How To Easily Play Acoustic Percussive Guitar

By Simon Candy


 

Not so long ago, I could have begun this article telling you about a hidden secret of the acoustic guitar. That secret being that you could not only play the acoustic guitar melodically, that is chords and notes, but you could also play it percussively too, creating beats and grooves by hitting various parts of the body of the guitar.

Nowadays this is more of a common approach for a guitarist to play their acoustic. However, as common as playing your guitar percussively may be becoming, it doesn’t diminish the awesomeness of playing your acoustic this way! To be able to provide a groove or beat by hitting various parts of the body of the guitar, while also playing the instrument melodically is something to behold. It will absolutely wow your audience.

You’ve probably seen someone playing a guitar in this way I am describing to you and thought, yeah, sounds amazing, but it looks incredibly hard to do too.

In a lot of cases, yes, you are right, percussive guitar is a challenging technique to integrate into your playing. However, in todays article I am going to show you some simple percussive guitar techniques you can get into your playing right away.

We are then going to take these techniques and combine them together to create some cool sounding beats and grooves as well as integrate them into a chord progression, of which you will play both the percussive part as well as the chords, all at the same time!

Your friends and family won’t believe what they are hearing coming from your guitar with just a few simple percussive techniques.

So let’s get to it!


Percussive Guitar Techniques For Your Playing 

To begin, we need to look at each percussive guitar approach we will be covering today, in isolation. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of doing this. You can’t be expected to have a groove or beat going that is made up of several percussive elements, as well as playing a chord progression of some sort on your guitar, all at once, without breaking things down first.

So let’s start by doing exactly that.


Muted Slap (M.S.)

Percussive Guitar Muted SlapThis first percussive technique, known as a muted slap, is actually going to be achieved by slapping your strings, rather than the body of your acoustic guitar. You do this by simply using the side of your picking hand thumb to slap the lower strings of your guitar (indicated with an “x” in the tablature.)


Percussive Guitar Technique 1


Even though the “x” only appears on the lower string in the tab, you will end up hitting several strings. This is fine and what should happen.

Listen carefully to the example above so you know the sound you are after. Also check the picture for reference.

Things to keep in mind when executing this technique:

• A relaxed hand, wrist, and arm

• The movement is generated by a flick of your wrist, so make sure you aren’t trying to hammer down on the strings generating the movement from your elbow only


Bass Drum Hit With Thumb (B.T.)

Percussive Guitar Bass Drum 1We are going to be looking at two kinds of bass drum hits. The first is sounded once again by using the thumb of your picking hand. In fact it is the same exact motion explained for the muted slap above, only here you are slapping the lower area of the soundboard on the front of your guitar.

This percussive technique is notated in the first space of the musical stave and referenced with B.T. (bass drum hit with the thumb)

 

Percussive Guitar Technique 2



Be sure to check the picture for reference.

Things to keep in mind when executing this technique:

• A relaxed hand, wrist, and arm

• Flicking your wrist to generate the movement as you did with the muted slap


Bass Drum Hit With Heel Of Hand (B.H.)

Percussive Guitar Bass Drum 2The second of the bass drum hits will involve the heel of your picking hand hitting the lower area of the soundboard of your guitar. This will create more of a “thud” type sound compared to the bass drum hit with your thumb.

This percussive technique is also notated in the first space of the musical stave, like the first one, but referenced with B.H. (bass drum hit with heel of your hand)

 

Percussive Guitar Technique 3


 


Things to keep in mind when executing this technique:

• Connecting the heel of your hand with the body of your guitar

• Not damaging your guitar by hitting it too hard


Snare Hit (S)

Percussive Guitar SnareFor a great snare/rim shot sound, tap/rap your fingers on the side of the body of your guitar. It’s best to use two fingers when doing this. Personally I like to use my ring and pinky fingers, but you might like to use a different combination.

This percussive technique is notated in the third space of the musical stave and referenced with “S” (snare)

 

Percussive Guitar Technique 4



Be sure to listen to the example above as well as check the picture for reference. You will hear that you are after a higher end popping sound, much like a snare or rimshot sound.

Things to keep in mind when executing this technique:

• As always a nice and relaxed hand, wrist, and arm

• Aim to connect with the base of the two fingers you are using to rap/tap the side of the body of your guitar, rather than higher up the fingers. This will give you the high end popping sound you are after

• Again, this technique is generated by a flick of the wrist


Fret hand Hit (F.H.) 

Percussive Guitar Fret Hand HitAnother snare type sound can be achieved by using your fretting hand to tap the side of your guitar just below the neck. You may also tap the front of the guitar just below the fretboard instead, if you prefer.

This percussive technique is also notated in the third space of the musical stave and referenced with “F.H.” (fret hand snare hit)

 

Percussive Guitar Technique 5



Again listen to the example above as well as checking the relevant picture for reference.

Things to keep in mind when executing this technique:

• Dare I say, a relaxed hand, wrist, and arm :)

• Getting your fretting hand out in front of the guitar, no thumb behind the neck, executing the technique, and then getting your hand back in position ready to continue playing


Combining Percussive Techniques To Create Beats And Grooves

The next step once working with each technique in isolation, is to combine them to start creating cool beats and grooves on the body of your acoustic guitar. The following are 3 examples of a groove that is the result of combining some of the percussive elements we have just been having a looking at


Percussive Guitar Beat 1 

Percussive Guitar Beat 1



This is a simple rock groove with bass drum hits on 1 and 3 and snare hits on 2 and 4


Percussive Guitar Beat 2

Here is another beat/groove combining some of our percussive techniques. Here I am applying bass drum hits (B.H.) on beats 1 and 3, a snare/rimshot (S) on 2 and 4, as well as thumb hits on the body of the guitar (B.T.) on the offbeats of 1 and 3:

 

Percussive Guitar Beat 2



Percussive Guitar Beat 3

This third beat is the same as the previous one, only with a fret hand (F.H.) hit added on the offbeats of 2 and 4:

 

Percussive Guitar Beat 3



Integrating Your Percussive Techniques With Your Guitar Playing

Now it’s time to go for it!

This example will include not just the percussive techniques you have learned, but a two chord vamp to integrate them with.

Here it is:

 

Percussive Guitar Example



Things To Focus On In This Example:

Percussive Guitar Harmonic Slap • Play SLOWLY and break things up into smaller pieces to work on. You MUST go slow enough so that you can ENGAGE your brain with EVERY move you make

• Isolate the strumming and string slapping part from the body percussion hits. Working on both parts separately is a much more effective way to get this down

• Particularly isolate the second half of the last bar. There is a bit going on here with all 4 body percussion hits along with a harmonic slap at the 12th fret. The harmonic slap is achieved by slapping the middle finger of your picking over the top of the 12th fret resulting in a chime/bell like sound that is harmonics. Check the picture for reference, and make sure your middle finger bounces right off the strings as oppose to having it come to rest on the fretboard. Its not like you are hammering a nail into a wall, so keep things nice and relaxed with a slapping motion :)

• Keep your picking hand relaxed when performing both string slapping techniques and body percussion hits. The movement is generated from the wrist


Learn more awesome acoustic guitar percussion techniques