While you’re learning the guitar there are a lot of techniques and effects you’ll come across, but finding ways to apply them to music may be harder than you think. We have plenty of guides set up to teach you these techniques, but if you’re joining us here then I’ll assume you’re comfortable with them!
In this important guide you will learn one easy song and then have a go at a more challenging song to help you get used to each of the following techniques/effects:
- Strumming Chords
- Power Chords
- Palm Muting
- Use Of A Capo
- Wah Wah
If you’re looking for somewhere to apply any of these techniques, then look no further!
You’ll find strumming of some kind in pretty much any song with a guitar in it. In short, it’s the technique of moving your pick/finger/hand across the strings while (typically) your fretting hand plays a chord shape. For a little more detail take a look at How To Play Chords.
Anyway, the two examples below are great examples of chord strumming in music. Take a minute to let me take you through the first easy example, and then maybe stretch yourself an attempt the second one on your own!
- Oasis- Wonderwall. I’m sure you’ve heard of this one, and you might have attempted it already as it’s a great beginner piece. It has a distinctive strumming pattern that is particularly easy to follow, especially as it opens with the guitar on its own. The important thing to remember when strumming a guitar, is that it’ll probably sound better if you make up your own pattern based around the original, rather than attempt to replicate it exactly. The main pattern in this track is Em7-G-Dsus4-A7sus4, and my key pointers to give a convincing sound is to start with downward strums on the opening Em7, add a few upward strums when changing chords, and then make the A7sus4 mostly using upward strums.
- The Who- Pinball Wizard. This is a difficult one, because the chord shapes you’ll be strumming are quite irregular, and the strumming pattern is very quick. Take a listen from about 0:17 and you’ll see what I mean. It may take a while to get used to, but this one shouldn’t take too long to get used to!
A power chord is pretty much the simplest way to approach chordal playing, especially when the distorted ringing of overdriven guitars won’t let open chords sound all that pleasant. A power chord is a simple shape that covers the root, 5th and octave of a chord and can be shifted up and down the neck, but if you need a bit more detail then take another look at How To Play Chords.
Rock music is always the first port of call when you’re looking for power chord examples. The first example is easy enough to get the hang of, so I’ll show you it now. If you’re feeling confident, then have a go at teaching yourself the second one.
- Green Day- American Idiot. This is a nice example, because, much like the strumming in ‘Wonderwall’ above, the guitar starts out on its own and you can hear exactly what is going on. We’ve even covered it before in the How To Play Chords guide… it’s that helpful! The best way to approach the fast power chord changes in this one is to have your 2nd finger already flattened over the 3rd fret so that changing strings will be easy, and prepare to move your other fingers around quickly to reach those changes. As soon as you’ve perfected the power chord pattern, you’ll get used to this one quickly.
- King Crimson- Red. Robert Fripp loved using power chords in his compositions. Listen out for where they thicken the texture in this track, which sounds complicated due to the rhythmic changes and dissonance, but is actually pretty simple to get the hang of.
One of my favourite ways to play chord is using arpeggiation. This is a pretty easy concept to get your head around (simply outline the chords you’re playing by playing them one note at a time rather than all together) but it’s a lot harder to pull off convincingly. Brush up on the technique if you need to.
Arpeggios often create quite a soft sound, so much of their usage is in acoustic music. We’ll start with something easy that I’ll walk you through, then you can try a harder one by yourself afterwards.
- Led Zeppelin- Stairway To Heaven. This is another track you’ll definitely be familiar with as a beginner guitarist, and those opening arpeggios are a staple, but they’re really helpful in building up your strength in the technique. One of the tips I’d give when learning this song is to build up the barre strength when playing those first few chords, as there’s nothing worse than hitting dud notes during your arpeggios. Also, the most important thing in this accompaniment is the chromatic descent, so really make sure you accent those bass notes!
- Leonard Cohen- Avalanche. You’ll probably be able to understand why this one is tricky from the first few seconds. The way Cohen uses a fingerstyle technique to produce the arpeggiation is very quick, and the addition of a bassline makes this even harder to replicate. Give it a shot when your fingerstyle technique and arpeggios start to sound good though.
Palm muting is a really helpful technique to get the hang of, as it can make pretty much anything sound cleaner and more mature. Using your strumming hand, press gently onto the strings, carefully finding the balance between not touching the strings, and muting them. It’s a hard one to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, you’re set for life.
Palm muting is used in a variety of genres, but it really helps to control heavily distorted guitars, as well as create a typical reggae sound. I’ll take you through the first easy example, but then we’ll take a look at something that’ll take a bit more individual practice.
- Bob Marley- Stir It Up. This track is built on some very simple chords, so that aspect is easy enough. The traditional reggae style strum is a little harder, and includes some very distinctive palm muting. You’ll need to use a pick while playing, make sure your guitar is nice and trebly, and keep your strings palm muted during both the up and downward offbeat strokes, rather than lifting it and letting out unmuted sound like you often would when playing metal for example.
- Green Day- Basket Case. Green Day again. This track alternates between playing muted and open versions of chords, creating a sense of urgency. See if you can get used to the changing technique when you play this one.
Tapping on your frets creates a unique sound and allows you to play fast with relative ease. Again, this isn’t a beginner technique, but it’s definitely achievable with a bit of practice. Simply, you’ll want to press the fingers of your picking hand into the frets, creating a distinctively different sound to just plucking the string- learn more in our guide to Essential Improvisation Techniques.
Tapping is another extended technique that rarely crops up outside of metal music due to its speed and often virtuosity. The first example I’ll walk you through is tough but manageable, while the second is one of the greatest examples of technical virtuosity in all of music- so good luck!
- Van Halen- Eruption. You’ve probably heard a lot of scary rumours about this piece before, and we’ve certainly shown you it before when explaining tapping in our improvisation guide. The shredding in this piece is indeed very difficult, but the tapping on the other hand (especially that of the last 40 seconds) isn’t too bad at all, as it is all based on one string. I’d suggest that in order to play this tune with ease, you warm up first so you can move your fingers quickly, give your amp/pedal a lot of gain, and practice your pull offs. Once you’ve combined those things, the one string tapping really isn’t so bad.
- Buckethead- Jordan. Once Guns n Roses guitarist Buckethead uses tapping both as part of his heavily edited riffing, and in his improvisation in this track. Technically, the riff isn’t too hard but you’ll have to work out what effects are being used to replicate the sound faithfully.
Warning! Shredding is something you shouldn’t really attempt if you haven’t gone through our beginners guides yet. Shredding is based around a lot of speed and control of the guitar and encompasses a lot of smaller techniques such as sweep picking and tremolo picking which you can learn about in our guide to Essential Improvisation Techniques.
Shredding is pretty much exclusive to heavy metal. Importantly, this first example isn’t an easy one, because shredding is, by definition, not easy. I’ll try and get you through it, but don’t be disheartened if you’re finding it hard at this early stage. Example 2 is hard– you’ve been warned.
- Joe Satriani- Surfing With The Alien. Firstly, this track won’t be easy to learn at all. However, it allows you to combine a few techniques such as palm muting when playing the riff, a examples of tapping and some sweep picking that isn’t too fast. The best way to approach this one is to get used to the mostly unmoving hand positions that some of the faster bits use, then at least your fretting hard won’t be wildly running around.
- John 5- Black Widow Of La Porte. Even for professional guitarists this track is a tough one. I’ve mostly put it here to show what practicing speed-based guitar techniques will get you eventually, so maybe bookmark this page and come back to it when you’re a lot better than me at guitar…
Use Of A Capo
A capo is a device (usually metal) that you attach to your guitar’s neck. It sort of acts as a really strong, permanent barre chord and allows you to play with open strings higher pitched than your guitar is tuned. For example, if you’re in standard tuning but your capo is on fret 7, then an open ‘E’ string, would actually play a ‘B’ note because fret 7 is now the default for each string. Our guide to Best Guitar Capo might help you out here…
Capo’s are rarely used with electric guitars, but there is a lot of acoustic music that you can use to test out your new purchase. I’ll help with the first example, but then you could try the second one on your own!
- Eagles- Hotel California. When learning to play this classic track, you may have seen some chord charts, started playing and realised you sounded way too low. This is because the track uses a capo up on the 7th fret. This makes the track in the key of B minor, despite being written in E minor. Simply learn it as you would any other track, then play it as if it’s in E minor, but with your capo barring the 7th fret!
- Ed Sheeran- I See Fire. This well-known track is surprisingly hard to play thanks to its use of one handed tapping and pull offs, but you’ll have to watch where Ed’s hands are to see where he puts his capo when playing this one.
Delay pretty much does what it says on the tin and delays/repeats any sound you create with the guitar. A huge number of factors can be edited with a delay pedal, including how many times the sound will be echoed, how loud, the EQ used etc.
Delay can be used in a lot of different ways, from the ‘slap back’ echo of rock n roll guitarists, to huge lengthy delays found in rock music. It’ll always thicken the texture of a chord or melody, even if just used subtly. I’ll explain what’s going on in the first example below and hopefully you can replicate it, but I’m leaving the second one to you!
- Pink Floyd- Run Like Hell. While it’s quite subtle, the use of delay throughout this track adds to the atmosphere and tension of the piece. David Gilmour is using a relatively short delay time, meaning the repeated notes come quite close together, they aren’t too much quieter than the first played note and the amount of repetitions isn’t overwhelming. Take those notes on board if you try and replicate the use of delay in this track.
- The Kinks- Waterloo Sunset. This is an example of the slap back delay I mentioned earlier. If you listen really closely, you’ll hear that the guitar repeats itself milliseconds after the initial note, meaning you can’t really hear the second note but the texture is thickened. Have a play around until you can repeat this sound yourself.
If you’re looking to get technical, and overdrive pedal literally ‘drives’ the sound you put through it. This cuts the top of the soundwaves, losing detail and distorting the sound that comes out. Initially, this was created unintentionally and was regarded negatively, but eventually musicians came to employ this ‘mistake’ creatively.
Distortion is mostly used in rock/metal music, but it has been known to crop up in a multitude of others. The examples below are taken from some particularly famous tracks and I’ll try and explain how it’s been used in the first, but you can take a look at the second yourself.
- Jimi Hendrix- Purple Haze. To recreate this influential tone, you’ll need a gritty, fuzzy overdrive patch on your pedal/amp. It’s such a well-known sound that you’ll find that many pedals/amps actually come with a patch named after the track. The gain isn’t too strong, but it gives enough drive to add to the texture of the track. Try playing the riff clean and you’ll see why Hendrix decided to add some distortion to it!
- Cannibal Corpse- Hammer Smashed Face. One of the most influential tracks in all of death metal, ‘Hammer Smashed Face’ uses distortion for sheer aggression. You’ll have to figure out what level of (very harsh) gain you’ll want to replicate the sound, and also make sure you detune your guitar heavily.
The interestingly named wah wah effect creates an equally interesting sound when applied to your guitar. Often described as crying or screaming, the filter that sweeps through the sound creates quite an onomatopoetic sound. Using a wah pedal is usually a little more complex than most pedals, as you have to manipulate the effect manually, rather than automatically (though that is possible).
One of the most frequent uses of wah in music is in funk, but famous players like Jimi Hendrix are no strangers to the technique also. Below are a couple of examples, as you may have guessed by now, I’ll talk you through the first and let you tackle the second on your own.
- Guns N Roses- Sweet Child O Mine. While it is only the end of the solo that shows off Slash’s control of the wah pedal, it does it with extreme style. He uses it in a controlled way, making his notes screech. The biggest bit of advice I can give here is to avoid overplaying this one, don’t smash your foot all over the pedal in a desperate attempt to get a wah sound– just play with control and listen out for where Slash accents his pedal usage.
- George Harrison- Wah Wah. This tune is technically easier to play than the ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ solo, but it’s so persistent and essential to the song, as well as slightly more disguised, that I’m going to leave it to you to work out.
Chorus is an effect that doesn’t really link to its structural equivalent. Rather than having anything to do with the catchy, repeating chorus of a song, a chorus pedal actually purposefully makes your guitar out of tune. It copies the sound fed into it, and slightly detunes one of them, thickening the texture of what is being played. Have a look at our guide to the Best Chorus Pedal to buy.
Chorus can be used to enrich your guitar sound in any genre, and is often used to subtly that you’d never notice unless you were looking out for it. To be easy to understand, these examples show the effect at its most obvious, though you’ll have to work out for yourself what is going on in the second one!
- Nirvana- Come As You Are. Chorus is used to full effect during the swampy, almost underwater sounding guitar. You’ll notice that the detuning isn’t too overwhelming here, but it’s used to a high enough level to create a distinctively thick texture that Cobain’s chords are full of. Interestingly, Nirvana often use chorus during guitar solos in order to thicken the exposed lead line.
- Metallica- Welcome Home (Sanitarium). Listen out for the distinctive sound the guitar has during the verses of this track. The notes almost sound like they’re wobbling as they’re playing, but I’m not going to give you any hints as to how much modulation to include.
As a guitarist, I’m sure you know what reverb is by now. Technically, reverb is a natural thing and unless you go into some sort of isolation chamber, every single sound you make will reverberate as the sound waves bounce off of what is around you. The purpose of a reverb pedal is to be able to manipulate how much reverb you get and how it sounds. Take a look at our guide to the Best Reverb Pedal.
Unsurprisingly, pretty much every genre of music will use reverb in some way, whether intentionally or not. These examples show it when its used creatively, but you’ll have to work out how in the second one.
- Pink Floyd- Another Brick In The Wall Part 2. Pink Floyd have one of the most distinctive guitar tones in the history of music, and reverb is a strong part of that. Notice that you can’t hear the reverb tail trailing off, as it isn’t very long in this track, and furthermore, Gilmour rarely uses large pre-delay (which is the gap between the initial note being heard, and the sound of the reverb kicking in). If you make a note of these factors, you’re part of the way to recreating this iconic sound!
- Led Zeppelin- When The Levee Breaks. There is an interesting layer of reverb going on in every instrument in this track, and the drums are your way in to working out what is going on with the guitar… good luck.
Often confused with vibrato (something that can mostly be achieved without a pedal), tremolo pedals quickly modulate the volume of a sound to create a ‘trembling’ effect. You can control how extreme the volume fluctuations are, as well as how quickly they happen.
Tremolo is another effect used in a lot of genres, but it has sort of lost its interest by this point and is now more of a novelty. In the 60’s, rock bands were no stranger to the effect. Example number 1 is a little less known so I’ll talk you through it, but the second is very famous so you can tackle it on your own.
- The Beatles- Don’t Bother Me. While the tremolo isn’t huge, it is very much noticeable when George Harrison lets his guitar chords ring out. Make sure that when you’re trying to replicate this sound, you don’t overdo the amount of fluctuation in the volume, because it isn’t too much here. The speed at which is changes, is quite slow as typical usage of tremolo goes. This isn’t a ‘vibrating’ sound, more of a dipping one.
- Nancy Sinatra- Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down). This is a really extreme example, but I think you’ll be able to work out what is going on pretty easily. Notice that the tremolo is so strong that the guitar actually goes silent at times!
There are a lot of techniques and effects at your disposal as a guitarist, and they can really help to give your playing a unique sound especially when combined with each other. We have a lot of guides to help you master each technique and make a well informed decision of pedals to buy, and once you have them under your belt, these examples should really help you to apply what you’ve learnt to real music!
Dan is a music tutor and writer. He has played piano since he was 4, and guitar and drum kit since he was 11.
He plays a Guild acoustic and a Pacifica electric. He has been sent to many festivals and gigs (ranging from pop to extreme metal) as both a photographer and reviewer, with his proudest achievement so far being an interview he has with Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis guitarist).
He ranks among his favourite ever guitarists, alongside Guthrie Govan, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour and Robert Fripp. His favourite genre of music is progressive rock, which he likes to use as a reference point in my teaching, thanks to its huge complexity in structure, rhythm and harmony. However, he is also into a lot of other genres including jazz, 90’s hip-hop, death metal and 20th century classical music.