Choosing a Guitar Playing Style


There is a certain point that almost every young aspiring guitarist reaches after getting past the initial introduction period. So you figured out how to hold the axe properly, you know how to tune it right, now it comes down to a much more of a complicated question – choosing a guitar playing style that suits you the best.

What we most definitely can’t tell you is which guitar playing style is the right one for you, simply because the answer lies within you. We can however give you a few basic guidelines and introduce you to a few styles in detail and help you get that answer yourself. The guitar playing style we will be covering are as follows:

  • Fingerstyle guitar playing
  • Rhythm guitar playing
  • Lead guitar playing
  • Slide guitar playing

Fingerstyle guitar playing

It’s the old-school way. As one of the oldest guitar playing techniques, fingerstyle has been around as long as the guitar itself, and even longer for that matter. As the name itself implies, the fingerstyle technique is based on the player using his fingers to pluck the strings and produce notes, rather than using the pick to strum the strings. Essentially, the right hand (the one used for plucking, could also be left) is the one that makes all the difference and differentiates the fingerstlyle from the picking techniques. Apart from the fingertips, the player can also use fingernails or a set of specially designed picks attached to his fingers.

So if you are a classical guitar player, this is most certainly the right style for you. But it’s not the classical guitar that can incorporate the fingerstyle, not by a long shot. Just take Mark Knopfler as an example. The legendary, highly influential Dire Straits axeman implemented the fingerstyle in his music with both Dire Straits and in his solo career, resulting in a distinctive, completely unique sound and vibe. Hit numbers such as “Sultans of Swing,” “Brothers in Arms” or “Money for Nothing” are enough to speak for themselves.

Rhythm guitar playing

Rhythm guitar style is one of the numerous guitar playing styles with a major focus on the rhythmical aspects of playing, as well as the chords and their structure. So essentially, rhythm guitar playing consists of the player grabbing chords or riff positions with his left hand (the one placed on the neck, could also be right) and strumming the strings with his right hand (the one placed on the body near the pickups, could also be left).

Rhythm guitar playing is too often overlooked by guitar players, as many tend to focus on lead (or solo) guitar playing, often ending up with both poor rhythm technique and weak soloing skills. The thing is, the player needs to get a hold of the rhythmical aspect of guitar playing as well in order to be a good soloist, which is something guitarists often forget, or never know in the first place. Apart from that, getting the chord positions the right way with your left hand also tends to build up your skill, so don’t miss out.

Lead guitar playing

We have officially reached the flashy stuff. The playing aspect that gets the guitar music fans standing on awe and girls hysterically screaming – the solo guitar playing. The lead guitar technique is used for more of a melodic sonic expression; such expression is accomplished by playing a string of melodic lines summed up in a unique, cohesive whole, usually based on one or several scales. Numerous genres, such as blues, rock, jazz or country, have their own distinctive scales the players prefer using in order to express the genre’s general emotion combined with their own signature stamp.

The lead guitar playing is often the most demanding style, as it leaves absolutely no room for mistakes and is technically the most demanding way of playing. It is also the most rewarding one, as it seems that there is nothing the fans appreciate more than an extraordinary guitar solo that will sweep them off their feet with flashy tricks and nifty fills. But as we already said, don’t try to take on the advanced soloing stuff before covering the basics such as the rhythm guitar playing, tone recognition (or hearing) skills and at least a decent picking technique. Of course, your right hand should also be up for the task.

Slide guitar playing

Finally, we’ve got a special treat for all the blueswailers. The slide guitar technique is a special guitar playing skill mostly focused on the blues style, but successfully implemented in several other guitar genres, such as rock and country. The technique consists of the player using a slide that he places upon the strings as he strums the strings with his other hand. The style’s names comes from the slide motion the player is using while playing the guitar.

Just like the rhythm and lead guitar playing techniques, slide guitar can implement numerous styles as far as the string picking is considered. The player can use the pick or strum the strings with his fingers, whether it’s with fingertips, fingernails or with special picks attached to his fingers. The options are limitless, but it pretty much goes without saying that constant practice is a must regardless of the chosen style. Of course, the practice techniques also vary depending on the style you decide to choose.

So in a nutshell, that about wraps up the essential guitar styles. Once you have the basics covered, you are likely to stumble upon numerous other techniques based on some of the given styles. You can never truly master a guitar, so always strive  for more and stay open-minded and hungry for more of that six-string knowledge. Most players usually opt for the pick approach and then start figuring out the chords and the basics of rhythm guitar playing, and that’s probably a good choice for you too, so you might as well kick off your musical journey that way. Simply understand the guitar, stay true to yourself and the progress is bound to come along.

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Marko Jovanovic

Marko is a freelance music journalist from Serbia. As a tech savvy individual and a regular news and feature article writer, he contributes on a wide array of musical topics with at least a pinch of rock 'n' roll always present in his work.

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