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Know The Many Guitar Playing Styles

Getting to Know The Many Guitar Playing Styles

There exists a multitude of guitar playing styles, the instrument being one of the most versatile ones out there. The six-stringed marvel has transcended genres and generations to become an iconic symbol of musical expression.

From the intricate acoustic fingerstyle patterns of classical compositions to the searing electric guitar solos of rock ‘n’ roll, the instrument’s versatility knows no bounds. We’ll delve into fingerstyle virtuosity, the electrifying world of lead guitar, the rhythmic groove of strumming, and more!

Guitar Playing Styles by Technique

Rhythm guitar

The rhythm guitar creates the canvas to be painted on with melodies. Rhythm guitar parts involve strumming open, bar, and power chords in a multitude of rhythmic patterns, whichever suits the song’s meter. Strumming is typically done using picks, but many also prefer using their fingernails. Rhythm guitar can be played on both an acoustic and an electric.

Genres you’ll find it in

Pop, rock, country, blues, jazz, and even heavy metal songs.

Flatpicking

Flatpicking is a guitar technique where a flat pick is used to strike individual notes, creating a crisp, clear sound. it emphasizes precision, speed, and rhythmic patterns. Flatpickers employ cross-picking and alternate picking to craft intricate melodies and lively solos on acoustic guitars.

Genres you’ll find it in

Bluegrass and folk music.

Fingerstyle Accompaniment

Arpeggiating through chords using the thumb for the bass strings (6th, 5th, and 4th) and the index, middle, and annular for the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings respectively is the essence of fingerstyle accompaniment.

This technique enables guitarists to play combinations of multiple strings that aren’t possible with a pick. Fingerpicking is also more efficient than arpeggiating with a pick so higher speed can be achieved.

Genres you’ll find it in

Pop, classic rock, classical, folk, progressive rock, etc.

acoustic guitar playing styles

Solo Fingerstyle

The right-hand fingers are assigned for strings in this style the same way as Fingerstyle accompaniment, but a solo fingerstyle also incorporates melodies in their playing alongside the arpeggios.

The style is quite complex, and players in this style tend to be one-man armies – backing harmony and lead melody all in one guitar.

Genres you’ll find it in

Classical music, big time. Also flamenco music.

Riff Guitar

Riff guitar is all about power chords, dyads, blazing motifs, and palm muting. Riffs are typically played on the bottom three strings, incorporating jarring rhythms and sleek grooves with fast chord switches, memorable progressions, and connections melodies. Heavy distortion effects are often applied, but clean tones are used for riffing in certain genres too. Riffs are pretty much the soul of the heavier side of music.

Genres you’ll find it in

Most subgenres of rock and metal.

Lead Guitar

From soulful, emotional melodies to awe-inspiring, blazing-fast solos – lead guitarists do it all. Lead guitarists build on the harmonies set by the rhythm or riff guitarist and paint the soundscape in their own color. Scale runs, arpeggios, harmonics, bends, slides, tapping, muting. The list of techniques goes on and on. 

Lead guitarists employ these various techniques and many effects like distortion, reverb, delay, etc. to develop their distinctive musical styles of crafting melodies for songs.

Genres you’ll find it in

Blues, jazz, fusion, pop, and dozens of rock and metal subgenres. 

different styles of guitar playing

Percussive guitar

Percussion guitarists use the guitar’s body to produce bass and snare beats and incorporate them into their strumming or fingerpicked melodies (often, it’s a combination of all of them). Muted strummings are also utilized quite a bit in this style. 

These types of guitarists often perform alone, some amazing contemporary ones being Marcin and Ernesto Shnack.

Genres you’ll find it in

Flamenco music

Slide Guitar

Slide guitar is a soulful and evocative technique that transforms the guitar into a vessel of raw emotion. A slide, typically a glass or metal tube, is placed over the strings, allowing the guitarist to glide along the fretboard, producing smooth, haunting tones.

The slide guitar offers the smoothest form of legato melodies; an art of microtonal subtlety and expressive wails, exemplified by legendary players like Robert Johnson and Duane Allman.

Genres you’ll find it in

Blues, country, psychedelic rock.

types of guitar playing

Modern Guitar

This style features a lot of unconventional playing styles like two-handed tapping, hybrid picking, slapping, and thumping. Many experiments are also done with guitar tones using FX pedals to achieve tones ranging from vintage to futuristic. Angular melodies and odd-time signatures are common in this style of guitar playing.

Genres you’ll find it in

Progressive rock and metal, avant-garde music.

Guitar Playing Styles by Genre

Blues Guitar

Blues guitar is the embodiment of raw, soul-stirring musical expression. Rooted in African-American history, this genre channels emotions like no other. It’s characterized by its distinctive 12-bar chord progressions, bent notes, and that unmistakable feeling called “the blues.” Blues guitarists convey heartache, resilience, and jubilation through their strings, often improvising with a deeply personal touch. The genre’s influence reverberates through rock, jazz, and countless musical forms.

Techniques involved

Bending, slides, legato, pentatonic scale runs, etc.

types of guitar playing

Classical Guitar

Classical guitar is a discipline steeped in tradition and grace, where intricate fingerpicking techniques weave rich tapestries of melody and harmony. This style, rooted in centuries-old compositions, showcases the guitar’s intimate voice. Classical pieces, often written for the piano, are adapted to the guitar by making use of the fact fingerpicking enables one to play multiple notes together. Parallel melodies are common in this style.

Techniques involved

Fingerpicking, legatos, tremolos, intricate arpeggios, and lyrical phrasing.

Check out classical guitar knee rests.

Jazz Guitar

Jazz guitar is a genre where innovation and tradition converge, resulting in captivating, soul-stirring music that continues to evolve and captivate listeners with its improvisational spirit and timeless allure. Defined by its sultry chords, extended arpeggios, and improvised solos, jazz guitarists paint vivid musical landscapes.

Jazz guitarists take pride in breaking rules, always coming up with unconventional harmonies, structures, and melodies that push the boundaries of listeners’ musical knowledge.

Techniques involved

Complex extended chord progressions, modal scales, a whole lot of chromaticism, muting, and legato phrasing.

Rock Guitar

Rock guitar, an electrifying force, is the beating heart of rebellious anthems and timeless classics. Distorted power chords, fiery solos, and pulsating rhythms define its sonic landscape. From the pioneering riffs of Chuck Berry to the virtuosic fretwork of Jimi Hendrix and the arena-filling hooks of Slash, rock guitarists channel raw energy through six strings. 

Techniques involved

Power chords, shell chords, palm muting, legatos, bending, pinch harmonics, etc.

Rock Guitar

Funk and R&B Guitar

Funk and R&B guitar grooves are the backbone of infectious rhythms and soulful melodies. These genres are defined by tight, rhythmic playing, characterized by clean, percussive strumming, and crisp, well-placed staccato notes. Wah-wah pedals and fingerstyle plucking adds distinctive textures, elevating the music’s funkiness and emotional depth.

Techniques involved

Muting, slapping, staccatos, syncopation.

Funk and R&B Guitar

Metal Guitar

The metal guitar is a realm of sonic extremity, where aggressive distortion, lightning-fast riffs, and relentless shredding define the genre’s intensity. Drop tunings and menacing guitar tones deliver chugging rhythms, groovy breakdowns, and searing solos.

Metal guitarists are architects of sonic mayhem, forging a genre celebrated for its raw power, virtuosity, and unapologetic sonic assault.

Techniques involved

Palm muting, tremolo picking, sweep picking, pinch harmonics, pick scrapes, and modal runs.

Metal guitarists

Flamenco Guitar

Flamenco guitar embodies the soul of Spain, a passionate and rhythmic dance of strings and emotion. Rooted in Andalusian culture, it showcases melodic flourishes that evoke the spirit of the Gypsy. The haunting Phrygian scale and hypnotic tremolo create a visceral connection to the music’s deep emotions.

Maestros like Paco de Lucía and Vicente Amigo have elevated this genre, making it an enchanting journey through fiery rhythms, delicate melodies, and the expressive heart of Spanish tradition.


Techniques involved

Rumba, Rasgueado, Piccado, Golpe, Tremolo.

Flamenco Guitar

Progressive/Avant-Garde Guitar

Progressive and avant-garde guitars push the boundaries of musical experimentation and complexity. Guitarists in these genres employ unconventional scales, dissonant chords, and intricate time signatures to create mind-bending sonic landscapes.

They explore unconventional techniques, including extended-range guitars and electronic effects, forging aural journeys that challenge conventional notions of melody, rhythm, and structure.

Techniques involved

Modulation, Borrowed chords, Two-handed tapping, Hybrid picking, Slapping and thumping, Natural and Artificial Harmonics etc.

types of guitar playing

Which should you learn to play?

Simple. Whichever genre you like. No style is superior to another, and whichever you like, you go right into it. And if you’re aiming to become a virtuoso, you can only find out which style suits you by trying out the techniques and how they synergize with your traits. Eventually, you’ll get a hang of every style of playing with practice. It will increase your imagination to try out new things. 

Of course, you don’t have to pick a single one from the guitar-playing styles out there either; everything is fair game, as long as you have the dedication to learn and practice. 

FAQs

Sabih Safwat

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