Jargon Buster For Guitarists

There are a lot of words which are specific for guitarists but may be new to you. Hopefully, the jargon buster (or glossary) will explain any unfamiliar terms for you.

For the sake of simplicity, the jargon buster assumes that the fretting hand is on the left. If you play left-handed please accept my apologies!

0-9   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

0-9

000 – small sized acoustic guitars, often called Parlour guitars. The “0” rating is used to describe the size and shape of some acoustic guitars.

¾ Guitar – a guitar which is only three-quarters of the size of its regular counterpart. Ideal for children or people with extra small hands.

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8eva – play an octave higher

A

Accent – where a note is played with more stress or emphasis than the other notes so that it stands out. This is usually done by picking the string harder with the finger or a pick.

Accented note – see Accent

Accelerando – This is a musical term to describe playing where the tempo gradually gets faster, or accelerates. Think of the Greek song “Zorba’s Dance” as an example, which starts slow and builds up speed.

Accidental – a sharp sign (#), flat sign (♭) or natural sign (♮) is referred to as an accidental.

Acoustic Guitar – all guitars were acoustic before the advent of the electric guitar! It has a hollow body to acoustically project the sound produced by the strings rather than using electronic amplification. Most acoustic guitars have steel strings. A nylon string guitar may also be called acoustic to differentiate it from an electric guitar.

To further complicate things some acoustic guitars have a pick-up (such as a microphone, magnetic pickup or piezo pickup) attached. This allows the option of plugging it into an amplifier for a louder sound. Hence, it is often called an electro-acoustic guitar, to differentiate it from a semi-acoustic guitar.

Action – refers to the height of the strings above the fret board. A low action means that there is a small distance between the string and the fretboard. This means that the fingers don’t have to press down very far to make a clear note. A high action has a greater distance between the string and the guitar.

Generally speaking, it is easier to play a guitar with a low action. But there is also more risk of “fret buzz” where the string vibrates against a fret. Flamenco players often use a higher action. This style of playing is very energetic and allows the strings to vibrate more vigorously without buzzing.

Active  – Usually describes a pickup on an acoustic guitar which requires power such as a battery.

Adagio – play slowly or at a leisurely pace. Not as slow as Largo

Agitato – means to play fast with excitement and energy.

Allegretto – moderately fast, but slightly slower than Allegro.

Allegro – to play fairly fast

Alternating bass – A style of playing where the thumb on the right hand alternates between two or more strings.

Alternate Picking is a technique that uses alternating downward and upward picking strokes in a continual down-up-down-up motion. It’s a common way of playing with a plectrum, or pick. If it’s done on a single note very quickly it may be referred to as tremolo picking.

Altered Tuning – see alternate tuning

Alternate Tuning – guitars are usually tuned to EADGBE (commonly called standard tuning). When one or more strings are tuned to a different note it is described as an alternate tuning. For example, drop-D tuning is where the lower E string is re-tuned to a D.

Amp – common abbreviation for an amplifier

Amplifier – A piece of equipment for increasing or amplifying the signal from a guitar’s pickup. Most modern amps are solid state with printed circuit boards but older amps use a vacuum tube. The tubes need replacing from time to time and may need to warm-up. They give a unique “colour” to the amplified sound so haven’t been entirely replaced by solid state amps.

Amplify – to increase the volume

Anacrusis – is an incomplete bar, or measure, at the beginning of a piece of music . It is also called a pick-up bar or pickup measure.

Andante – means to play at a moderate, walking pace.

Andantino – means to play at a moderate pace, a bit faster than Andante.

Anticipation – arriving at a target note early in anticipation of the next chord, usually coming in a half a beat earlier.

Apoyando – also called a rest stroke.  This is a finger movement of the right hand where it moves through the string and  then rests on the adjacent string. This is opposed to a free stroke, or tirando, where the finger is lifted slightly after picking to clear the next string.

Arch Top – A type of acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar, which has an arched soundboard, often favoured by jazz guitarists. The soundholes are often f-shaped, (similar to a violin) rather than round or oval.

Arpeggio – this is where the notes of a chord are played individually one at a time rather than simultaneously. This may be in any order but often ascends or descends. Sometimes it may go from the low notes to high notes of the chord and back again.

Arrangement – In classical music an arrangement is a reworking of a composition so that it can be played by a different instrument from the original.  For example, Isaac Ibanez wrote classical compositions for the piano. Francisco Tarrega made guitar arrangements for these pieces so that guitarists could play them. In popular music, an arrangement may refer more to the interpretation of a song. For example, Gary Jules recorded a version of “Mad World” which had a very different tempo from the original by Tears For Fears.

Articulation is how smoothly or crisply a note is played. For example, legato means that the notes are played smoothly, staccato means that the notes are short and sharp.

Artificial Harmonic – These can be produced when a note is fretted on the neck with left hand, and a finger on the right hand is used to lightly touch the string twelve frets up from the fretted note whilst simultaneously plucking the string with another finger. Yes – this is a complicated and advanced technique!  But it does allow otherwise inaccessible harmonic tones to be played. Electric guitars can produce artificial harmonics, often called Pinch harmonics, using a different technique.

Ascending Scale – a scale ordered by increasing pitch, ie a scale which is rising in pitch.

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Augmented Chord – a chord made up of the root (1st), major third (3rd) and augmented fifth (sharp 5th) notes of the major scale.

B

Bar – may also be called a “measure;”Bars help to divide a piece of music into smaller sections. A bar will contain a certain number of beats which will be dependent on the time signature; the end of a bar is indicated by a vertical line running through the staff or bass guitar tablature lines.

Bar line – A vertical line which crosses the staff or tab to show the end of a bar of music.

Bar Chords – see Barré Chord

Barré Chords – (pronounced “Ba-ray”) or otherwise known as bar chords. The index finger lies flat across two or more strings at a single fret to form a bar. A “half barré “ is when only some of the strings are fretted in this manner.  When all six strings are fretted it is called a “full barré”.

The finger then serves as an artificial nut and the remaining fingers can then be used to make a chord shape higher up the neck.

The beauty of barré chords is that they can be moved up and down the fretboard. The downside is that they really give the left hand a workout. Playing a lot of barré chords in a song can be quite tiring!

Bass-strum – A strumming technique whereby a bass note is played before strumming the chord

Bass Guitar – A guitar, usually with four or five thick strings, which produces low notes. Most bass guitars have a solid body and are amplified, although you may also come across hollow-bodied acoustic bass guitars.

Bend –a technique used in guitar playing to raise the pitch of a note by pushing a string sideways

Bending – is when a string is pushed (or pulled) sideways with the left hand fingers. This makes the string tighter making the pitch go up. The greater the bend the higher the pitch. It is used a great deal in lead guitar and for most styles except classical guitar.

Binding –  (sometimes called the purling) it’s the trim that runs along the top of an acoustic guitar. It can be decorative.

Blue Notes – these are the notes that give a scale its “blues” feel. It is comprised of the minor third, diminished fifth and flat seventh of a key notes on a key.

Boom-Chuck is a strumming technique. The bass root note of a chord is picked on the first and third beats and the rest of the chord is strummed on the second and fourth beats

Bout – these are the rounded parts of the guitar either side of the waist. The smaller bout is called the upper bout and the larger one is the lower bout.

Bottleneck Guitar another term for Slide Guitar. Coca-Cola bottles were often used to create a slide effect sound.

Bottleneck Slide – another term for a slide

BPM – Beats per minute, or tempo.

Bracing -is the internal wooden support structure inside the body of a guitar. Fan bracing, originally designed by Torres, is common in classical guitars.

Breve – is a the British term for double whole note and lasts twice as long as a whole note. It is written as a hollow oval, with no stems or flags, and two short vertical lines either side. It is rarely encountered in guitar music these days.

Brilliante – means to play with sparkle.

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Brio – to play with vigour.

C

Capo – is a device which clamps to the neck and fretboard and serves to raise the pitch of the strings. It lowers the action of the strings higher up the neck, which also makes it easier to play. It enables the guitarist to play conventional chord shapes in otherwise guitar-unfriendly keys.

Capo – when you see this in written music it means “The Beginning”

Carved Top – see Arch Top

Checking – describes the cracking found in guitars which have a lacquer finish. The tiny cracks are caused by changes in temperature and/or humidity. The wood of the guitar contracts and expandswhich affects the finish.

Chicken picking – a technique which involves a hybrid fingerpicking style combined with both left and right hand damping to produce a clucking staccato-type sound.

Chicken Scratching – is used a lot in funk and reggae guitar. As the chord is played the pressure in the left hand is immediately released so the chord only sounds for a moment. The left hand then damps the strings gently while they are being strummed  with the pick porducing a “scratchy” funky sound.

Chord – three or more different notes played together simultaneously,  the simplest being the triad consisting of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the scale.

Chord chart – A diagram which shows a chord progression.

Chord Chart – consists of a grid with six vertical lines to represent the strings and a number of horizontal lines representing the frets. Numbered markers within the grid indicate where the fingers should be placed to form the chord.

Chord progression – A sequence of chords.

Chromatic Notes –a chromatic note is any note you play that is not in the scale you are playing.

Chromatic Scale – a scale which includes all twelve possible notes in an octave at half step intervals.

Circle Of Fifths – is a clock-like pattern which can help understanding the relationship of major and minor keys.

Circle Of Fourths – is a another name for the Circle of Fifths. I know it sounds daft – just take my word for it!

Classical Guitar – a guitar with nylon strings. The body of the guitar joins the fretboard at the twelfth fret, compared to many acoustics which have fourteen frets on the neck.

Closed voicing – the notes of a chord can be arranged in many ways to vary its sound and this is called voicing. With closed voicing the notes of the chord are placed as close together as possible, whatever the inversion,  in contrast to open voicing which spreads the notes of the chord at more widely.

Coda – The end of a piece of music.

Common Time – this denotes 4/4 time which is the most common time  signature. It is often represented in standard notation as a large “C” after the clef on the staff.

Consonance – where notes at different intervals played together sound pleasant or harmonious (opposite of dissonance).

Crescendo – often abbreviated in written music to “Cresc.” – it means to gradually get louder.

Crosspicking is a technique for playing the mandolin or guitar using a pick or plectrum in a rolling, syncopated style across three or four strings.

Crotchet  is the British term for a note played for 1/4 of the duration of a whole note (or semi-breve). It is written with a filled-in note head and a straight note stem. The term is mainly used in the UK rather than the USA, where it is called a Quarter Note.

Cutaway – The part of a guitar which has a concave outline that allows the player greater access to the higher frets. Only some acoustic guitars have cutaways and it is rare for a classical guitar.It will be on the upper right bout of a normal right-hand guitar and on the left for a left-handed guitar.

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D

Da Capo – often abbreviated to “D.C.” it means from the beginning.

Dal Segno – often abbreviated to “D.S.” it means to repeat a specific section which is marked by a “Segno” or sign.

Da Capo al fine – (often abbreviated to D.C. al fine) – usually found at the last bar of a section of music – it means to repeat the music from the beginning until the word “fine” is reached on the score.

DADGAD Tuning – a common alternate tuning where the two E strings are each tuned down to D, and the B string is tuned down to A. It is used a great deal in Irish and folk music.

Dead note – a note with a rhythmic value but muted so that it sounds more percussive and has no obvious pitch. It’s written as an “X” rather than a note on the staff.

Dead String Length – this relates to the part of the string that is found past the nut and the saddle and not involved in making musical notes – usually!

Decay – the drop-off of volume from the note’s loudest point to silence.

Decrescendo – (decresc.) opposite to Crescendo – it means to gradually get softer in volume.

Demisemiquaver  is the British term for a note played for 1/32 of the duration of a whole note (or semibreve). It is written with a filled-in note head, a straight note stem with three flags or beams. The term is mainly used in the UK rather than the USA.

Descending Scale – a scale ordered by decreasing pitch, ie a scale which is going down in pitch.

Diatonic A diatonic scale is built on the intervals made by natural notes (i.e. neither flat nor sharp) and based on seven in an octave. In modern Western music a scale is refered to as diatonic if it is based on five of these whole steps together with two half steps.

Diminished Chord – is made up of the root (1st),  minor third (flat 3rd) and diminished fifth (flat 5th) notes of the major scale.

Diminuendo – (dim.) to gradually get softer in volume.

Dissonance where notes at different intervals played together sound unpleasant or are harmonically unresolved (opposite of consonance). It can be used deliberately to create tension in music.

Dolce – soft and sweet.

Dotted Note – a dot added to a note increases the duration of the basic note by half of its original value.

Double Bar Line – Two vertical lines indicate the end of a section or piece of music.

Double Stops – simultaneously playing two notes on adjacent strings.

Down Stroke – where a string is picked or plucked from top to bottom.

Dreadnought – refers to a particular shape of acoustic guitar which has a large body with squarish shoulders and a shallow waist producing a loud, rich and bassy sound. Ideal for strumming accompaniment. Originally designed by C.F.Martin & Company – it has been copied by other manufacturers and is now a very common style of guitar body.

Drop D Tuning – an alternate tuning in which the low E string is tuned down to a D. Chords with a root or bass note of D can be played an octave lower than with standard tuning. Drop D tuning is used a lot in rock music but quite a few classical guitar arrangements have a dropped D (such as Tarrega).

Dynamics – are used in musical notation to guide the performer about changes in the loudness of a note or passage or the tempo. “f” is used to indicate loud, “ff” very loud etc (“f” comes from the word Forte meaning strong), or “p” for soft “pp” for very soft etc.(“p” comes from the word piano meaning soft)

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E

Economic Picking – a way of playing with a pick,where downstrokes are used on the lowest three strings and upstrokes on the three highest strings.

Effects Pedal  – a device, often with a foot switch which can alter the sound of the guitar. There are many different effects such as chorus, reverb, delay, distortion and so on.

Effects Processor – like an effects pedal but it can be programmed to do multiple effects to give endless possibilities of tone.

Eighth Note  – a note played for 1/8 of the duration of a whole note (or semibreve). Two eighth notes are equivalent to one beat.It is written with a filled-in note head, a straight note stem with one flag. The British term for an eighth note is a Quaver.

Eighth Note Rest – a rest equivalent to an eighth note in duration.

Electric Guitar – usually has a solid wood body and pick-ups to amplify the signal. However, there are some electric guitars which have a hollow or semi-hollow body, often used in jazz.

Electro Acoustic – An acoustic guitar with a built in pickup, which can be played either acoustically (without electronic amplification) or plugged into an amplifier. Not to be confused with a semi-acoustic guitar.

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F

F-Hole – some guitars don’t have a conventional round or oval soundhole but instead have f-shaped openings much like a violin. Often arch-top guitars and resonator guitars have this type of soundhole.

Fermata – marks a note which is to be sustained longer than normal. It appears as a dot with a curved “hat” over it, placed above the note to hold.

Fill – are notes played to fill in the space between musical phrases.

Fingerboard – The top side of the guitar neck which contains the frets.Also may be called the fretboard for guitars with frets but fingerboard would be more apt for fretless guitars.

Finger picks –  these are picks which have a band to fit them onto the thumb or fingers. Often used in banjo playing – they have a slightly different sound to that using just fingertips. Classical guitarists don’t use fingerpicks but some grow the nails on their picking hand instead.

Fingerpicking – a style of playing using the fingers to pluck the strings rather than a flatpick. Similar meaning to fingerstyle but subtly different! Finger-picking may refer to a pattern of playing whereas fingerstyle is usually used to describe playing a song complete with melody line.

Fingerstyle – playing with the thumb and fingertips (or fingernails) rather than with a pick (or flatpick). Often used to describe the style of guitar playing where the melody, bass and fills are all played at the same time by a solo player.

Five/Four Time – a more unusual time signature in which there are five quarter beats per bar. A good example is Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”

Flat – this can refer to a note that is lower in pitch to the natural note by a semi-tone. For example B is the natural note and Bb (B flat) is half a tone below it. The sign for a flat note is called an accidental. In another context it can also refer to any note that is lower in pitch than it should be (eg singing flat where the note sung is lower than it should be and sounds “off”! or where a guitar is poorly tuned and not quite high enough in pitch)

Flatpick – sometimes just called a pick, or plectrum, this is a piece of plastic or similar material held between the thumb and forefinger and used to strum or pluck (pick) the strings. Various sizes, shapes and thicknesses are available.

Flat Top – is an acoustic guitar with a flat or non-arched top.

Flatwound Strings – Steel strings which are wound with flat ribbon rather than round wire for the thicker strings.

Flight case – a hard, reinforced guitar case.

Footstool – a small stool (usually height-adjustable ) on which to rest a foot. It is used when playing in a sitting position and helps to raise the height of the guitar – often used in classical guitar playing.

Forte – (f) from the Italian for loud or strong. It means the pice should be played fairly loudly.

Forte-piano – (fp) to play loud then immediately softly.

Fortissimo – (ff) to play very loudly.

Four/four time – sometimes referred to as “common time” –it’s a time signature of four quarter beats (or crotchets) in one bar of music.

Free Stroke – also called a Tirando. This is a finger movement of the right hand used to pick a string. The finger moves through the string and is then lifted slightly to avoid the adjacent string and curls back towards the palm of the hand in a picking movement. This is opposed to a rest stroke, or apoyando, where the finger isn’t lifted but comes to rest on the next string.

Fret – this is the metal wire that horizontally crosses the neck of the guitar; It can also refer to the act of placing a finger on the fretboard.

Fretboard – The top side of the guitar neck which contains the frets.Also may be called the fingerboard.

Fretless – A fretboard with no frets. Usually found with basses and gives a smooth sound.

Fret Marker – these are markers on the fret board or at the side of the neck to act as a guide for fretting. They are usually absent on a Classical guitar but are found on the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, twelfth and fifteenth frets on an acoustic or electric guitar. They may appear as small or medium sized dots or may be larger for decorative effect.

Fretting – the act of placing a finger on or by a fret to create a note or chord.

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G

Grace Note – an ornamental note usually quickly played just before a main note.

Gig – a performance at an event where a guitarist (or any other musician, or band) plays.

Gig bag – a lightweight case, usually made of material or nylon, with a handle and shoulder strap used to carry a guitar.

Guitar Strings – there are specific string types for electric, steel-string acoustic, and nylon classical guitars. The correct type of strings should always be used as the different types of guitar are set up for different tensions so using the wrong strings may potentially cause damage to the guitar.

Guitar tablature – often abbreviated to TAB –  a method for reading and writing music for stringed instruments which indicate the placements of the fingers on the string. In guitar TAB there are six horizontal lines representing the strings and numberings on the string lines indicate which fret should be used. Bass TAB commonly has four lines, and bluegrass banjo TAB will have five.

Ghost note – a note which has  a rhythmic value but is very quiet, or muted so that the pitch is not obvious.

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H

Half Note  a note played for 1/2 of the duration of a whole note (or semibreve). A half-note is equivalent to two beats.It is written with a round open note head, a straight note stem and no flags. The British term for a half note is a Minim

Half Note Rest – a rest equivalent to a half note or two beats in duration.

Half Step – the difference  one fret of the guitar and the next, or adjacent fret equivalent to a semi-tone i.e. one-half of a whole tone.

Hammer-On – a technique in which a note is produced by hammering” down with a finger on the fretboard.

Hard Tail – used to describe an electric guitar which doesn’t have a vibrato, or whammy, bar.

Harmonic – a harp-like sound created by gently touching the string at various points along the fingerboard. The most commonly used harmonics are directly above the fret at the 12th, 7th and 5th frets. There are other points where a harmonic can be played but the technique has to be more precise to get a clear tone. Harmonics are sometimes called natural harmonics to differentiate them from artificial harmonics.

Harmonic Minor Scale – is similar to the natural minor scale only without the lowered 7th. Therefore the gap between the 6th and 7th notes is three semitones which gives an almost arabic feel to the scale. The harmonic minor scale consists of the root note followed by a whole step, a half step, a whole step, a whole step, a half step, three half steps, and finally a half step (which is an octave above the first note ie the root note again at a higher pitch).

Harmony – two or more notes played simultaneously usually to prioduce a pleasant musical sound The study of harmony involves chords, how they are constructed, chord progressions and the musical principles that connect them together.

Harmonize – To bring two or notes together in harmony.

Headstock – the top end of the guitar, where the tuning pegs, or machine heads, are located.

Head – or “headstock” – is the top end of the guitar, where the tuning pegs, or machine heads, are located.

Heel – the reinforced part of the guitar neck where it joins the body.

Hexatonic scale – A scale with six notes per octave (a pentatonic scale has five notes per octave and a major scale has seven notes per octave).

Hollow Body – an electric guitar that has a hollow or semi-hollow body, such as an arch-top or semi-acoustic guitar.

Humbucker – a type of pick-up on an electric guitar. It consists of two single coil pickups wired to eliminate hum.

Hybrid Picking – style of guitar playing where a pick is used in combination with the fingers. The pick is held between the thumb and first fingerand used to play the lower bass strings, and the second, third, and fourth fingers are used to pluck the top strings

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I

Interval – the distance between two notes, or pitches.

Inversion – a chord which doesn’t have the root note as the lowest note. E-G-C is an example of an inversion of a C major triad chord as the lowest note is E rather than C.
Inlay – decorative material set into the surface of the guitar. Examples would be the dot markers on the fretboard, which may be plain or made with something like Mother-of-Pearl or abalone, or inlay on the headstock, or soundhole.

Intonation –  refers to the guitar being in tune all along the fretboard. It can be checked by playing a harmonic at the 12th fret and comparing it to a note fretted at the 12th fret. They should sound the same but if intonation is poor the fretted note may be sharp or flat. It’s a good test to do when buying a guitar!

Improvisation – The art of making up music on the spur of the moment using an understanding of musical structure.

Ionian Mode – another name for the major scale and one of the seven modes.

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J

Jack – the hole into which a guitar cable is plugged. It is usually called an output jack as the signal exits the guitar through the cable and travels to an amplifier. Effects pedals have both input and output jacks.
Jackplate – Mounting plate for the guitar’s output jack.

Jumbo – refers to a particular shape of acoustic guitar which has a large body with sloping shoulders, a deep waist and a rounded end producing a loud, mellow sound.

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K

Key is the major or minor scale around which a piece of music revolves.

Key Signature – indicates in which key the musical piece is to be played. The number of sharps or flats is displayed at the beginning of a section of music. The keys of C major and A minor don’t have any sharps or flats.

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L

Laminated – where several thin pieces of wood are glued together to form one piece. Some guitars have the backs, sides and sometimes the tops made of laminate.The sound of a laminated top guitar is usually inferior to a solid piece of wood. Most good acoustic and classical guitars will be made with a soolid spruce or cedar top.

Largo – to play slowly in a stately manner.

Larghetto – a tempo slower than a Largo.

Lead guitar – The guitar part in a group that involves the solos, fills, licks and riffs rather than the rhythm or the bass.

Ledger Line – is a small line above or below the staff to place notes which are higher or lower than those that sit on the main staff

Legato – is a type of articulation which means playing smoothly with no gap, or silence, between notes.

Legato Slide – A slow slide.

Legato technique is where musical phrases are played with a combination of hammer-ons and pull-offs. This produces a sound so the strings don’t need to be plucked

Lento – slowly.

Lick – is a short musical pattern or phrase, played on the guitar. It is shorter than a riff

Locking Nut – clamps the strings on an electric guitar at the nut to so it stays in tune. This is useful – especially if a lot of string-bending is performed. Often used for guitars with Floyd Rose tremolos.

Luthier – a person who makes or repairs  guitars or other stringed instruments which have a neck and body. Comes from the French word for lute.

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M

Major Chord – is formed from the combination of the first, third and fifth notes of the major scale.

Major Scale – scales are a series of notes played in ascending or descending order. The intervals between each note determine the scale. The Major scale is  the basic building block from which all other scales are formed. It consists of the Root note followed by a whole step, a whole step, a half step, a whole step, a whole step, a whole step, and finally a half step (which is an octave above the first note ie the root note again at a higher pitch)

Minim  is the British term for a half note and is played for 1/2 of the duration of a whole note (or semibreve). A half-note is equivalent to two beats.It is written with a round open note head, a straight note stem and no flags.

Minor Scale – there’s only one major scale but three different types of minor scales. These are Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic—and use different intervals between the seven notes.

The natural minor scale (also called the Aeolian scale) lowers the 3rd, 6th and 7th notes of the major scale by one half step. Therefore the natural minor scale consists of the Root note followed by a whole step, a half step, a whole step, a whole step, a half step, a whole step, and finally a whole step (which is an octave above the first note ie the root note again at a higher pitch). The harmonic minor scale is similar to the natural minor scale only without the lowered 7th. The Melodic Minor scale is different going up than it is coming down.

Melodic Minor scale – differs from the natural minor scale as the sixth and seventh notes are raised a half-step. This scale is also unconventional as it is played differently when ascending and descending.

Melody – the main tune in a song or piece of music – usually the bit that can be hummed.

Mezzo forte – (mf) to play moderately loud.

Mezzo piano – to play moderately softly.

Minor Chord – is formed from the combination of the first, flatted third and fifth notes of the major  scale.

Metronome – a device which makes regular audible ticks and can be set to click at a certain tempo (beats per minute BPM). Helps to keep a musician in time and useful tool when practising.

Measure may also be called a “bar.”Measures help to divide a piece of music into smaller sections. A measure will contain a certain number of beats which will be dependent on the time signature; the end of a measure is indicated by a vertical line running through the staff or bass guitar tablature lines.

Moderato – to play at a moderate tempo.

Mother of Pearl – very pretty type of inlay. Genuine mother-of pearl comes from certain sea shells. On guitars it’s easier to work with a celluloid form.

Machine Heads – located in the headstock, these are used to tune the guitar. Also called Tuning keys or pegs.

Muting – the act of stopping unwanted notes ringing out. It can be achieved in many different ways

Modes – are alternative scales that derive from the major scale but start on a different note in the scale. They use the same notes from that major scale. There are seven modes. (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian).

Modulation – changing from one key to another

Music Notation – a universal system for reading and writing music. Notes are written as ovals, with or without a stem, on or between  five horizontal lines collectively called a staff . Various symbols tell the reader what pitch to play a note, the duration of the note and so much more (loudly, softly, smoothly, crisply etc). Sometimes called Standard notation to differentiate it from Guitar Tablature.

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N

Natural Minor Scale – (also called the Aeolian scale) has the 3rd, 6th and 7th notes of the major scale lowered by one half step. Therefore the natural minor scale consists of the Root note followed by a whole step, a half step, a whole step, a whole step, a half step, a whole step, and finally a whole step (which is an octave above the first note ie the root note again at a higher pitch).

Natural Sign – an accidental sign indicating to play a note with neither flats nor sharps.

Neck -The long narrowpart of a guitar which houses the fret board.

Note – a musical sound or tone at a specific pitch.

Nut – is the small grooved piece of bone or plastic  located between the neck and the headstock. It’s used to guide the strings from the headstock over the fretboard.

Neck Pickup – Refers to the pick-up on an electric guitar which is closest to the neck.

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Nylon string guitar – a guitar which has three nylon strings and three wound strings – usually a classical guitar.

O

Octave The most important musical scales are typically written using eight notes, and the interval between the first and last notes is an octave. Two notes separated by an octave have the same letter name and are of the same pitch class. Strictly defined as an interval eight diatonic scale degrees above or below a given tone.

Open chords – are chords which contain one or more open strings i.e. not fretted. A barre chord is where all the notes of the chord are fretted.

Open  String– where a string is played without being fretted.

Open Tuning – where the strings are tuned differently from standard tuning. They make an easily identifiable chord when strummed without any fretting. For example, a guitar tuned to Open G tuning will sound a G major chord when strumming all the unfretted strings.

Open Voicingthe notes of a chord can be arranged in many ways to vary its sound and this is called voicing. With open voicing the notes of the chord are placed as broadly apart as possible, whatever the inversion,  in contrast to closed  voicing where the notes of the chord as closely as possible.

Output Jack – is the hole in an electric guitar into which the cable is plugged. The cable then plugs into a device, such as an amplifier or effects pedal. The amp or effect receives the outgoing signal from the guitar.

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P

Palm mute – is a technique which dampens the string. The side of the right hand palm lays across the strings close to the guitar’s bridge.

Parlour – smallish acoustic guitars. Also known as “000” sized guitars.

Passive – Usually describes a pickup on an acoustic guitar which doesn’t require power, a bit like a dynamic microphone, as opposed to an active pick-up which uses a battery.

Pedal note – refers to  a stationary or fixed note which is interchanged with a sequence of other notes.A great example is the intro to Thunderstruck by ACDC.

Pegstock – more often called the Headstock – is the top end of the guitar, where the tuning pegs, or machine heads, are located.

Pick – this is a piece of plastic or similar material held between the thumb and forefinger and used to strum or pluck (pick) the strings. They are usually made of plastic, with a triangular or tear-drop shape and come in various sizes and thicknesses. Also called called a “plectrum.”

Piano – (p) in music notation piano means softly i.e. to play fairly quietly.

Pentatonic scale – consists of five notes within one octave, and may be described as a five-note scale.

Pianissimo – (pp) to play very softly.

Pickguard – Piece ofthin plastic on the body of the guitar to protect from pick scratches. It is next to the soundhole on an acoustic guitar and also helps to hide wiring in an electric guitar.

Picking – the act of plucking a string either with the fingers or a flatpick.

Pick-up – a device which detects the vibrations of the strings and converts it to a signal which can be amplified . The position of the pick-up can influence the tone of the sound so that a neck pick-up has different tonal qualities to a bridge pick-up.

Pick-up Baris an incomplete bar, or measure, at the beginning of a piece of music which leads into the main piece. It’s more formal term is an anacrusis.

Pick-up Switch – a switch on the guitar body which is used to select a pick-up, or combinations of pick ups on a guitar which has more than one pick-up, to vary the tone.

Piezo – describes a type of pick-up used on acoustic guitars to detect the physical vibrations of the instrument and convert them to an electrical signal which can be amplified. It is usually works a bit like a conventional dynamic microphone but is built into the bridge where it can sense pressure changes due to the vibrations produced by the strings which are transmitted to the guitar body.

Pinch – a finger picking technique where the thumb and a finger are used to pluck two strings simultaneously

P I M A – are abbreviations for the different fingers of the right hand and are used to indicate what fingering to use when plucking the strings.The letters come from the Spanish for thumb (pulgar), first finger (indice), middle finger (medio) and third, or ring, finger (annulo).

Pinch Harmonic – a high pitched sound made by the thumb slightly catching the string after it has been played with a pick on an electric guitar. Sounds most dramatic when lots of distortion is added. Pinch harmonics can also be called artificial harmonics. This is not something that works well on an acoustic guitar and artificial harmonics are made using a different technique!

Pitch – a vibrating string generates a frequency which is heard as sound. A tuning fork will usually be calibrated to vibrate at a frequency of 440Hz which is equivalent to a pitch of A.

Pitch Pipe – a device for tuning guitars. It has six tubes which can be blown to produce the six notes for a standard tuned guitar .It’s not very accurate or flexible and electronic tuners are usually preferred these days.

Plectrum – another term for a guitar pick, or flatpick.

Plucking – the act of pulling and releasing a string with a finger or pick in order to make it vibrate and

produce a sound.

Position  – A reference to placement of the left hand along the fretboard. For example,first position would be where the index finger is used at the first fret, the middle finger at the second fret and so on, and seventh position where the index finger is at the seventh fret and the middle finger at the eighth fret. A bar chord at the seventh position would use the index finger to bar across the fretboard at the seventh fret and roman numerals are used on standard notation to indicate the left hand position for playing a section of music such as VII for seventh position.

Power Chord –formed by playing the root note and the fifth note of a chord omitting the third. It’s not technically a chord as it consists of only two tones. The sound is neither major or minor. Sometimes the octave is included as well. It is used a lot in rock music, often with an added distortion effect to sound “powerful”. May also be called a “5” chord eg E5.

Pre-bend – where the string is bent before it is played and then returned to the normal fretted position after the string is picked.

Pull-Off – is where a finger on the left hand is used to pluck the string to produce a new lower note. It can be done gently by just removing a fretting finger from an already ringing note or more forcfully to make a louder, clearer note. It is the opposite to a hammer-on.

Pup – a short-hand way to describe a pick-up on an electric guitar, or an endearing young dog.

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Q

Quarter Note a note played for 1/4 of the duration of a whole note (or semibreve). One quarter note is equivalent to one beat.It is written with a filled-in note head and straight note stem. The British term for a quarter note is a crotchet.

Quarter Rest a rest equivalent to a quarter note or one beat in duration.

Quilted – Describes a wavy pattern found in Maple wood. It is used in some guitars for its decorative quality.

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 R

Rallentando – (rall.) gradually becoming slower.

Repeat sign – is a sign in standard music notation comprised of a double line with two dots. It indicates that the section of music should be repeated.

Resonator is a device built into the body of some guitars which increases the volume. It is usually circular and made of chrome (Mark Knopfler played one on Romeo and Juliet).

Rest Stroke -also called an apoyando. This is a finger movement of the right hand where it moves through the string and  then rests on the adjacent string. This is opposed to a free stroke, or tirando, where the finger is lifted slightly after picking to clear the next string.

Rhythm – the characteristic beat of a piece of music with a regular pattern of long and short notes.

Rhythm guitar – a style of playing which focuses on providing a rhythm with strummed chords. It’s used as an accompaniment to a vocalist or other instruments.

Riff – is a short, usually repeated, musical phrase.It is often the most memorable part of a song. Think of the intro to Smoke on the Water, or Eric Clapton’s “Layla”, or The Knack’s “My Sharona”. The guitar riff is the rhythmic musical hook that makes you recognise the song.

Ritardando – (retard.) gradually slowing down the tempo.

Ritenuto – (rit.) immediately slower.

Root Note – is the main note that forms the basis for the chord. So, for example, a ‘C’ chord has the note C as its root note. This is the case no matter which inversion of the chord is played.

Root Position

Routing  – the solid body of an electric guitar is chiselled out to make room for the pick-ups, electric wires and circuitry.

Rubato – from the italian for “robbed”. It means that the piece is played in a free flowing manner. Some parts are speeded up a little and then slowed down (or vice versa) without following the steady tempo.

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S

Saddle – The raised piece of plastic, bone or other material which sits in the bridge

Scale – A series of notes ordered by pitch in ascending or descending order, usually spanning an octave.

Scalloped Fretboard –the space on the fingerboard between frets is usually flat but on some electric guitars it has been carved into a concave shape to make a scoop, or scallop.

Set Neck – used to describe a guitar neck which has been glued rather than screwed or bolted onto the body of a guitar.

Set-up refers to a number of adjustments that can be made to a guitar. This usually improves the “playability”. It may involve changing the height of the nut and/or saddle on the bridge to alter the distance between the strings and the fingerboard. Bridge components may affect the length of the strings. Springs in the back of an electric guitar can change the tension. Tightening or relaxing the truss rod in an electric or acoustic (but not classical) guitar. Changing the height of the wire frets  and so on.

Sharp – may either refer to an accidental sign (#) indicating raising a note a half step eg C to C# (C sharp), or a note or string that is higher in pitch than it should be in an out-of-tune guitar.

Shuffle – a rhythm based on triplets, often used in jazz, swing and blues.

Single Coil – a type of pick-up used in electric guitars. Doesn’t have such a meaty sound as a humbucker (double-coil) pick-up.

Six String – fairly obvious – means an instrument with six strings. Most electric, acoustic and classical guitars fall into this category. But some guitars have seven strings, and bass guitars usually have four or five strings. A Twelve-string guitar has two sets of six strings which are paired, a bit like a mandolin, to produce a chorus effect.

Sixteenth Note a note played for 1/16 of the duration of a whole note (or semibreve). Four sixteenth notes are equivalent to one beat.It is written with a filled-in note head, a straight note stem with two flags. The British term for an eighth note is a semi-quaver.

Sixteenth Rest a rest equivalent to an sixteenth note in duration.

Slash chord – used to describe a chord which has a different bass note from the root note. Eg. D/F#

Slide  – two possible meanings.

(1) it can refer to a left hand technique. This is where a note or chord is shifted up or down by sliding the fingers whilst still pressed down to give a glissando effect, or

(2) a device consisting of a tube of plastic, glass or metal. This fits over the fourth or third fingers and used to slide over the strings to give a distinctive sound. It is often used in country music.

Slide guitar – sometimes called bottleneck guitar. It’s a style of guitar playing, whereby a hard object, typically a steel tube, a steel bar, or a glass bottleneck, is slid with a little pressure across a number of strings produce a smooth, twangy sound. Open tunings are often used when playing slide guitar.

Slur -is a symbol used in notation to indicate that the notes it embraces should be played smoothly without a gap between them and is used between notes of different pitch. For guitar players, this means that the notes should be played using hammer-ons or pull-offs without picking the string.

Solid State Amplifier – most modern amplifiers are solid state -as opposed to tube (or valve) amplifiers- which use transistors in their electronic circuitry.

Sound Board – The top of an acoustic guitar body. This is an important part of the guitar for producing sound and the tone will be affected by the material used for the soundboard. Solid wood sound boards are better than laminated soundboards in general.

Sound hole – The hole in the front of an acoustic guitar where the sound comes out.

Staccato – a form of musical articulation where the note has a shortened duration followed by silence – in other words the note is not allowed to ring out. Shown by a dot above the note on the musical score.

Staff – (or stave) is a set of five horizontal lines used in music notation. The pitch of a note to be played is determined by its position on either one of the lines or the spaces in between.

Standard Tuning is the default way of tuning the strings on a guitar. From low to high the strings are tuned E-A-D-G-B-E, where the two E strings are two octaves apart. Any other tuning will be an alternate tuning and will be indicated on a score or TAB.

Stave – another term for a musical staff.

Steel string guitar – An acoustic guitar which has four wound strings and two plain steel strings.

Stem – The vertical line in music notation which appears above or below a note.It is not used for whole notes but all other notes have a stem. Eighth notes and notes of shorter duration are identified by the number of flags that are attached to the stems.

Step – the difference between two notes or two adjacent frets on the guitar.

Straight Eighths – these are eighth notes which are played evenly within the beat.

Strings – there are six strings on a conventional classical or acoustic guitar. When tuned to standard tuning they are as follows – 6th string = Low E string; 5th String = B String; 4th String = G String; 3rd String=D String; 2nd String = A String; 1st String = High E String; There are different string types for acoustic and classical guitars and they shouldn’t be interchanged.On a typical acoustic guitar, the lowest four strings are wound and the two highest strings are unwound. The lower the string the thicker its diameter.Classical guitars have three wound bass strings and three nylon treble strings.

String winder – A device that fits over the tuning keys and can be quickly and easily turned in order to wind or unwind the strings. They are cheap to buy and save a great deal of time and effort when changing strings.

Strap – Used to hold the guitar in position while playing, especially useful when standing.

Strap buttons – small metal studs used to attach the guitar strap.

Strumming – is a right-hand technique where several or all the strings are brushed up or down with a pick or the fingers to play the notes of a chord almost simultaneously. Often several fingers or the thumb are used the complete the sweeping motion and patterns are repeated to provide a rhythmic accompaniment.

Sus2 -is a suspended chord where the major or minor third note is omitted and replaced with a major second. The lack of a minor or major third in the chord creates tension which needs resolution.

Sus4 -is a suspended chord where the major or minor third note is omitted and replaced with a perfect fourth. The lack of a minor or major third in the chord creates tension which needs resolution.

Suspended Chord – (or sus chord) is a chord where the major or minor third note is omitted and replaced with either a major second or a perfect fourth. The lack of a minor or major third in the chord creates tension which needs resolution.
Sustain – is how long a note rings out before decaying.

Sweeping – same as sweep-picking

Sweep-picking – a technique where the pick is swept through the strings either down or up in a continuous motion ie not alternate picking. Particularly useful for playing arpeggios quickly.

Swing – similar to a shuffle, swing is a rhythm in which the down beat is felt slightly longer than the up beat.

Swing Eighths – these are eighth notes which are played as the first and last notes of a set of triplets.

Syncopation – a musical rhythm in which stress is given to the weak beats instead of the strong beats ie stressing the off-beats.

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T

TAB – see Tablature

Tablature – (also called TAB) is a system of reading and writing music where there are six horizontal lines (indicating the strings of the guitar) and numbers (indicating which frets to play in order to sound the notes).

Tail Piece – The piece of metal located at the far side of the bridge on archtop guitars, banjos and mandolins to anchor the strings.

Tapping – using a hammer-on technique with a finger from the right hand to make the string ring out rather than picking or plucking it.

Tempo  – The speed of a piece of music usually measured in Beats per minute(BPM).

Tenuto – (ten.) hold

Three/four time – A time signature of three quarter beats to one bar of music.

Time signature – A numeric sign (looks a bit like a fraction in maths) at the beginning of a piece of music consisting of two numbers, one above the other. The top number shows how many beats there are in each bar and the bottom number shows how long each beat should last.Therefore 4/4 time indicates that there are four beats in the bar each lasting the duration of a quarter note.Sometimes a large “C” is used instead of the numbers. This is called common time and the sign may be substituted for 4/4 or 2/2/ time.

Tirando – also called a free stroke. This is a finger movement of the right hand used to pick a string. The finger moves through the string and is then lifted slightly to avoid the adjacent string and curls back towards the palm of the hand in a picking movement. This is opposed to a rest stroke, or apoyando, where the finger isn’t lifted but comes to rest on the next string.

Three/four time – a time signature where there are three quarter beats (crotchets) in one bar of music.

Thumb Pick – a pick which wraps around the end of the thumb so doesn’t need to be held between the thumb and forefinger thus freeing up all the fingers for picking.

Tie – a curved line between two notes of the same pitch joined to indicate that the duration of the second note should be added to that of the first and played as one note. For example, two quarter notes tied together should be played as a half-note. It is especially useful if a note needs to ring out past the end of a bar.

Tonic – sometimes referred to as the ‘root note’ is the first note of a scale or the main note of a chord.

Tone – The character of the sound produced by combination of pitch, timbre, volume, and any added effects.

Tone controls – the knob, or knobs, on an electric or electro-acoustic guitar which allow the trebles to be emphasised or mellowed according to taste.

Transcribe– to write in musical notation a piece of music that has not been previously notated in that  form for the guitar. For example, Edgar Cruz has transcribed Bohemian Rhapsody so classical guitar – check it out on YouTube!

Transcription – the musical notation produced by transcribing.

Transpose – to change the key of a piece of music.

Tremolo – can refer to a very fast repetition of notes. Tremolo in classical guitar playing is a technique where several right-hand fingers are used to play the same note in rapid succession eg Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Tarrega. For acoustic guitar, this effect is achieved using a pick with an up/down motion rapidly. Alternatively, it may refer to an electronic effect which varies the amplitude in a pulsating way resulting in rapid rhythmic volume changes – not to be confused with Vibrato!

Triad – is a simple chord with three notes made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the scale.

Trill is a form of musical ornamentation. There is a rapid alternation between one note to another higher or lower note.

Triplet – are a group of 3 notes that are played in the time of two notes. For example, three eighth notes played for the duration of two eighth notes or a quarter note.

Truss rod is a steel bar running through the neck of most acoustic and  electric guitars. It adjusts the amount of bend in the neck. A Classical guitar doesn’t have a truss rod.

Tube – is a device in a type of amplifier which are made of glass containing a vacuum. Tubes (or valves) amplify the input signals to produce sound.

Tuner – A device used to help get the correct pitch when tuning a guitar. Most tuners these days are electronic, but some people still prefer an old-style tuning fork.

Tuning – is the process of adjusting the tuning pegs on a guitar to achieve the correct pitch for a particular string.

Tuning pegs – the devices on the headstock which can be turned to tighten or loosen the strings.

Turnaround – is a sequence of chords that are used at the end of a section to help lead to the start of the next section.

Twelve/eighth time – A time signature of twelve eighth beats (or quavers) in one bar of music.

Twelve Bar Blues – a very common chord progression in blues music over twelve measures.It is based on the first, fourth and fifth chords of a key.

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U

Up stroke – Right hand movement from bottom to top when strumming or using a pick.

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V

Valve – another name for a tube used in amplifiers.

Volume Control – A control on the guitar to adjust the output of the signal for amplification.
Veneer – is a thin layer of wood or plastic sometimes used when making a guitar.

Voicing – an arrangement of the member notes of a chord. The voicing is always given from the lowest note to the highest.

Voice – finger-picked guitar music will usually have a melody line, a bass line and some infill twiddles. Each of these is called a voice. They may appear on the same staff but each voice will conform to the time signature and should be treated separately.

Vibrato  is a left hand technique which produces a quavering sound. The fretting finger is moved slightly several times in succession whilst still pressed down. This makes the pitch fractionally higher and lower producing the vibrato.

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W

Waist – the narrowest part of the guitar body.

Whammy Bar – is a lever on some electric guitars which stretches or relaxes a string. It alters the tension producing a temporary rise or fall in the pitch.

Whole Note – is equivalent to four beats. It is written with a hollow oval note head, with no stems or flags. The British term for a whole note is a semibreve.

Whole Note Rest – a rest equivalent to a whole note in duration.

Woodshedding  – is a slang term for practising.

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X

Y

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Z

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