each string.

I

• Improvisation: technical sill that involves the creation of a musical piece at the moment, with no other preconceptions other than the player’s music knowledge and perception.

K

• Key: arrangement of tones adjacent to a tonic. Also referred to as tonality.

M

• Major chord: a chord consisting of a root, a major third and a perfect fifth.

• Melodic Interval: the discrepancy between two tones played sequentially.

• Metal String: strings made out of a steel core, generally with a bronze winding; found in electric guitars and some acoustics.

• Minor chord: a chord consisting of a root, a minor third and a perfect fifth.

• Mode: of, or referring to scales of, mainly, diatonic nature. There are different modes applicable to some of the various diatonic scales that exist.

• Modulation: name given to the transition between tonalities.

N

• Natural harmonics: harmonics obtained by holding down a note on the neck of the guitar by slightly touching an open string and plucking or pinching it as closest to the bridge possible.

• Neck: collective name given to the frets, fretboard, truss-rod, headstock and machine heads.

• Nut: small grooved piece of material located between the headstock and the first fret, with the purpose of guiding the strings into the fretboard and of maintaining the distance between them.

• Nylon String: strings made out of nylon, mostly found in classic acoustic guitars.

O

• Octave: resonance resulting from an arrangement of two tones that are eight diatonic degrees apart.

P

• Pentatonic: of or referring to the pentatonic scale, which consists of five pitches or notes per octave, in contrast to the standard seven notes of the major scale.

• Pick-up: name given to the transducers found in electric and electric-acoustic guitars that detect and convert the mechanical energy stemmed by string vibrations into electrical waves.

• Pitch-Pipe: device used to give pitch orientation to players with no absolute pitch.

• Plectrum: also known as ‘pick’. Nickel-sized, flat-shaped device used for plucking and picking a stringed-instrument.

• Power Chord: also called power dyad and power interval, a power chord consists of a standard note with an added note that is raised by a fifth.

• Pull-Off: action of pulling-off the fretting finger of a vibrating string, while still fretting lower or playing it open, to modify the note played by altering the string’s vibrational length.

R

• Resonator guitar: acoustic guitar equipped with metal, coned shaped resonators, as opposed to the more commonly seen wooden soundboard. Most popular amongst the blues and bluegrass genres.

• Root: a chord’s fundamental note.

• Roundwound String: both round in the core and within its winding, these are generally the cheapest type of strings.

S

• Saddle: located parallel to the bridge and found only in acoustic and hollow-bodied electrics, the saddle supports the strings above the bridge to ensure proper vibration and to retard their wear.

• Scale: organized sequence of music intervals.

• Slash Chord: or inverted chord is a chord whose inversion (or bass note) is indicated by the addition of a slash and a bass note letter contiguous to the root note.

• Slide: technique in which the player slides his finger along the fingerboard while sounding a note.

• Sound-Hole: hollow opening found in acoustic or electric-acoustic guitars, amongst other string-instruments, which allows for the resonance of the strings’ vibration.

• String: vibrating device that sources the ensuing vibration of a string-instrument. Strings vary by type and gauge:

• Strum: action of playing a stringed instrument by stroking its strings.

• Suspended Chord: chord in which the third is dislodged by its unstable adjacent notes, resulting in either a suspended second or a suspended fourth.

T

• Tablature: notation system for reading music that comprises the use of letters, symbols and images to represent the performance of a music piece.

• Tonic: first and main pitch in a musical scale, upon which other pitches in the composition are hierarchized.

• Transposition: the shift of a single note or group of notes up or down in pitch by a constant interval.

• Tremolo: effect produced by the regular and rapid repetition of a note, or alternation between two notes and the variation of their pitches.

• Triad: a chord comprising a root and two other tones; these most frequently being a third and a fifth.

• Truss Rod: metal rod that runs along the neck’s interior, with the purpose of preventing and correcting the bending that occurs through use and wear of the instrument.

• Tuning: action of finding a perfectly adjusted pitch. Tuning devices, called tuners, aid in this process by detecting an instrument’s individual notes.

V

• Vibrato: constant pulsating variance in pitch.

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