Guitar Glossary

With this glossary of guitar terms you can find the definition to most of the common guitar and music related terms you’ll come across. We’ve added links to lessons and more detailed content for many of the terms.

ABCDEFGHI – J – K – L – MNOPQRST – U – VW – X – Y – Z

A

Accent – applying extra stress to a note, usually by striking it harder with the pick. More on accents in Keeping Time and Guitar Noise Podcast #4 – “Sixteenth-note Accent & Partial Chord Strumming”.

Accidental – a sharp sign, flat sign or natural sign. More on accidentals in Standard Notation Part 2 and Your Very Own Rosetta Stone – A Guide To Reading Musical Notation – Part One.

Acoustic Guitar – a guitar with steel strings. More on acoustic guitars in Acoustic vs. Electric and Buying a Guitar FAQ.

Alternate Picking – picking single notes in a continual down and up motion. More on alternate picking in Finger Picking for Guitar Lessons.

Alternate Tuning – tuning the strings of the guitar to notes other than those of standard tuning. More on alternate tuning in Alternate Tuning and Guitar Tuning FAQ.

Alternating Bass – type of strum played like the “boom-chuck” but differing in that the root note in the bass note is played on the first beat only and another note (usually the fifth of the chord) played on the third beat. More on alternating bass in Margaritaville – Easy Song for Beginner Lesson.

Anticipation – arriving at your target note or chord before the beat, usually coming in a half a beat earlier. More on anticipations in Guitar Noise Podcast #19 – Anticipations, rests and dynamics and Turning Practice into Play #1 – “Drop D Happy Blues”.

Arpeggio – a chord played one note (usually on separate strings) at a time, usually in an ascending or descending order. More on arpeggios in Guitar Noise Podcast #20 – Using Space (plus an intro to chord substitutions and chord voicings).

Articulation – how a note is played, crisply, long, short, slurred, etc. More on articulation in How To Improve Your Guitar Technique – Part 1 and Here Is Why Your Guitar Picking Speed Isn’t Improving.

Augmented Chord – one of the four basic chord types, made up of the root, major third and augmented fifth degrees of the major scale. More on augmented chords in Augmented Diminished Dementia.

B

Bar – also called a “measure;” a distinct measurement of beats, which is dictated by the time signature; the end of a bar is indicated by a vertical line running through the staff or bass guitar tablature lines. More on bars in Standard Notation.

Barre Chords – chords that are formed by placing the index flat across the strings at a single fret to play some notes while the other fingers fret others higher up on the neck. Fretting across all six strings is called a “full barre” and fretting between two and five strings is called a “half barre.” More on barre chords in Barre Chords (Part 1 – Forming and Playing) and Barre Chords (Part 2 – Shapes).

Bend – a guitar slur technique, pushing a string along the fingerboard toward the center of the neck to raise its pitch from one note to that of another note. More on bends in Tricks of the Trade.

Blue Notes – the minor third, diminished fifth and flat seventh of a key. The tension between the “blue notes” and the regular notes of the major scale is a key factor in the blues sound. More on blue notes in The Major and the Minor – Turning Scales into Solos Part 3 and Blues Solo Improvisation – A Basic Introduction.

Boom-Chuck – Type of strum made by playing the root note of a chord in the bass on the first and third beats and a strum of the rest of the chord (on the other strings) on the second and fourth beats. More on boom chuck in Guitar Noise Podcast #1 – “Strumming Part 1 / Basics of Strumming”.

Bridge – Part of the body of the guitar where the strings are anchored to the body.

C

Capo – a clamp-like device attached to the neck and fingerboard to raise equally the pitch of all six strings. More on capos in The Underappreciated Art of Using a Capo.

Chord – three or more different notes played together at the same time. More on chords in Absolute Beginner Part 1: Chords.

Chord Chart – a grid / diagram that shows you where to place your fingers on the guitar to play a specific chord. You can download a free chord chart of common guitar codes from our photo album.

Chord Progression – a sequence of chords played in a song or in a phrase of a song. More on chord progressions in A Before E (Except After C) and Untangling Chord Progressions.

Chromatic Notes – notes taken from outside of a given major scale; see “diatonic.” More on chromatic notes in Scaling The Heights and Augmented Diminished Dementia.

Chromatic Scale – a scale made up of all twelve possible notes, each one a half step from the other. More on chromatic scales in Scaling The Heights and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Scales Part 7.

Circle Of Fifths – a pattern that can be used to study the relationship of keys to one another; also an excellent tool for practicing scales, riffs or phrases in all keys. More on circle of fifths in The Circle of Fifths.

Classical Guitar – a guitar with nylon strings, usually slightly smaller than an acoustic guitar. More on classical guitars in Buying a Guitar FAQ.

Common Time – the symbol “C” used as a time signature; another name for “4 / 4″ time. More on common time in Keeping Time and Standard Notation.

Crosspicking – method of playing guitar with a pick where the guitarist uses a steady stream of single notes, usually played across three or four strings. More on crosspicking in Guitar Noise Podcast #7 – A little crosspicking… and Guitar Noise Podcast #8 – Combining strumming and crosspicking.

D

DADGAD Tuning – a popular alternate tuning where the six strings of the guitar are tuned, low to high, to D,A,D,G,A and D. This is often used in Celtic music. More on DADGAD tuning in On The Tuning Awry and Lynyrd Meets DADGAD – A Celtic Arrangement of “All I Can Do Is Write About It”.

Diatonic – the notes used in a given major scale or the chords derived from the triads of that scale. More on diatonics in Gin and Diatonic and Diatonic Chords.

Diminished Chord – one of the four basic chord types, made up of the root, minor third and diminished fifth degrees of the major scale. More on diminished chords in What are Diminished Chords? and Diminished and Half-Diminished Chords.

Dotted Note – a dot added to a note in order to give it more length; a dotted half note is three beats long; a dotted quarter note is one and a half beats long, etc. More on dotted notes in Timing Is Everything – A Guide To Reading Musical Notation Part Two.

Double Stops – simultaneously playing two notes on adjacent strings. More on double stops in How Do You Play Double Stop Rock?.

Drop D Tuning – an alternate tuning in which the low E string is tuned down a whole step to D. More on drop D tuning in Alternate Tuning and Guitar Tuning FAQ.

Dynamics – changes in volume or tempo while playing. More on dynamics in Song Dynamics.

E

Economic Picking – playing with a pick, using downstrokes on the lowest three strings and upstrokes on the three highest strings.

Eighth Note – a note of a half a beat’s duration. More on eighth notes in Standard Notation.

Eighth Note Rest – a rest of a half a beat’s duration. More on eighth note rests in Standard Notation.

Electric Guitar – a guitar requiring amplification to be heard. Most electric guitars have solid bodies but there are hollow body and semi-hollow body electric guitars as well. More on electric guitars in Acoustic vs. Electric and Buying a Guitar FAQ.

F

Fill – A short musical phrase that fills a space in the music. Similar to riffs except that riffs are usually repeated note by note while fills usually are different each time. More on fills in All Down The Line.

Flat – an accidental sign indicating lowering a note a half step. More on flats in Your Very Own Rosetta Stone – A Guide To Reading Musical Notation – Part One, The Musical Genome Project and Theory Without Tears.

Finger Picking – style of guitar playing that uses the fingers of the right hand (instead of a pick) to strike the strings. More on finger picking in Finger Picking for Guitar Lessons.

Fingerboard – the area along the front of the guitar’s neck where one places his fingers to fret notes on the strings.

Fret – Metal wire on the neck of the guitar; also the act of placing one’s finger on the neck of the guitar.

G

Grace Note – a note played and then quickly changed to another note within the shortest time possible. More on grace notes in Grace Notes.

H

Half Note – a note of two beats’ duration. More on half notes in Standard Notation.

Half Rest – a rest of two beats’ duration. More on half note rests in Standard Notation.

Half Step – the difference, between two notes, of one fret of the guitar. More on half steps in How Do I Tune Down Half A Step?.

Hammer-On – a left hand slurring technique in which a second note is sounded by the additon of a finger. More on hammer-ons in Hammer-Ons and Tricks of the Trade.

Harmonics – clear bell-like tones produced at various points along the fingerboard of the guitar. More on harmonics in Harmonic Convergence.

Harmony – two or more notes played simultaneously. More on harmony in What is Dissonance and Harmony?.

Hybrid Picking – style of guitar playing in which the guitarist uses a pick (held with the thumb and index finger) to play notes on the three low strings and uses the middle, ring and pinky fingers to play notes on the three high strings. More on hybrid picking in Finger Picking for Guitar Lessons.

I

Interval – the distance, in terms of steps and half steps, of one note from another. More on intervals in A Study On Intervals and Hands-on Intervals.

K

Key – the tonal center of a piece of music. More on keys in Key Signatures and The Circle of Fifths.

Key Signature – the number of flats or sharps (if any) used in a song, which indicates the key the song is in. More on key signatures in Key Signatures.

M

Major Chord – one of the four basic chord types, made up of the root, major third and perfect fifth degrees of the major scale. More on major chords in Absolute Beginner Part 1: Chords and Simple Alternate Chord Voicings.

Major Scale – the basic building block of music theory, the major scale begins on any note and uses the following sequence:

Root – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – whole step – half step (the root again)

More on major scales in Theory Without Tears and Breaking the Major Scale Pattern Paradigm.

Measure – also called a “bar;” a distinct measurement of beats, which is dictated by the time signature; the end of a measure is indicated by a vertical line running through the staff or bass guitar tablature lines. More on measures in Keeping Time and Standard Notation.

Metronome – a device used to audibly count out the tempo of music. More on metronomes in The Metronome – Meet Your New Best Friend! and The Metronome – A Love/Hate Relationship.

Minor Chord – one of the four basic chord types, made up of the root, minor third and perfect fifth degrees of the major scale. More on minor chords in Theory Without Tears.

Modes – a scale created by taking a major scale and beginning on a note other than the root and going through the steps of the scale until reaching the starting note again. There are seven modes: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. More on modes in Theory Without Tears.

Music Notation – a system for reading music using a staff and notes placed upon it, the location of the note on the staff determines its name and the type of note indicates its duration. More on music notation in Your Very Own Rosetta Stone – A Guide To Reading Musical Notation – Part One and Standard Notation.

N

Natural Sign – an accidental sign indicating to play a note with neither flats nor sharps. More on natural signs in Standard Notation Part 2.

Note – a musical tone of a specific pitch. More on notes in Theory Without Tears.

Nut – notched strip of hard plastic, bone or other material located between the neck and the headstock on the guitar’s fingerboard.

O

Octave – an interval of eight named notes from the root note, always bearing the same name as the root note.

Open Tuning – tuning the strings of the guitar so that they create an easily identifiable chord when strummed without any stings being fretted. For example, strumming the open strings of a guitar tuned to Open G tuning will sound a G major chord. More on open tuning in Open Tuning.

P

Pick – also called “plectrum,” a hard flat piece of material (usually plastic) used to strike the strings instead of a finger of the right hand. More on pick and plectrums in Why I Don’t Use a Plectrum.

Pinch – a finger picking technique where two notes are played simultaneously by the right hand by picking the lower one with the thumb and the higher one with a finger. More on pinches in Add A Pinch – Basic Travis Finger Picking Tutorial – Part 2.

Power Chords – also known as “5″ chords, as in “C5″ for example, technically, are not chords. They are simply dyads, a two-note interval composed of the root note and the fifth note of the major scale. Because there is no third, the sound of a power chord is neither major nor minor. It’s ambiguous, if you will, or simply undefined. However, when you play a power chord on an electric guitar with the distortion cranked up on the amplifier, you generate many overtones that give this neutral “5″ chord more depth and tonal color. Guitar Noise has a primer to help you understand and form any power chord you want in several different ways: Power Chords – Music 101.

Pull-Off – a left hand slurring technique in which a second note is sounded by the removal of a finger. More on pull-offs in Tricks of the Trade and Hammer on, Pull off, Tap, Repeat.

Q

Quarter Note – a note of one beat’s duration. More on quarter notes in Standard Notation.

Quarter Rest – a rest of one beat’s duration. More on quarter note rests in Standard Notation.

R

Riff – a short musical phrase, often repeated during the course of a song. More on riffs in A Before E (Except After C) and Songs Are Overrated. Riffs Rule!

Root Note – the note named by a chord; “C” is the root note of a C major chord. More on root notes in A (very basic) Primer for Walking Bass Lines – Connecting The Dots – Part 1.

S

Saddle – raised area on the guitar’s bridge, usually made of hard plastic, bone or other material on acoustic and classical guitars.

Sharp – an accidental sign indicating raising a note a half step. More on sharps in Your Very Own Rosetta Stone – A Guide To Reading Musical Notation – Part One, The Musical Genome Project and Theory Without Tears.

Shuffle – a rhythm using the first and third of a set of triplets, commonly used in blues, jazz and swing styles. More on shuffles in Before You Accuse Me – The Blues – Part 1: Structure and Shuffle.

Sixteenth Note – a note of one quarter of a beat’s duration. More on sixteenth notes in Guitar Noise Podcast #4 – Sixteenth-note Accent & Partial Chord Strumming.

Sixteenth Rest – a rest of one quarter of a beat’s duration. More on sixteenth rests in Guitar Noise Podcast #3 – Combining What We Have.

Slide – a left hand slurring technique involving sliding a finger from one fret to another. More on slides in Tricks of the Trade.

Slur – using a left hand technique to articulate a note or series of notes. More on slurs in Hammer-Ons.

Staff – a set of five lines, used in music notation to indicate note names. More on staff in Standard Notation.

Standard Tuning – how the strings of a guitar are usually tuned; from low to high: E, A, D, G, B and E. More on standard tuning in Standard Tuning.

Step – the difference, between two notes, of two frets on the neck of the guitar. More on steps in Your Very Own Rosetta Stone – A Guide To Reading Musical Notation – Part One, The Musical Genome Project and Theory Without Tears.

Straight Eighths – eighth notes that are played as even eighth notes, that is, dividing the beat perfectly in half. More on straight eighths in Swing Eighths and Solving Timing and Rhythm Problems Part 3 – Left-brain Left Behind.

Swing Eighths – playing eighth notes as the first and last of a set of triplets (as opposed to “straight eighths”). More on swing eighths in Swing Eighths.

Syncopation – Notes that fall on the offbeats. More on syncopation in Keeping Times.

T

Tablature – a system of reading music involving six horizontal lines (indicating the strings of the guitar) and numbers (indicating which frets to play in order to sound the notes). More on tablature in Guitar Tab FAQ.

Tempo – the speed of a song, usually indicated in BPM (beats per measure). More on tempo in Keeping Up With The Times and Timing Is Everything – Bass for Beginners Lesson #2.

Tie – an arced line connecting two notes of the same pitch, adding the time value of the second note to the first; a whole note tied to a half note will last for six beats. More on ties in Standard Notation.

Time Signature – usually indicated by a fraction at the start of a piece of music, the time signature will tell you how many beats each measure receives (the upper number of the fraction) and which type of note is designated as a single beat (the lower number). More on time signatures in Time Signatures – Bass for Beginners Lesson #17.

Transposing – changing the notes (and chords) of a song from one key to another. More on transposing in Turning Notes Into Stone – A Basic Guide to Transposing.

Trill – a left hand technique involving a rapid change from one note to the next higher (or lower) note.

Triplet – a note of a third of a beat’s duration. More on triplets in Quarter Note Triplets.

Turnaround – a quick chord progression at the end of a song to prepare the listener for a second verse; usually ends on the V chord. More on turnarounds in (Going to) Kansas City – An Easy Song for Beginners).

Twelve Bar Blues – a standard blues song format involving specific chord changes over the course of twelve measures. More on twelve bar blues in Twelve Bar Blues (and the “Quick Change” Blues).

V

Vibrato – a left hand technique which adds a quavering quality to a note; usually used with notes of longer duration. More on vibrato in Shakin’ Up Vibrato.

W

Whole Note – a note of four beats’ duration. More on whole notes in Standard Notation.

Whole Note Rest – a rest of four beats’ duration. More on whole note rests in Standard Notation.