Music Terms Jargon Words Guitarists Guitar Definitions

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Some of the most common and not so guitar and music terms, definitions and jargon arranged alphabetically. 

This explanation guide has info from beginner to intermidiate guitarists in the quest for more musical understanding or guitar.

I have included parts of guitars, accessories, notation terms and other music and instrument related words.

Here is my comprehensive list that I have accumulated over time.

3/4-Size Guitar - A smaller than normal guitar with shorter strings and less space between frets.

Action – Height of the strings above the frets and fretboard as in "high" or "low" action.

Acoustic Guitar - Not enhanced electronically and typically with a hollow body..
Alternating Bass -A style of playing where the right hand alternates between two or more strings.

Altered / Open Tunings - Changing the tuning of one or more strings from standard tuning of EADGBE.

Alternate Picking  - Picking in an up and down motion.

Amp or Amplifier - A device for amplifying the signal of a guitar’s pickup.

Two Main Types

Tube or Valve use vacuum-tubes as part of their electronics, and so have a unique reaction to the sound signal.

Solid State have no valves and usually use printed circuit boards.

Archtop - A type of acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar, with an arched soundboard, often played by jazz guitarists.

Arpeggio - A chord broken down and played evenly one note at a time. Usually low to high and back again so is to play the notes of a chord individually rather than together as a chord.

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 or Bar Chord - A barre chord takes its name from the role of the he left hand index finger. This finger acts as a "bar" over two to six strings and replacing the nut (the ivory piece at the top of the neck). By using your first finger as a "bar," which can move freely to any fret.

Bass Guitar – A 4 stringed guitar which produces a low deep tone.  Usually used in a rhythm section and amplified. 

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  - 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.

Binding - The trim that runs along the top and sometimes back of a guitar. It can be made of plastic or wood, and can be multiple layers, giving a dressy look, especially to acoustic guitars. It also protects the edge of the guitar from damage from minor hits.

Body - The central part of a guitar (not the neck).
On an acoustic guitar, a body is made of a top, a back, and sides, while on an electric guitar the body is usually one or more pieces of solid wood. A hybrid design called a semi-solid guitar has a block of wood running through a hollow body, so the guitar gets some of the best tone characteristics of both solid and hollow construction.

Bridge - The part of the guitar where the strings transmit their vibrations to the soundboard. Made of either wood or metal.

Capo -A capo is a mechanical device with a spring, elastic or nylon band, or a lever and thumbscrew arrangement that places a barre on the  neck of a guitar by means of a string, . 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 three or more notes played simultaneously.

Chord Chart - A diagram which shows a chord progression.

Chord Progression - A sequence of chords played one after another.

Chorus - 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.

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.

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.

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).

Dead String Length - The length of string that is past the nut and behind the saddle.

Diatonic - Any octave divided into a seven-note scale (consisting of various combinations of whole tones and semitones).

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.

Dropped-D Tuning – Lowering the tuning of the sixth string (e) by a whole tone, one octave lower than the fourth string.

Down Stroke  -Right hand movement from top to bottom.

Eighth Beat - A beat half as long in time as a quarter beat.

Effects Pedal  - Changes the sound of the guitar according to the effect the pedal has been programmed with.

Effects Processor - Similar to effects pedal but can do multiple effects.

Electric guitar - A guitar which can be electrically amplified (usually with a solid body).

Finger Picks – Picks that fit over your fingers used mainly by banjo players  and guitarists playing steel-string instruments.

Fingerstyle / Fingerpicking -A right hand picking method utilizing your fingers or fingernails which involves using some or all your right hand fingers instead of a traditional flat pick.

Flat - Lower the pitch.

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 -four quarter beats in one bar of music.

Fretboard - The front side of a guitar neck which contains the frets.

Fret Marker - Guides  on the fret board so it is easier to find finger placements. They usually come in the form of marble-like circles and are found on the frets 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 19, 21 etc.

Frets - vertical metal bars on a guitar fret board.

Fretting - Placing a finger next to a fret.

F-Hole - The F shaped opening in the sound board of some guitars, usually archtops or resonators.

Half Beat - A beat twice as long as a quarter beat.

Hammer-On  - A note sounded literally by "hammering" down with a left hand finger, often performed in conjunction with a note first plucked by the right hand on the same string.

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

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.

Harmony -Two or more notes sounding at the same time.

Head / Headstock / Pegstock  - Part of a guitar situated on the end of the neck which houses the machine tuning heads. Sometimes referred to as the top.

Improvisation – Making up your own music as you go by knowing the structure of music, hearing it and inventing according to the rules. 

Interval -The distance between 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.

Key - A musical work that is centered around a certain scale or tone is said to have a key.

Lead Guitar - The part played by a guitar soloist in a rock band.

Legato Slide - A slow slide.

Lock Nut – A locking device placed over the bridge to keep the guitar in tune.  Most common on guitars with Tremolo / Whammy Bars.

Machine Heads / Tuning Heads / Tuning Keys  - Used for tuning up each string and housed on the headstock.

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 part of a song).

Minor - The quality of a chord having its intervals as the 1st, flat 3rd and 5th of the major scale.

Mode – same as scale.

Modulate (mod) - 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’ / plastic  that the strings sit in between the fretboard and the headstock.

Nylon String Guitar - An acoustic guitar which has three nylon strings.

Octave -  An interval eight diatonic scale degrees above a given tone.

Open (chord/note) - A string played with no left hand fingers fretting.

Open Voicing - A manner of chord construction in which the member notes are broadly separated. See closed voicing above.

Output Jack – Small opening in the body of a guitar with a diameter of ¼ where a guitar cord can be plugged in to  take the signal to an amplifier.

Pentatonic Scale - A five-tone scale used often in rock.

Pick (Flatpick) – Used to strum the guitar strings, usually triangular or oval in shape made of nylon or plastic.  They are available in a large variety of shapes, sizes, and thickness.

Picked/Picking / Plucked / Plucking  - Refers to making a sound on the guitar with a pick or finger respectively. Sometimes refers to playing a single-note melody line.

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.

Pickups - A magnet/coil pair that generates a signal under the vibrating strings on an electric guitar which produces a signal to be amplified by a guitar amplifier.

Pickup Switch - A switch located on the body of the guitar used to select different pickups for different tones and sounds.

Piezo Transducer - On many acoustic guitars and some electrics, a type of pressure-sensitive pickup called a piezoelectric transducer is built into the bridge.

P I M A  Letters from the Spanish names for the fingers of the plucking hand: pulgar (thumb), indice (index), medio (middle), and anular (ring). Used in some notation to indicate fingering.

Pitch Pipe – Old fashioned device for tuning guitars by tuning to the notes created by blowing into its six tubes.

Plectrum / Pick / Flatpick - A small triangular shaped piece of plastic used for striking the guitar strings with the right hand.

Pull-Off - The opposite of a hammer-on. The creation of a new note by pulling your finger off an already ringing note to a lower fretted or open note.

Position  - 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. Typically used in playing rock music.

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.

Resonators – 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, usually bone, ivory or plastic, where the strings sit so they can create tone.

Scale - A series of notes in an interval usually spanning an octave.

Slash chord – Chord such as G/B, meaning a G chord with a B bass note.

Selector - When an electric guitar has more than one pickup, there's usually a switch, called a selector.

Setup - Adjusting of the action of a guitar for optimal playing.
Sharp - Higher in pitch.

Shuffle - A rhythm of which each main beat is divided into three smaller beats (prominent in blues music).

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 mainly in rock and blues.

Sound Board - The front surface of acoustic guitars. This is where the sound from the strings is amplified via the bridge.

Sound hole – The round hole in the front of an acoustic guitar body from which the sound is projected.  

Standard Tuning - A guitar is generally tuned eadgbe low to high.

Steel String Guitar  - An acoustic guitar which has all steel strings (usually four wound and two plain ones).

Stem - The vertical line in music or rhythm notation which appears above or below a note or rhythm.

Strings – the strings are often referred to as numbered or lettered. The 6th string = Low E string, 5th String = B String, 4th String = G String, 3rd String=D String, 2nd String = A String, 1st String = Low E String. The two E strings are 2 Octaves apart.

String Winder – A swivel device with a handle with a fixture that fits over the tuning keys to make stringing easier.

Strap - Used to hold the guitar while in standing position.

Strap buttons - Pieces of metal or hard wood, placed on guitars at two points so that you can attach a strap.

Strumming - A technique where the right hand plays the noted of a chord simultaneously either with down or up strokes over 2 or more stings.  Usually performed with a pick or fingers.

Swing - A rhythm in music in which the down beat is felt slightly longer than the up beat (sometimes called a shuffle).

Tablature Or Tab – A method of reading and writing music in which the notes are easily seen as the notation represents the fret and string to be played.  Just like looking at a picture.

Tail Piece - The metal device usually used on archtop guitars to anchor the strings beyond the bridge, this is the end of the line for strings on the body.

Tap - Term meaning to keep one finger at the fret specified before the tap, then with the strumming hand, slam a finger down on the fret specified under the tap. Then quickly remove the strumming hand's finger from the fretboard so the note after the tap sounds.

Tempo  - The speed of a piece of music.

Three/four time - A time signature of three quarter beats in one bar of music.

Three quarter beat - A beat which is one and a half times as long as a half beat.

Thumb Pick - A plastic pick which fits around the thumb and projects a blade out to act as a pick.

Tie - A curved line which shows two notes of the same pitch joined together and played as one with the time value of both.

Time signature - A sign at the beginning of a piece of music (looks like a fraction) which shows how many beats in each bar (top number) and how long each beat lasts (bottom number).

Tone controls - Let you bring up the brightness or take off the edge.

Tonic - The first note of a scale; the main note of a chord, the note the chord is named after. aka the root.

Top / Head - An acoustic guitar's top is important to its tone and durability.

Transcription / Transcribe - To write a solo, 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 plucking of the fingers.

Triad - A three-note chord, consisting of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the scale.

Trill – When a notes is quickly stretched up and down rapidly.

Truss rod - A curved steel bar implanted into the neck of most guitars and used to adjust the amount and direction of bend in the neck or straighten.

Tuner - An electronic device to assist with pitch tuning of a guitar.

Tuning pegs - The geared devices on the headstock used to tighten or loosen the strings.

Twelve/eighth time  - A time signature of twelve eighth beats in one bar of music.

Up stroke - Right hand movement from bottom to top.

Vibrato -To vibrate by slightly altering a pitch higher and lower.

Voicing - Arrangement of the member notes of a chord, or placement of the melody or bass line within a harmonic progression.

Volume Control – A control on the guitar to adjust sound levels.
Waist - Part of the body of a guitar which is smallest in dimension from top to bottom.

Whole beat - A beat in music which lasts for a whole bar in music with a time signature of four/four.

Woodshedding  - Originally coined by Robert Johnson, at first this referred to him going to his wood shed to practice guitar, but it has now come to mean practicing in general.

If I omitted anything major or minor (no pun intended) please let me know and I can update.

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