Glossary of Guitar and Music Terms

A comprehensive glossary of guitar and music terms commonly used within this site, also includes guitar technical terms and music lingo. Understand and find out the meaning of numerous musical and guitar related terms you might have never heard of.

Action
A word used to describe the distance of the strings off the fretboard, as in "high" or "low" action. The height of the strings above the fret board.
Alternative and open tunings
The result of changing the tuning of one or more strings from standard EADGBE.
Alternate picking
Picking in alternate directions (down-up-down-up).
Alternating bass
A style of playing where the right hand alternates between two or more strings.
Archtop
A type of acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar, with an arched soundboard, often played by jazz guitarists.
Arpeggio
The playing of the tones of a chord separately, rather than simultaneously, usually played evenly low to high and back again.
Arrangement
The setting of an original or standard tune for a given solo instrument or group of instruments
Augmented
The quality of a chord having its intervals as the 1st, 3rd and sharp 5th notes of the major scale.
Bar
A sub division of time in music.
Bar line
A vertical line which shows the end of a bar of music.
Barre chord
From the French term barr√©. A chord which uses the index finger to bar across several strings,  the finger acts as a "bar" across the fingerboard, depressing all six strings and replacing the nut  to act as the nut.  Barre Chords are "moveable shapes" that can be applied up and down the fretboard.
Bass-strum style
A right hand technique which involves picking a bass note then strumming the rest of the chord.
Beam
A horizontal line which shows two eighth or sixteenth notes belonging to the beat shown on the bottom of the time signature.
Beat
A sub division of time usually felt as the pulse within a piece of music.
Bending
    The act of pushing or pulling a string sideways across the a fret to raise the pitch of a note by a half to full tone or more. Used extensively in rock and blues playing as well as in jazz.
Body
The main part of a guitar (not the neck).
Bridge
The part of the guitar where the strings transmit their vibrations to the soundboard. Made of either wood or metal. See anatomy.
Capo
A device which clamps onto the fretboard acting as the nut by means of a string, spring, elastic or nylon band, or a lever and thumbscrew arrangement. The capo can be used to raise the key of a song to suit a vocalist as well as to lower the action and shorten the string length.
Chord
A group of scale notes which are played together, the simplest being the triad consisting ot the 1st, 3rd and 5th of the scale.
Chord chart
A diagram which shows a chord progression.
Chord progression
A sequence of chords played one after another.
Chorus (of a tune)
Strictly speaking, the portion of a song lyric or melody that is repeated, often with other voices joining in. In jazz improvisation, however, "playing a chorus" would mean taking a turn improvising over the tune's chords progression.
Chromatic Scale
Because the chromatic scale has twelve notes and each fret on the guitar moves up one half-step, every note appears on all six strings somewhere before the twelfth fret. In other words, there is an 'E' on every string, an 'A' on every string, a 'Gb' on every string, etc.
Closed voicing
The term "voicing" refers to the vertical arrangement of the notes of a given chord. "Closed voicing" places the member notes as close together as possible, no matter the inversion as opposed to "open voicing" which spreads the member notes of the chord at larger intervals.
Count in
A count at the start of a piece of music to show when to start and how fast to play (usually the top number on the time signature).
Cutaway
A concave area generally in the upper right bout of a normal right-hand guitar that allows the player easier access to the high frets.
Diminished
The quality of a chord having its intervals as the 1st, flat 3rd and flat 5th of the major scale.
Double bar line
Two vertical lines which show the end of a section or piece of music.
Double stop
The playing of two notes simultaneously.
Down stroke
Right hand movement from top to bottom.
dropped-D tuning
The practice of lowering the sixth string (E) by a whole tone, one octave lower than the fourth string.
Eighth beat
A beat half as long in time as a quarter beat.
Electric guitar
A guitar which can be electrically amplified (usually with a solid body).
F-Hole
The F shaped opening in the sound board of some guitars, usually archtops or resonators.
Finger picks
Banjo-style picks that fingerstyle guitarists use when playing steel-string instruments.
Fingerpicking
Playing guitar with the finger tips rather than flat pick. Finger picks can be used, which fit over the ends of the fingers.
Fingerstyle
Playing with the fingernails or fingertips with or without fingerpicks. A right hand technique which involves using some or all your right hand fingers.
Flat
Lower in pitch.
Flatpick
A triangular or teardrop-shaped piece of nylon or plastic used to pluck or strum guitar strings. Flatpicks are available in a large variety of shapes, sizes, and thickness.
Flatwound strings
Steel strings which use flat ribbon winding rather than round wire for the thicker strings. Preferred by jazz guitarists.
footstool
A small adjustable stool used to raise the height of the guitar.
Four/four time
A time signature of four quarter beats in one bar of music.
Fret
The vertical metal bars on a guitar fret board. Also describes the distance between notes on the fretboard.
Fret Marker
Used as reference for fret numbers, commonly on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 17th 19th and 21st fret.
Fretboard
The fretted surface of the neck where you do the playing, sometimes known as the fingerboard.
Fretting
Placing a finger next to a fret.
Guitar tablature
A system of reading and writing guitar music (abbreviated to TAB) for the guitar.
Half beat
A beat twice as long as a quarter beat.
Hammer-on
The creation of a new and higher note by hammering down on an already plucked string on a new fret. Opposite of a pull-off.
Harmonics
Chime-like sounds achieved in two ways: 1) natural harmonics - by touching a string at any equidistant division of the string length (typically 5th, 7th, and 12th fret), directly above the fret with left hand, and striking hard with the right-hand fingers or pick near the bridge where there is more string resistance; or 2) artificial harmonics - touching a string with the index finger of the right hand twelve frets higher than any fretted note and plucking the string with either the thumb or third finger of the right hand.
Harmonize
To bring two or notes together in harmony.
Headstock
The part of a guitar situated on the end of the neck which houses the machine heads or tuning pegs.
Improvisation
The art of inventing music on the fly. This is acheived by knowing the structure of music, hearing it and inventing according to the rules.
Interval
The "distance" between any two notes, usually measured relative to the major scale, as in "thirds" or "fourths", meaning the distance from the tonic to the third or fourth note of the major scale.
Inversion
Structuring a chord with a note other than the root as the lowest note.
Lead guitar
The part played by a guitar soloist in a rock band
Machine heads
Used for tuning up each string and housed on the headstock (sometimes referred to as tuning heads or tuning pegs).
Major
The quality of a chord having its intervals as the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the major scale.
Melody
A succession of musical notes played one after another (usually the most recognizable tune of a song).
Minor
The quality of a chord having its intervals as the 1st, flat 3rd and 5th of the major scale
Mode
Another word for scale. The major scale yields 7 modes, one starting and ending on each note. They have Greek names which I won't confuse you with here.
Modulate
To change keys within a piece of music
Neck
The part of a guitar which houses the fret board.
Nut
The small grooved piece of bone that the strings sit in between the fretboard and the headstock. See anatomy.
Nylon string guitar
An acoustic guitar which has three nylon strings.
Open
A string played with no left hand fingers fretting any note.
Open voicing
A manner of chord construction in which the member notes are broadly separated. See closed voicing above.
PIMA
Letters derived from the Spanish names for the fingers of the right hand: pulgar (thumb), indice (index), medio (middle), and anular (ring). Used to indicate fingering.
Pentatonic scale
A five-tone scale used often in rock.
Pick Guard
A peice of plastic used to protect the guitar's finish from being scratched by the guitar pick.
Picking
Plucking or producing a sound on the guitar in general, either with the fingers or a flatpick. Sometimes refers to playing a single-note melody line.
Pickup Selector
The pickup selector allows the user to regulate the degree to which each pickup's recorded vibration is predominant in the final sound produced. Commonly between the bridge, middle and neck pickups.
Pickups
An electromagnet housed underneath the strings on an electric guitar which produces a signal to be amplified by a guitar amplifier.
Pitch pipe
Old fashion device used for tuning guitars. Works by tuning to the notes created by blowing into its six tubes.
Plectrum
Official word for guitar pick. A small triangular shaped piece of plastic used for striking the guitar strings with the right hand.
Positions
A reference to placement of the left hand index finger at various frets.
Power chord
A chord consisting of the first (root), fifth and eighth degree (octave) of the scale. Power chords are typically used in playing rock music.
Pull-off
The creation of a new note by pulling your finger off an already plucked note to a lower fretted or open note. Opposite of a hammer-on.
Quarter beat
A sub division of time in music twice as long as an eighth beat.
Repeat sign
Two dots placed before a double line indicating the repeat of a section of music.
Resonator
The circular speaker-like device, usually chrome, that fits into the body of some guitars, used to increase volume.
Rhythm
A sequence of events played with the right hand on a guitar which gives a piece of music a distinct beat.
Rhythm guitar
Rhythmic strumming of chord backup for a lead player, singer, or ensemble.
Rhythm notation
A system of reading and writing music which shows rhythm.
Root
Sometimes referred to as 'root note' -- Another word for Tonic, or the first note of a scale.
Saddle
The upright blade which sits in the bridge, often made of plastic, metal or bone, where the strings sit.
Scale
A series of intervals, usually spanning an octave. Scales are more often viewed as a series of notes (generated by the intervals)
Setup
The adjustment of the action of a guitar for optimal playing characteristics.
Sharp
Higher in pitch.
Slash chord
A chord such as G/B, meaning a G chord with a B bass note.
Slide (technique)
The technique of sliding notes or chord shapes up or down the fretboard.
Slide
A plastic or glass tube placed over the third or fourth finger of the left hand and used to play "slide" or glissando effects in rock and blues and other forms of traditional music.
Sound board
The front surface of acoustic guitars. This is where the sound from the strings is amplified via the bridge.
Sound hole
The hole in the front of an acoustic guitar body from which the sound is projected. 
Standard tuning
The standard or widely accepted guitar tuning of (E-A-D-G-B-E) low to high.
Strap Pin
Two Metal Pins placed on different ends of a guitar body used to hold a guitar strap.
String winder
A swivel device with a handle with a fixture that fits over the tuning keys.
Strumming
Performed with a pick or the fingers. Generally consists of brushing across 2-6 strings in a rhythmic up and down fashion appropriate to the tune being played.
Sus4
A chord consisting of the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the major scale. The (4) in effect replaces the (3). This chord demands resolution.
Tablature
A pictorial system of notation for music, showing strings and fret positions. Used for guitar, bass, and other stringed intruments.
Tail piece
The metal device usually used on archtop guitars to anchor the strings beyond the bridge.
Thumb pick
A plastic pick which fits around the thumb and projects a blade out to act as a pick.
Tonic
The tonic; the first note of a scale; the main note of a chord, the note the chord is named after. Also known as "the root".
Transcription
To write a solo or chord progression, note for note, off of a recording.
Transpose
To change the key of a piece of music by a specific interval.
Tremolo
A technique performed with either a very rapid down-up movement of the pick or a PAMI plucking of the fingers.
Tremolo bar
A tremolo arm, tremolo bar, or whammy bar is a lever attached to the bridge or the tailpiece of an electric guitar to enable the player to quickly vary the tension and the length of the strings temporarily, changing the pitch to create a vibrato, portamento or pitch bend effect.
Triad
The simplest, smallest chord there is, consisting of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the scale.
Truss rod
A steel rod which fits inside the neck of some guitars. Its tension can be adjusted to straighten the neck.
Tuner
An electronic device used to tune guitars.
Tuning pegs
The geared devices on the headstock used to tighten or loosen the strings. See anatomy.
Vibrato
To vibrate by slightly altering a pitch higher and lower.
Voicing
The arrangement of the member notes of a chord, or placement of the melody or bass line within a harmonic progression.

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