Fretboard Techniques


"Slide Guitar" usually involves playing with a glass, metal, plastic, or wooden cylinder on your fretboard instead of fingering the notes. Sometimes guitarists use an "Open Tuning" rather than standard tuning because they can play all six strings at one time with the cylinder. For now I'd just like to briefly mention the finger sliding technique. The slide is a very simple technique to use. You simply place a finger on the fretboard, strike the string, and slide that finger up or down the neck. (Known as a "glissando" or a GLISS in music terms). The slide can be from one fret to the neck one up or down from it, or, it can be from one end of the neck to the other, Most often a slide is only within a few frets (two) and it is usually a subtle effect.


You can "kill" the ring of your strings after playing a chord or note by instantly relaxing your fretboard fingers (release the pressure from the fretboard) after picking or strumming the string(s). There is a difference between "Muting" and "Killing" the strings because, if you play a note or chord and then use the Mute technique, the sound of placing your hand across the strings at the bridge will be evident (particularly on an electric guitar). So, you might say that "killing them" is quieter.


The "hammer on" technique requires hitting the strings against the fretboard with your fingertips. You punch the strings flat on to sound the note in that fret. This technique works best if you have well-developed calluses on your fingertips. You can also strike a note with your pick in one fret and then "hammer on" to a note slightly higher (a few frets up). In fact, you might want to try using this technique with the "strike and then hammer-on" method. Press your index finger on your D string (3rd from top) at the 5th fret and use your picking hand to strike the string; Then - without striking the string with your pick - hit the same string two frets up (7th fret) using your ring finger with force, like a slap. With practice, you should be able to play a note anywhere on your fretboard without having to strike it with your pick. Practice using the "hammer on" in adjacent frets and in frets as far apart as your fingers will reach. You should also practice the technique with each of your fingers


The "pull off" is another technique that is widely used in all types of music. The name hints at the method used. What actually happens is that by pulling a finger off of a string you in effect strike it, which plays a lower note being fingered on the same string. Try this: Place your ring finger firmly on your D (3rd) string in the 7th fret and place your index finger firmly on the same (D) string in the 5th fret. Without striking the string with your pick, pull your ring finger down and off of the string while leaving your index finger where it is. What actually happened was you "plucked" the string with your ring finger and "revealed" the note your index finger was pressing. That is a "pull off". Usually, but not always, you would first strike the first note (e.g. 7th fret) with your picking hand and then perform the "pull off" to play the second note (e.g. 5th fret). You can use the "hammer on" and then the "pull off" together without striking any strings with your pick at all. Practice using the "pull off" in adjacent frets and in frets as far apart as your fingers will reach. You should also practice the technique with each of your fingers


Vibrato can be defined in two ways: It is a slight change in the volume of a note or chord, and/or, it is a very slight change in pitch. When it comes to fretboard techniques it is usually the latter of the two that is used. You can perform vibrato (pitch changing) effects in 2 ways. The first one is accomplished by "shaking" your finger back and forth in a fret. That is, while holding a string against the fretboard you move the finger up and down the string (side to side) IN THE SAME FRET. By adjusting the speed of the "shaking", you can affect the speed and amount of vibrato heard. The alternative to "shaking" is the small or large "bending" of the string(s). You bend a string by pushing it up or down within a fret to change the pitch. By quickly bending it slightly up and down quickly, you get vibrato. (SEE BELOW FOR MORE ABOUT BENDING)

Modulation is less subtle than vibrato. You would "modulate" a note or chord by bending the strings up and down by a particular amount, at a variable or a constant speed. For the sake of simplicity, and as related to guitar techniques, let's say that vibrato is fast modulation, and modulation is slow vibrato. Both techniques require changing the pitch of notes or chords by a relatively small amount.


As mentioned above, "bending" a string changes the pitch of the note at that fret. The technique involves pushing the string up or down within a fret to obtain a higher note. The range of pitch you can accomplish depends on your finger strength and the string thickness (gauge). The further you stretch a string the higher the note produced. The stretch can be minute and result in a note that is between it and the next chromatic note (i.e. a semi-semitone) or it can result in a note that is two tones (4 semitones or frets) higher.


Bending a string

The most common bend is the "Tone" (2-semitone) bend. Ideally, the object of a tone bend is to play a note in any fret and then bend that note until it becomes a note exactly one tone higher. In actuality, often a bend is slightly more or slightly less than a tone.

Beginners tend to have a difficult time finding the correct pitch when they first try bending strings. It's common for beginners to bend a string and play a note that is slightly flat or sharp of the intended note. They stretch the string too much or too little, which results in a note that is slightly out of tune. That's because their finger and hand muscles haven't developed enough yet. The only way to correct it is to keep practicing and building the small muscles in the hand and fingers. There are some tricks that will help in getting your bends more accurate and sounding better.

One trick for practicing good "intonation" (the correct or intended note) is to start by bending your B (5th) string. It is a thin string and therefore easier to bend. Before you start bending, place your middle or ring finger in the 3rd fret of your B (5th) string. Play this note (D on your B string) and play your bottom (E) string open at the same time. Practice bending the string in that fret (3rd) and continue playing your bottom (E or 6th) string along with it. The idea is to stretch your B string just the right amount so that it's pitch is the same as your open bottom string (i.e. so they are precisely the same notes). The two strings should sound like one string when the amount of bend is correct. Be patient and strong. Don't release the string or "un-bend" it immediately. Try to hold the bend (and the amount of bend) as long as possible. Your fingers might be sore for the first few days but they will soon develop harder calluses and become stronger along the way. Try slow bends first. By that I mean strike the two strings and then slowly bend the B string until it reaches the same pitch as your open E string.

Stretching and Bending strings can be a very complicated technique because the pitch range is fairly broad and there are various ways to use bends. Most often a bend begins with a note being struck and then the stretch begins. You can also bend the string first and then strike it with your pick as you release the bend and let the natural note of that fret be heard by returning the string to it's normal position. Another technique involves striking the string, then bending it, and striking it again at it's stretched position, and then bending it even further.

Many guitarists use one of the vibrato techniques mentioned previously along with their bends. When a "tone bend" is used, vibrato is often added when the bend reaches the intended note. These combined techniques allow you to sustain a note longer and give it a smooth, fluid quality.

A bend can involve more than one string at a time. There are bends in which one string is stretched until it harmonizes (or is in unison), with a note being played on another string. Some bends involve two strings being stretched at one time. Usually, due to standard tuning, the two notes are 4ths or 5ths of each other and sometimes a 3rd is used. (Read the lesson SCALES for more details about 3rds 4ths 5ths etc.). You can practice two-string bends by starting with your G (4th) and B (5th) strings. Start by using your middle finger on the G string and your ring finger on the B string in the 7th fret (it's easier to bend strings in frets above the middle of the fretboard, but below the 12th fret). Try playing a "tone bend" (described above) using the two strings. Once you become adept at that, change to your B (5th) and bottom E (6th) strings. Place your middle finger in the 6th fret of your E string and your ring finger in the 7th fret of your B string. Remember be strong, persistent, and patient.


Tapping was made popular thanks to Eddie Van Halen. The technique had been around for many years before anyone had heard of Eddie, but, it must be said that he was/is the most proficient "Tapper" to ever strap on a guitar.

To "tap" you use your picking fingers to strike the strings against the fretboard, much like using the "hammer on" method described earlier. However, the advantage of tapping is that you can "tap" with your picking/strumming hand while your fretboard hand uses any or all of the techniques mentioned earlier. Tapping is usually done above the 12th fret (close to the body), while your fretboard hand fingers notes below the tap. This technique can add incredible speed to your playing because it allows you to go from notes in one octave to another quicker than if you had to move your entire fretboard hand up and down the neck. In effect, it provides you with at least eight fingers on the fretboard instead of the usual four.

The most straightforward method of tapping is to "hammer on" a note above the 12th fret and as you release the note your fretboard hand is playing some other lower note (usually melodic or harmonic content from the same scale).

Tapping requires a lot of practice to make it smooth and clean. Your guitar strings and neck alignment can also be a factor. New strings will "tap" better and playing loud doesn't hurt. Once you have mastered the basic technique of tapping, you can expand on your style by including some, or all, of the techniques described earlier.



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