When it comes to guitar, there are a hundred, if not a thousand, tricks of the trade. These guitar tricks, or guitar techniques, can help stylize your playing. Each little tip should be worked on separately during improvisational passages or in rehearsed lines. After a little while with each tip, they’ll become second nature and your style of playing will improve drastically.
Breathing may sound like a ridiculous thing to regulate on a stringed instrument, but think of it this way: why do musicians aspire to make their instrument “sing”? Is it coincidence that musicians wants to emulate the human voice? I highly doubt it. The human voice is by far the most emotional instrument we possess. Not only can it modulate beautifully, it can produce words that stimulate us intellectually as well.
Breathing is something that gives your instrument a human-like quality. Nonstop notes are cool in a sense, but gorgeous phrasing is beautiful on an entirely different plane. Speaking of phrasing…
Phrasing is a collection of notes that stand alone. The notes, taken collectively, are greater that the sum of their parts. Together they are more than simple musical notes, they are an melody that imparts a reaction on a listener. Phrasing goes hand in hand with breathing, where one phrase ends is where the breath goes. This is a natural way to listen to music. Melodies rarely just hammer one relentlessly except in very intense sections of song.
While breathing and phrasing are general musical concepts, bending is almost exclusive to guitar. A bend is basically when a guitarist stretches (or bends) the string upward (or downward) to raise the pitch of a sounded note. Bends come in many different sizes.
A quarter step bend’s target is off tonality, it sits between the first and second note chromatically (for example: between a Bb and a B) and doesn’t lift a full semitone.
A half step bend’s target is simply the next note chromatically (for example: from a G to a G#) and lifts exactly one semitone.
A full step bend’s target is two half steps about the bent note (for example: from an A to a B) and lifts two semitones.
Bends that are beyond a full step are not uncommon, but require lighter strings and a skilled musician.
Bend’s are extremely common in blues, rock, country, and pop genres of music. Bends are used often in solos and licks because they can blend between notes without distinctly separating. Often times they are used to move into a tension spot or resolve from a tension spot for effect.
Vibrato is another common musical concept that isn’t nearly as exclusive to guitar. Vibrato is the slight modulation in the pitch of a sounded note. Vibrato often sounds a bit “wavy” as the listener hears the pitch vary slightly as the musician rocks the note back and forth.
On guitar, vibrato can be performed like a mini bend, over and over. A small bend, perhaps less than a quarter step bend, would be sufficient to impact a listener. Another common technique is one pioneered by the famous B.B. King. King would often shake his hand around while keeping his finger locked to the string and fret he was playing. This would “push and pull” the string and make it slightly change pitch very quickly.
While some of these techniques are not exclusive to guitar, I hope you can understand just how important they are to master. Let me know if you can this of any other important concepts I might have missed.