An Introduction To Percussive Guitar
Playing percussion on the guitar is nothing new…its probably been done since the instrument existed.
But in recent years percussive guitar has really developed into its own, with players playing intricate rhythms while weaving in melodies and chords.
And thanks to YouTube and the wonders of technology, it has become more popular than ever.
It certainly looks impressive, but the actual percussive element isn’t all that difficult… it’s combining all the parts where it gets tricky!
But let’s start by looking at the basics.
The first thing to keep in mind is that each guitar is unique. The way it is built, the wood it was made with, even the finish has a huge effect on how it will sound as a percussive instrument. So finding the spots with the best sound can vary quite a bit from one guitar to the other.
While there are certain areas of the guitar that tend to work best, you should experiment with your own guitar and try to find the best possible sounds.
The other thing to keep in mind, is that you really don’t have to hit the guitar very hard… It should be a firm, solid hit, but don’t bash the guitar down either! Most of the guys you see on YouTube have some type of pickup/amplification system which adds volume to their sound, and picks up many nunaces you wouldn’t normally hear, unless you had your ear right next to the guitar.
Let’s look at some specific sounds and where on the guitar you can find them.
Generally, the best spot for a good kick sound is behind the bridge, on the lower part of the guitar. Hit around that area with the heel of your hand until you got a nice full thump.
The only problem with this spot is that it’s quite far from the strings, which means you need to do a lot of moving around if you want to play something else with your right hand. So it’s good to find some alternatives.
Another good spot is above the strings, close to the soundhole. It usually doesn’t sound as nice and full as the first option, but it’s a lot more convenient for switching between picking/strumming and percussive work.
Keep in mind that acoustic guitars usually don’t have that much support in this area, so don’t go too crazy!
And, finally, you can also try right above/behind the bridge. This is a personal favorite of mine because it allows me to the thump the low E-string with my thumb, which creates a very cool sound. I use this effect alot, most prominently in my song “Omega Point.”
I’ve found kick sounds to be relatively consistent between guitars, but snare sounds can vary a LOT. What sounds loud and snappy on one guitar, sounds weak and anemic on the next. So this is one area where you really have to experiment with your own guitar and see what works best.
That being said here are my usual go-to spots:
Generally, the best spot is along the edge of the guitar, underneath the strap pin. Slap it with your open hand and you should get a nice whack. This one has the added benefit of being close to the first kick sound we talked about. So if your left hand is only playing persussion, this is usually your best option.
Another possibility is to tap the side of the guitar above the soundhole with your thumb. Try to hit it with the side of your knuckle to get a nice attack. This sound is a bit more hollow, but still useful and closer to the strings.
Another device which I’ve been using a lot lately is using the strings themselves. Slap the lower strings with your thumb so that the strings themselves slap the fretboard. It produces a really bright sound with a fast attack, which I like a lot. Check out my song “Jackson” to hear it in action.
Toms, Cymbals, etc…
Beyond that, anything goes really. You can hit, tap or scrape any part of the guitar to get different sounds for your drumming. Do whatever works for you.
One device I like to use to emulate a crash cymbal, is to play slap harmonics…but this only really works if you’re using open tunings. You want the resulting chord to be in the key of the song!
So take these sounds and mess around with them. Try to play some basic drumbeats and find different ways of playing them. Next time we’ll get into playing some actual grooves and incorporating some melody into them.
Let me know how it goes, and if you any questions, let me know in the comments!