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Beginner Guitar Lesson Terminology

When starting on a beginner guitar lesson or course, you might get some new terms thrown your way that are a little confusing or just downright don’t make sense. You can use this page as a one-stop-shop to get you clued into the jargon.

As you start getting comfortable with your guitar, you'll start hearing different words used over and over again. Call this the "rock guitar language". Don't worry, after a little bit of time, these will come naturally to you. This beginner guitar lesson will help you along.


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

Acoustic - non-electric guitars. These guitars have a hollow body with a sound hole to amplify the notes. Listen to "More Than Words" by Extreme.

Action - this is the distance between the strings and the fingerboard.

Alternate Picking - picking down then up on the string with each successive note.

Amplifier - amp for short. The signal from the guitar pickups transfers to the amp, which increases or "amplifies" to sound of the guitar.

Analog Recording -

Attenuation - as a signal lessens in strength, it is said to "attenuate". AKA the opposite of amplification.

Axe - slang for electric guitar.

B

Bend - a guitar lick usually used in guitar leads. As you're pressing the string to the fingerboard, push the string with your fingers upward towards the Low E string to raise the note up. More to come in a later beginner guitar lesson.

Bridge - the end "stop" of the string; sets the length of the string and controls the exact notes produced on each string. The bridge is located on the guitar body. The saddle is part of the bridge. Read more about the bridge here.

Bullet - this is the small plate on the headstock covering the truss rod.

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C

Capo - a device to used to barre the strings above the nut on the neck. This shortens the strings and changes the pitch.

Chords - chords are just a combination of notes played together at the same time. This is a good area to start a beginner guitar lesson.

Cutaway - an indentation of the guitar body on both or either side of the neck. Examples: Gibson Les Paul is a single-cutaway body style while a Fender Stratocaster is a double-cutaway style guitar.

D

Digital Recording -

DiMarzio Pickups -

Distortion -

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E

Effects - usually pedals or rack-mount electronics to modify the guitar tone. For example, distortion and chorus are effects applied to the sound of the amplified guitar. Effects can really spruce up the sound of a beginner guitar lesson.

Echo - a repeat of a sound, continuing until it fades away. This is another example of an effect that can be applied to guitar amplification.

F

Feedback - this is a high-pitched squeal that comes from getting your guitar pickups too close to your amp. Pickups are basically just microphones - so the feedback is just the pickup amplifying its own signal through the speakers. Yowl!

Flatpick - a guitar pick.

Fret - these are the strips of wire found up and down the neck pressed into the fingerboard of the guitar. They are spaced out precisely on the neck to create the different notes of a specific scale.

FX - slang for effects units.

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G

H

Hammer-on -

Harmonics -

Headstock - the top of the neck. This is traditionally where the machine heads are located for tuning. I say traditionally because some manufacturers like Steinberger have produced headstock-less guitars and bass guitars.

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I

Intonation -

J

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K

L

Licks - different finger movements on the neck to create patterns, usually for guitar lead creation. We'll get into these more in another beginner guitar lesson.

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M

Measure -

Midi -

N

Neck Joint - The neck joint is, very simply, the point where the guitar body and the neck meet. There are essentially three ways the neck is connected to the body: Bolted on, or the bolt-on neck, glued on or the neck-through the body. Read more about the guitar neck joint here.

Nut - This is the "stop" at the top of the fingerboard. The strings get properly aligned (spaced) on the neck by passing through notches on the nut on their way to the tuning machine heads. Nuts are usually made out of ivory, plastic, bone or brass. Read more about the nut here.

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O

Ovation - Known for their unique acoustic guitars, which are made with a rounded back. The back, or "bowl" is made from a fiberglass material called Lyrachord. Ovation also was instrumental in developing amplified acoustic guitars with a built-in transducer and preamp.

P

Palming - muffling the strings at the bridge with the palm of your picking hand.

Pick - (AKA plectrum or flatpick) A small, flat piece of plastic, metal, etc. used to strum or pluck the guitar strings.

Pitch -

Plectrum - The same as a guitar pick/flatpick.

Preamp - ("pre-amplifier")

Progression - It’s just a pattern of chords put together to create a section of (or complete) song.

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Q

R

Repeater lick - a guitar lick that gets played... repeatedly. Duh. How’s that for a beginner guitar lesson?

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S

Saddle - The end "stop" on the bridge for the strings. You can typically re-position the saddle to adjust for the intonation of the strings.

Scale -

Score -

Slide - A circular tube of metal or glass that you press down on the strings over the fingerboard, without pressing all the way down to the frets. You slide this up and down the neck to change the pitch of the notes. Playing slide guitar is a bit beyond a beginner guitar lesson - maybe later...

Spalted - wood that is brittle and prone to cracking. Typically used as a veneer for a guitar body to add an exotic look.

Step - the interval between two notes. On guitar, this can be one or two frets from note to note. One fret constitutes a half-step, while two frets is a whole step.

Sustain - any method used to get a note to last longer. We rock guitarists love any amp that can make a note go on forever...

T

Tablature/Tabs - musical score and chord diagrams to show how to play musical parts of songs.

Tone -

Transducer - basically a pickup. In an acoustic guitar, the transducer converts vibrations from the strings to electrical impulses and feeds the signal to a built-in preamp for amplification.

Tremolo - a mechanical bridge unit that allows you to change the pitch of the strings by pressing/pulling the tremolo arm (AKA "whammy bar"). This allows you to re-create a vibrato effect, but in rock, we just want to dive-bomb! If you have a tremolo unit on your axe, hit a chord and press the arm all the way to the body for the dive-bomb effect. That was an easy beginner guitar lesson!

Truss Rod - a metal bar placed inside the guitar neck to strengthen it.

Tuning - setting the specific tone of each individual string. There can be standard, open or alternative tunings applied, creating different scale and chord possibilities.

Tuning Pegs - the same as machine heads.

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U

V

Vibrato - the wavering or vibrating of a sound. An example would be the guitar work on "Crimson and Clover", released in December 1968 by Tommy James and the Shondells. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts did a remake of "Crimson and Clover" in 1981.

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W

X

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Y

Z

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This list is by no means complete right now. As I continue to add helpful (hopefully) stuff, I'll build this list of definitions. Something missing? Let me know here - Thanks!

If you haven't done it already, you can get started with a beginner guitar lesson right here.


Back to Getting Started

Back to the Learn To Play Rock Guitar homepage



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