Last update 5/11/2023
Our comprehensive glossary of musical terms tailored specifically for guitarists. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, this guide is designed to provide you with a complete understanding of essential musical concepts and techniques relevant to the world of guitar playing. From foundational theory to advanced playing techniques, we’ve compiled an A-to-Z list as a reference source for you.
Musical terms for guitarists
Arpeggio: A sequence of individual notes from a chord, played one after another rather than simultaneously.
Alternate Picking: A technique where the guitarist uses a consistent up-and-down pick motion to strike the strings in a regular rhythm.
Amplifier (Amp): A device used to increase the volume and shape the tone of an electric guitar.
Barre Chord: A chord formed by using one finger to press down multiple strings across the fretboard.
Bend: A technique in which a guitarist pushes or pulls a string to change the pitch while maintaining the note’s original fret position.
Bridge: The part of the guitar where the strings are anchored at the body, transmitting vibrations to the guitar’s body.
Chord: A combination of three or more notes played simultaneously, forming a harmonic unit.
Capo: A device placed on the neck of the guitar to raise the pitch of all the strings, enabling the player to use open chord shapes in different keys.
C Major Scale: A seven-note scale consisting of the intervals: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.
Dynamics: The variation in loudness and intensity of a musical performance.
Drop Tuning: Lowering the pitch of one or more strings to achieve a heavier, deeper sound.
Downstroke: Strumming or picking the strings in a downward motion.
Economy Picking: A technique that combines alternate picking and sweeping, designed to minimize hand movement and increase speed.
Effects Pedal: A device used to modify the sound of a guitar using effects like reverb, delay, distortion, etc.
Endpin: A part on the bottom of an acoustic guitar used to attach a strap.
Fret A metal strip embedded in the guitar neck, dividing the strings into different pitches.
Fingerstyle: A technique where the guitarist uses their fingers to pluck the strings instead of a pick.
Fifth: An interval spanning five diatonic scale degrees.
Guitar Strap: A strap attaches to the guitar’s body, allowing the player to wear it over their shoulder.
Gigbag: A padded bag used for carrying and protecting the guitar.
Guitar Pick: A small, flat object used to strike the strings and create sound.
Hammer-On: A technique where a note is sounded by tapping a finger onto the fretboard without picking.
Harmonic: A bell-like sound created by lightly touching the string at a specific point while simultaneously picking it.
Headstock: The top section of the guitar’s neck, where the tuning pegs are located.
Intonation: The accuracy of the guitar’s pitch across the entire fretboard.
Inlay: Decorative designs or materials set into the fingerboard, often used as position markers.
Improvisation: Creating music on the spot, without prior planning or sheet music.
Jam Session: An informal musical gathering or a band where musicians play together without a predetermined arrangement.
Jazz Chords: Complex chords that often involve extended harmonies and alterations, commonly used in jazz music.
Jazz Guitar: A style of guitar playing characterized by improvisation and the use of jazz harmony.
Key: The main note or chord around which a piece of music revolves.
Knob: A control on the guitar or amplifier used to adjust various parameters, such as volume or tone.
Knotting Technique: A method of securing guitar strings to the bridge or tailpiece.
Lick: A short, distinctive musical phrase often used in improvisation.
Legato: A smooth and connected playing style where notes are played without any distinct breaks.
Loop Pedal: A device that records and plays back a music segment, allowing the guitarist to create layered arrangements.
Metronome: A device that provides a steady beat, helping guitarists maintain proper timing and rhythm.
Modal Scale: A scale with distinctive tonal characteristics used to create specific moods in music.
Mute: To dampen or silence the strings with the palm of the hand or another object.
Natural Harmonics: Harmonics are produced by lightly touching the string over specific frets while picking the string.
Neck: The long, thin part of the guitar that contains the fretboard and the tuning pegs.
Nylon Strings: Softer strings made of nylon or nylon-like materials, commonly used on classical and flamenco guitars.
Octave: An interval spanning eight diatonic scale degrees, often used for harmony and doubling melodies.
Overdrive: A type of distortion that produces a warm, smooth sound, commonly used in rock and blues.
Open Chord: A chord with one or more open strings, usually played near the guitar’s nut.
Palm Muting: A technique where the palm of the picking hand is placed lightly on the strings near the bridge to create a muted, percussive sound.
Phaser: An effect pedal that modulates the audio signal phase and creates a swirling, sweeping sound.
Plectrum: Another term for a guitar pick.
Quadraphonic: A sound system that uses four speakers to create a more immersive audio experience.
Quick Change Capo: A capo that can be easily adjusted or moved on the fretboard without being completely removed.
Quarter Note: A basic rhythmic unit, typically receiving one beat in a musical piece.
Riff: A short, repeated musical phrase, often serving as the foundation of a song.
Rest Stroke: A fingerpicking technique where the finger plucks a string and comes to rest on the adjacent string.
Reverb: An effect that simulates the sound reflections of a room, adding depth and spaciousness to the sound.
Scale: A sequence of musical notes played in ascending or descending order, forming the basis of melodies and solos.
Slide: A technique where the guitarist uses a smooth object (a metal or glass slide) to glide along the strings, creating a unique sound.
Sustain The length of time a note sounds after being struck.
Tremolo: A rapid back-and-forth movement of a note’s pitch, often created using a tremolo bar on an electric guitar.
Tablature (Tabs): A form of notation that shows where to place fingers on the fretboard, indicating which strings and frets to play.
Tapping: A technique where the guitarist uses their fingers to tap the frets to produce notes, often used in virtuosic playing.
Unison: Two or more notes played simultaneously at the same pitch.
Upstroke: Strumming or picking the strings in an upward motion.
Ukulele: A small, four-stringed instrument related to the guitar, commonly used in folk and Hawaiian music.
Vibrato: A technique where the pitch of a note is modulated by rapidly and subtly bending and releasing the string.
Volume Pedal: A pedal used to control the volume
1. Music Theory Dictionary. Method-behind-the-music.com. https://method-behind-the-music.com/theory/dictionary/. Published 2017. Accessed June 2, 2020.