Guitar Rhythm and Techniques For Dummies
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One finger‐style technique you should familiarize yourself with is the practice of slapping the guitar strings to play notes or produce percussive sounds. Slapping can take on many forms and include a variety of techniques, and is especially prevalent in bass‐guitar playing, but the examples here focus only on a few practical applications in guitar playing.

The example below uses your fingers in a bunch formation and breaking up chords into bass notes and remaining chord tones. The muted notes on beats two and four are when the slapping comes into play. At these points, slap your hand onto the strings, holding it down enough to completely cut off the strings. Whether to use an open or closed hand is up to you — try it both ways.

You’ll probably need to learn this example in chunks, stopping to rehearse small sections until you coordinate the movements. When you get it all together, the slaps hit the backbeats (two and four) just like a drummer hits a snare when playing a drum beat, and this percussive example is a knockoff (so to speak) of Extreme’s “More Than Words.”

Playing a slap rhythm knockoff.
Playing a slap rhythm knockoff.

In the example below, you use forward finger rolls. Here you play chord shapes based on E‐form barre chords. Consider wrapping your left‐hand thumb around the neck and using it to fret the root notes on the sixth string a la “Hendrix‐style.” In fact, there’s no other way to play the Gsus2

Each finger roll is followed by a slap and then, as an added percussive element, two muted notes on strings six and four a la guitarist Ben Lacy. These muted notes are played by plucking the strings with your thumb and first finger while your fretting‐hand damps the strings. You may find it best to work this figure out in steps by focusing on the fretted notes first, then adding the slaps, then adding the extra muted notes.

Playing a slap rhythm and using forward finger rolls.
Playing a slap rhythm and using forward finger rolls.

Below is the final slap example and includes a few new features. It’s presented in pieces so that you work your way up to the whole thing step by step. First off, you play a scale riff in the style of “My Girl” by The Temptations. Next you add a slap on beat two. In the third measure, you add a slap on beat four, but that’s not all. The slaps on the backbeats are used to sound pitches, namely G, C, and E from the C chord, and A in the riff.

Using slaps to sound notes introduces new challenges. First, you need to target specific strings more precisely. Second, you need to mute the strings around the notes that you target. In this type of situation, guitarists usually opt to slap with the side of the thumb, much in the same way that bass players do, and use fingers on the fret‐hand to keep idle strings from ringing.

With practice, and by adjusting the angle of your thumb, you can sound groups of notes on multiple strings, and single notes on one string.

When you manage to get a handle on measure three in the following example, you transpose the part to F. From there, you can repeat the C and F measures, much like the song “My Girl” does.

Slapping with your thumb.
Slapping with your thumb.

John Mayer is especially skilled at using slaps and muted notes in his rhythm guitar parts, even going so far as to play thumb slaps and finger flicks simultaneously to sound notes and produce percussive hits at the same time. You hear him do this in his songs “Why Georgia,” “The Heart of Life,” “Stop This Train,” “Who Says,” and even his live version of “Your Body Is a Wonderland” as performed at the 2003 Grammy Awards.

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Desi Serna has built a substantial online platform as an engaging and approachable guitar guru-a guitar player and teacher with more than 10,000 hours of experience providing private guitar lessons and classes. Serna is hailed as a "music-theory expert" by Rolling Stone magazine.

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