Get ready to be amazed by the diverse and unexpected ways the guitar can be used in music! In this article, we will explore the top 10 unconventional uses of the guitar that will leave you awestruck. From creating unique sounds and textures to pushing the boundaries of musical genres, these innovative techniques and styles will open your ears to a whole new world of guitar playing. Whether you’re a passionate guitarist or simply a music enthusiast, this captivating journey into the untapped potential of the guitar is not to be missed. So, grab your headphones and get ready to have your musical horizons expanded!
The guitar is primarily known as a stringed instrument, but it can also be used as a percussion instrument. Body percussion is one way to achieve this, where you use your hands, fingers, or other parts of your body to create rhythmic sounds on the guitar’s body. This can involve tapping, slapping, or even drumming on different areas of the guitar to produce unique percussive effects.
Another way to use the guitar as a percussion instrument is by utilizing objects in your playing. This could involve using a guitar pick to strum the strings, creating a snare drum-like sound, or using a drumstick to strike or scrape the strings for a more rhythmic texture. By exploring different objects and techniques, you can unlock a whole new world of percussive possibilities on the guitar.
Beyond traditional strumming and picking, the guitar can be played using various extended techniques. Prepared guitar is one such technique where objects are placed on or between the strings to alter the instrument’s sound. This can range from using paper clips or screws to create buzzing or rattling effects, to incorporating erasers or chopsticks to produce unique tones.
Bowing is another extended technique often associated with stringed instruments like the violin or cello, but it can also be used on the guitar. By using a bow (typically made of horsehair), you can create sustained, eerie, or haunting sounds on the guitar strings. This technique opens up doors to creating ambient or experimental music, pushing the boundaries of what the guitar can do.
Slide guitar is a technique where a slide, typically made of glass or metal, is placed on the strings to glide along them. This creates a distinct sliding sound and allows for smooth transitions between notes. Tapping and hammering on the guitar strings can also be considered an extended technique, where your fingers or a small object like a coin are used to tap or hammer the strings to produce percussive or melodic effects.
With the advancements in technology, the guitar can now be combined with electronic manipulation to create unique and innovative sounds. Looping is a technique where you record a section of your playing and play it back in a loop, allowing you to layer different parts and create complex musical arrangements. This can be done with the help of loop pedals or software.
Sampling involves recording and manipulating external sounds or snippets of audio and incorporating them into your guitar playing. This technique allows you to add textures, rhythms, or unique elements to your music. Pitch shifting is another electronic manipulation technique that involves altering the pitch of the guitar’s sound either up or down, creating interesting and unexpected sonic results.
Delay and reverb are effects that can be applied to the guitar’s sound to create a sense of space, depth, or ambience. Delay adds a repeating echo-like effect to the sound, while reverb simulates the sound of playing in a larger room or space. These electronic manipulation techniques can take your guitar playing to new dimensions and expand the possibilities of what you can achieve with the instrument.
The guitar is a versatile instrument that can mimic synthesizer-like sounds with the right techniques. Trills and tremolo are techniques often associated with stringed instruments that involve rapid alternation between two notes or rapid repetition of a single note. By utilizing these techniques on the guitar, you can create fast, pulsating, or shimmering sounds reminiscent of a synthesizer.
Vibrato and bending are techniques commonly used in guitar playing to add expressiveness and character to the sound. Vibrato involves oscillating the pitch of a note, creating a subtle or dramatic wavering effect. Bending, on the other hand, involves pushing or pulling the guitar strings to change their pitch, allowing you to create slides, glides, or expressive bends in your playing.
Whammy bar effects are achieved by using the whammy bar, also known as a tremolo arm or vibrato arm, to manipulate the pitch of the guitar’s sound. By pushing or pulling on the whammy bar, you can create pitch dives, bends, or even simulate the sound of a dive-bombing aircraft. Harmonics, often produced by lightly touching a string at a specific node, can also be used to create bell-like or ethereal sounds on the guitar.
Ambient and Atmospheric Textures
If you’re looking to create ambient or atmospheric textures, the guitar offers a range of techniques to explore. The E-bow is a handheld device that uses magnets to vibrate the guitar strings, producing sustained notes and creating a haunting, otherworldly sound. By combining the E-bow with effects like delay and reverb, you can create ethereal soundscapes and atmospheric textures.
Volume swells involve gradually increasing or decreasing the volume of the guitar’s sound, creating a smooth, swelling effect. This technique can be achieved by using the volume knob on the guitar or with the help of a volume pedal. Drone and sustained notes can be achieved by holding down a single note or chord and allowing it to ring out, creating a constant, drone-like texture.
Layering and looping are techniques often used in ambient music to create dense, evolving soundscapes. By layering different guitar parts or looping sections of your playing, you can build intricate and immersive sonic environments. These techniques allow you to create atmospheric and textural music that goes beyond traditional chord progressions and melodies.
Experimental and Noise
For those interested in pushing the boundaries of music, the guitar offers opportunities for experimental and noise-based exploration. Feedback and distortion are techniques commonly associated with loud, intense, and often aggressive guitar playing. By manipulating the position of the guitar in relation to an amplifier or using effects pedals, you can create controlled feedback and distorted, noisy sounds.
Alternative tunings can also open up new sonic possibilities on the guitar. By tuning the strings to different pitches, you can create unusual chord voicings, resonant drones, or dissonant harmonies. Prepared guitar techniques, as mentioned earlier, involve using objects in conjunction with the strings to alter the sound of the instrument, often resulting in experimental or unconventional noise textures.
Creating dissonance involves intentionally playing notes or chords that sound unresolved or tense when played together. By exploring dissonant intervals, clusters, or unconventional harmonies, you can create unsettling or cacophonous sounds on the guitar. These experimental and noise-based techniques allow for the exploration of unconventional tonalities and textures, pushing the boundaries of what is traditionally considered musical.
In addition to the percussive techniques mentioned earlier, the guitar can also be used as a chordal percussion instrument. Thumb thumps involve using your thumb to strike the strings near the soundhole, creating a deep, percussive thump. This technique can be used to add rhythmic accents or emphasize certain beats in your playing.
Rhythmic strumming is another way to add percussive elements to your guitar playing. By using a combination of downstrokes and upstrokes, you can create rhythmic patterns that mimic the sound of a drum or percussion instrument. Muting and palm smacks involve using your palm or the side of your hand to mute the strings while strumming or plucking, creating a muted, percussive sound.
Pizzicato, a technique commonly associated with stringed instruments like the violin or cello, can also be used on the guitar. It involves plucking the strings with your fingers instead of using a pick or the fingertips. Pizzicato on the guitar can create a crisp, percussive sound, particularly when used in conjunction with other chordal percussion techniques.
Fingerstyle techniques involve using your fingers instead of a pick to pluck or strum the guitar strings. These techniques allow for more control and expression, enabling you to create intricate melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. Harmonics, as mentioned earlier, can also be incorporated into fingerstyle playing to add shimmering or bell-like tones to your music.
Tapping is a technique where you use your fingers to tap the strings, creating melodic or percussive sounds. This technique allows for fast, intricate playing and can be used to emulate the sound of multiple instruments being played simultaneously. Slap bass-style technique involves slapping or popping the strings with your thumb or fingers, creating a percussive, funky sound often associated with bass guitar playing.
Double stops involve playing two notes simultaneously on adjacent strings, creating a harmonized sound. This technique can add depth and complexity to your playing, allowing you to create melodies or harmonies using two or more notes at once. Fingerstyle techniques offer a world of possibilities for creating rich, textured, and expressive music on the guitar.
Alternative Sound Sources
While the guitar is traditionally played with just the strings, alternative sound sources can be used to create unique and unconventional sounds. The bow and arrow guitar involves using a bow, like the one used in bowing, but instead of using it conventionally, the bow is attached to an arrow and pulled across the strings. This technique can create screeching or sliding sounds, reminiscent of a bow across a cello or violin.
Sitar and banjo guitar involve modifying the guitar to emulate the sounds and playing techniques of a sitar or banjo. This can include adding sympathetic strings, altering the bridge or nut, or using a special capo. By incorporating elements from these traditional instruments, you can add new tonal possibilities and unique playing techniques to your guitar playing.
A toy guitar, often associated with children, can also be used as an alternative sound source. By utilizing its small size, unconventional construction, or unique materials, you can create quirky, lo-fi, or experimental sounds. Similarly, a harp guitar features additional strings that can be plucked or strummed to create harp-like sounds and textures.
Converting the Guitar
Aside from exploring unconventional techniques and sound sources, the guitar can also be converted into different musical devices or controllers. A guitar synthesizer involves using a guitar with built-in synthesizer capabilities or connecting the guitar to a synthesizer module. This allows you to trigger synth sounds, play different instruments, or manipulate the guitar’s sound in real-time.
Guitar as a MIDI controller involves using the guitar to control external MIDI devices or software. By connecting the guitar to a MIDI interface, you can translate your playing into MIDI data, allowing you to play virtual instruments, trigger samples, or control effects. This opens up endless possibilities for sound manipulation, production, and live performance.
Guitar as a drum machine involves tapping or striking the guitar strings with drumsticks or other percussive objects to create rhythmic patterns. By combining percussive playing techniques with electronic effects or drum machines, you can create unique rhythms and grooves using the guitar as both a melodic and percussive instrument. Finally, the guitar can also be used as a bass by emphasizing the lower strings and playing basslines or melodies typically associated with bass guitar playing.
These unconventional uses of the guitar demonstrate the incredible versatility of the instrument. Whether it’s exploring percussion techniques, experimenting with extended techniques, incorporating electronic manipulation, creating synthesizer-like sounds, building ambient textures, delving into noise and experimental music, utilizing chordal percussion, mastering fingerstyle techniques, exploring alternative sound sources, or converting the guitar into new musical devices, there are endless possibilities for innovation and creativity. So pick up your guitar, push the boundaries, and discover new and unconventional ways to make music. The guitar is not just a traditional instrument; it’s a canvas for sonic exploration.