How to play Electric Guitar
The guitar is probably the most popular instrument there is; you can find it in almost all of the popular songs. Everyone wants to learn how to play electric guitar. Besides this, if you hear someone say “I am a musician” he probably plays (or at least knows how to play) a guitar.
Why is that so?
Well, first of all, the guitar is a very practical instrument and not very complicated one. Unlike the piano or harp, you can easily take the guitar with you wherever you go. Besides this, you can play any song imaginable on a guitar, and if you can also sing, you become a real jukebox! Of course, you can’t do this with drums or a flute.
Another reason (and probably the most important for the majority of people) is that it is relatively easy to learn how to play guitar, especially if you are interested in learning just the basic stuff; with a proper training and regular practice, you can reach that level in just a few months. However, if you plan to become a real guitar player, it will take a little longer.
The beginners and those who want to learn the basic skills usually play an acoustic guitar. On the other hand, those who are more experienced (so-called intermediate players) and who want to learn more, usually play the electric guitar.
A lot of people that are unfamiliar with this topic say: “Acoustic or electric – it’s the same thing! The electric guitar is even easier to play than acoustic”; needless to say how untrue this claim is. This myth probably comes from the fact that on the electric guitar, the strings are usually closer to the neck than on the acoustic. However, although this is true, electric guitar is more complicated that acoustic, as it provides a whole range of possibilities; but of course, first you have to master a couple of techniques…
In the text that follows, we will get familiar with the parts of the electric guitar. With some of the most popular effects, and the most common playing techniques.
Parts of an electric guitar
The most of the parts are common with an acoustic guitar. However, there are a few specific p
Pickups – magnets that transform string vibration into electrical current, which is converted into sound by the amplifier.
Pickup selector – a switch used to activate different magnets.
Control knobs – knobs used for controlling the loudness of the guitar, as well as for the adjustment of high and low frequencies.
Output jack – the insertion point for the cable which connects the guitar to an amplifier.
End pin – a hook on which the guitar belt is attached.
The main difference between the acoustic and electric guitar is that for the second one you need an amplifier. When your pickups pick the vibration of your string and transform it into an electric signal, it goes through the cabal and into an amplifier. A lot of guitarists say that the quality of the amplifiers is almost as important as the quality of the guitar, so you should be very careful when you choose your amplifier.
There are many different kinds and variations: the amplifiers differ by their voltage, the kind of sound they produce, the number of channels, the effect they contain, etc… Of course, when it comes to choosing an amplifier, the main criteria should be the music style you are into and whether you plan to play solo in your room or with a band.
Clean and Drive
Now that you have connected your guitar to the amplifier, it’s time to start playing. It is important to mention that, when it comes to an electric guitar, there are two main types of sounds: clean and drive (overdrive or distortion). Clean sound is unaffected one; it is the sound you’ll get if you just plug in your guitar and increase volume (some would say that it is “acoustic-like”). The drive sound is more aggressive and transparent; it is basically the distorted clean sound. There is a huge range of overdrives and distortions, from very discrete and mild (for example, in blues or country) to the extremely heavy and aggressive (just listen to Metallica and you’ll get the idea).
Of course, almost no guitarist uses just a clean sound. Even if they play a clean tone, for example in funk music, they use some kind of effect (we will talk about this later).
One of the most common playing techniques on the electric guitar is power chords. It is used in almost all of the music genres, and especially in rock. In order to play a power chord, you just need to play the first two or three notes of a chord. In theory, you should play the 1st (or the root), the 5th, and 8th note of a scale (doesn’t matter what scale, as they all have the same 1st, 5th, and 8th note).
Let’s take an A chord. Notice that there is no difference between playing a minor or major power chord, as the notes are the same. The notes in A minor scale are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G; so, the 1st note is A and the 5th is E. Now, let’s see the A major scale: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, and G#; as you can see, the 1st and the 5th notes are the same – A and E. You probably wonder where the 8th note is. Well, it is the same as the first one (A), but just an octave higher (don’t worry if you are not familiar with octaves, we will talk about it later).
Position your fingers in the following way: your index finger should be placed on the root note (1st), your ring finger on the 5th, and your little finger on the 8th string.
This type of power chord has a root on the 6th string. However, there is also a way to play it with the root on the 5th string. Let’s just go one string below. If we play a power chord with the 5th string root on the fifth fret, we have a D power chord. So, everything is the same, you should just go one string below.
Extended power chord (with a bass note)
When you are playing a power chord with the 5th string root, you can use one trick to make it sound more interesting. You should just add a bass note on the 6th string, just above the root note. So, if you are playing D power chord, just press A and D notes with your index finger (just like you would play a barre chord).
This is a very common chord in metal music, as it sounds really heavy (you can find a bunch of these chords in Pantera songs).
Power chord without the root
Playing power chord without a root note is a way to make it sound a little more bluesy. It is very easy to play; you should just exclude your root note (for example, the famous intro for the “Smoke on the water” is played this way).
Muting the strings
If you try to play distorted electric guitar like you would play an acoustic, all you will hear will be just a bunch of noise. In order to make your guitar to sound right, you have to learn how to mute the strings that you don’t play. For example, when you play a power chord, you should mute all of the other strings except those that you are pressing on the neck. The way to do this is to gently press other strings with your fingers or with your palm. Try different ways and stick to the one that works the best for you. Just remember that by practicing, you will get that “feel”, and so you will be muting the strings without even thinking about it.
There is also a way to mute the strings with your right hand. All you have to do is just gently press the strings near the bridge. The great thing about this technique is that you can change the intensity of muting by varying the way you press the strings; if you press it harder, the muting will be of higher intensity, and vice versa.
A lot of players have a hard time when it comes to hammer-on, as they need to separate their hands so they could play it. The trick is to play just with your left hand without using a pick. In order to play a hammer-on, you should play a particular note (by picking the string), and then hammer down your other finger on a higher fret (for example, one or two frets higher). Since you are not using the pick, you should press the string harder than you would usually do, as you need to produce a tone just by your left hand.
However, the focus is not on how hard you press the string, but how fast you do it. If you do it slowly, the string will lose its vibration, and thus, you won’t produce any sound. Of course, it doesn’t mean that you have to hammer-on just after you have picked the previous note (the time between these two notes is not important); the crucial thing is to move your finger very quickly. A great example of this is a Tool song “Schism”, in which there are hammer-on’s troughs the whole song.
This is a very important technique that will allow you to play very fast once you master it.
Pull-off is exactly the opposite of a hammer-on. In this case, you play a particular note with a pick and then pull it off by moving the playing finger downwards very fast. In a way, you should pick the string with your finger.
When you pull off the string, it is very important to mute other strings in order to avoid unwanted sounds, as it is very easy to accidentally touch other string, especially the closest one.
A good idea is to first practice hammer-on, as for the pull-off you need more skill, speed, but also strength in your finger.
An octave is a note that has a double frequency of a particular tone. This is why we have just 11 notes, but a lot of frets. Although playing an octave can be a little tricky, you shouldn’t worry about it. You already know how to play it! It’s true, playing an octave is just as playing a power chord, just without a 5th note; so, all you end up is two of the same notes, just with a different pitch. The most common way to play an octave is with your index and small finger. Of course, don’t forget to mute all of the other strings!
A great thing about the electric guitar is that you can use all sorts of effects to change your sound. For example, if you listen to the Rage against the machine, you may think “OK, where is the guitar here?”. There is almost no guitarist out there that is not using some kind of effect. Here is a list of some of the most popular guitar effect.
This is probably the most common guitar effect (some guitarists doesn’t even consider it as a real effect). It produces a compressed, sustained, and heavy sound. Of course, you can vary the intensity of overdrive; you can give your clean tone just a little bit of that “punch” sound (like in the case of blues or funk), or you can make it sound extremely aggressive (for example, all kinds of metal music).
In two words – Jimmy Hendrix and his “Voodoo Child”. We are all familiar with that outstanding guitar intro. You control this pedal with your foot while you play, so it gives you a lot of possibilities and thus can be used in many different ways (just listen to Tom Morello).
What this pedal does is repeating a sound that you produce. There are different settings, so the latency period can vary from a few milliseconds to 2 seconds, or even more.
Songs for practice
Of course, practicing all of these techniques can be very boring, since you don’t actually play anything. But, you can just practice your skill pretty easily. Here are some songs that you can play along and practice at the same time, as they are not very hard to play.
Nirvana – Smells like a teen spirit
There is no guitar player who is not familiar with this grunge anthem. This is a powerful song with a melodic and raw guitar sound. By playing this song, you will learn how to mute the strings with your left hand (if you are right-handed), but also how to use an overdrive pedal. Besides this, there is a great solo that is very easy to play, so this is another technique that you can practice.
The White Stripes – Seven nation army
This is another popular and very simple song. In order to play it, you’ll have to master octave playing and power chords. It also has a very interesting solo that is played with a slide. It’s a round piece of metal or glass that you put on your finger (usually ring finger) and gently press the strings with it. It gives you a very unique and sitar-like sound.
Audioslave – Show me how to live
In order to play the guitar riff of this song, you’ll have to learn how to control your overdrive sound and how to mute the strings with your right hand (if you are right-handed). Although it is relatively easy, there are a few tricky parts that you’ll have to work on.
Although it is true that electric guitar is more complicated that acoustic, it shouldn’t be considered as its disadvantage. You can use its complexity in order to come up with interesting and original sounds. Of course, it can be hard in the beginning. But always keep in mind that with a regular practice you can learn to play anything. After a first few months, you will start having fun while playing and won’t even consider it as a practice. You’ll think of it rather as a game and enjoyment. Once you reach this stadium, you’ll know that you have been “infected with guitar virus”. And that there is no cure for it.
Just remember to keep rocking – the sky is the limit!
Thanks for checking out this post! Please, feel free to browse around and check out our other posts for more acoustic encouragement!