Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Learn to Play the Electric Guitar

The electric guitar has many similarities with its acoustic cousin. Both are shaped similarly, despite the lack of a wooden or hollow body. Using six-strings each (typically) the electric guitar formulates sounds using vibration from plucking in essentially the same manner as an acoustic guitar. Both use tuners located at the headstock (top end of the neck) to tighten/loosen strings for tuning. So saying, it’s quite common to be interested in playing the electric guitar, yet learn the basics with an acoustic guitar first.

However, the differences in both forms of guitar make it essential for those interested to learn to play using the electric guitar instead on the acoustic. While at a conceptual level, the two forms of guitar are nearly identical, the electric guitar uses an amplifier and pickups to produce sound, without which plucking the strings would hardly be heard (due to the lack of a hollow, wooden soundboard and soundhole). Electric guitars use the pickups (located just about the bridge) to ‘pickup’ vibrations in the strings when plucked. These pickups then transmit the vibrations to the amplifier in order to play the desired note or chord. Some electric guitars even have what is called a trembolo, or a ‘whammy bar’, that functions the same as a quick-tuner of sorts. The trembolo will instantly slacken or tighten the strings, giving sustained notes a distinct vibrato while being played. This is only possible to do successfully with a non-acoustic guitar that uses steel strings and an amplifier, as otherwise a whammy bar would create unsustainable wear-and-tear on the nylon strings used in an acoustic guitar (as well as the sound not being nearly as distinct with a hollow soundboard versus an amplified electric guitar).

Learning to play the electric guitar is also learning to play the various musical genres associated with electric guitars. Typically jazz, rock, and heavy metal songs are intrinsically linked with the electric guitar; after all, it’s hardly appealing to attempt playing a bluegrass folk piece using an electric guitar! Chords and notes are treated different with electric guitars than with acoustic guitars, and this a key lesson to learn when first learning how to play. Electric guitar players more often will use single note melody, forgoing the harmony and constant chord strumming mostly seen in songs that feature acoustic guitars. This makes sense, considering the risk of distortion and unwanted reverb that is possible when striking a chord on an electric guitar, but it also speaks to the way an electric guitar is used as opposed to the acoustic. Typically, acoustic guitars play more chords and harmonize the melody line that is played due to having no musical accompaniment (save a non-amplified voice); this makes sense considering most other instruments would drown out the lower-decibel sound of an acoustic guitar. Electric guitars, on the other hand, are played in conjunction with the drums, an electric bass, the vocals (with a microphone), and any number of other instruments (often an electric piano/keyboard) that will serve to harmonize with the main single-note melody of the electric guitar.

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