Beginner Guitar Technique Guide

Andrew Clarke  /  Articles UPDATED Mar 23, 2023

If you’ve spent any time on “Guitar Instagram” you’ll likely have been bombarded with flashy techniques of all kinds – mindbending tapping, speedy slurs, crazy slides, massive stretches, and unimaginable speed. These guitar flexes can quickly make you feel like even playing your favorite songs on the guitar is way out of reach.

But this isn’t the case! The world of guitar is filled with different techniques and skills you can learn at every level. And mastering the first set of beginner techniques is the first step to getting into impressing your friends and more importantly having a ton of fun on the guitar.

In this short guide, we’ll show you the most important guitar techniques for beginners. You’ll learn how to palm mute, slide, hammer-on, pull-off, bend, and even develop your own vibrato! This article includes links to lessons with even more detailed looks at each technique. So be sure to check those out if you want to focus on a particular topic. Let’s get into the lessons. 

How To Palm Mute On The Guitar

Palm muting is one of the most commonly used guitar techniques for beginners. Its use spans just about every genre and it is one of the many ways you can begin adding some expression to your guitar playing.

The technique involves placing your palm (more specifically, the meaty part of the pinky side of your strumming hand) right where the strings come off the saddles of the guitar. Palm muting requires you to do a bit of fine-tuning since it’s easy to over or under-mute. 

If your hand is too far onto the strings, then the strings won’t be able to ring out at all. This will cause your strings to be unable to vibrate completely. You’ll know pretty quickly when this is the case because it won’t sound very musical.

If your hand isn’t far enough onto the strings, you won’t get the desired effect whatsoever. This will be pretty obvious. The goal here is to find a good balance where the strings ring out and then die more quickly than if they were unmuted. 

Be sure to check out our more in-depth lesson page on palm muting here: How To Palm Mute On Your Guitar

How To Slide On The Guitar

The next technique we’ll look at is sliding. Sliding is a technique with a lot of utility. You can use it when playing a chord progression to add some texture to a transition, use it to slide up or down to a note during an emotional guitar solo, or you can even use it to add some flavor to a chunky power chord riff. 

Sliding is one of the tougher techniques to master because it requires you to develop a good bit of finesse with your fretting hand. Your aim with this one is to create a smooth slide without the volume of the slide being inconsistent. The slide should end with a note ringing through clearly. 

The main thing to focus on is the timing of both your picking hand and your fretting hand. If you strike the string too early, the emphasis will be on the note you’re sliding from and not the one you’re sliding to. If you strike the string too late, the string won’t be vibrating during the slide and will just make a “plunk” sound. And if you strike the string even later, you won’t get any sliding effect at all! 

The key to sliding on the guitar is to hit the note right at the moment before you start your slide. In the video, you can see that it’s also important to use your thumb as a sort of pivot when playing short slides. This can be especially helpful for improving your accuracy. 

While these short slides are a motion that mostly resides in the hand and wrist, a longer slide will require you to move your entire arm. These ones take a particularly long time to get down. Take it little by little and focus on cleanliness before speed and you’ll have it down in no time!

Check out more resources on sliding here: How To Slide On The Guitar

Hammer-Ons & Pull-Offs

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are a staple technique of the accomplished guitar player. The combination of these two simple techniques allows you to play licks and solos faster and smoother. We’ll look at hammer-ons first.

To execute a hammer-on, you just have to bring one of your fretting fingers down on the string hard enough to ring out without touching the string with your picking hand. If you hammer it down (hence, the name) hard enough, the note will ring out as if you picked it. This isn’t something you will nail down immediately. It will take some concerted exercise to strengthen your finger enough to the point where the note rings out clearly.

Pull-offs are probably exactly what you imagine them to be. This technique involves pulling your finger off the string with enough force to pluck the string and make the remaining fretted or open note ring out. 

When you combine hammer-ons and pull-offs you get a technique called legato. Playing something legato will sound much smoother than picking each individual note. This can work especially well when you want to play a group of notes as quickly as possible.

Here’s a handy legato workout from Nate Savage: Legato Workout

If you’d dig into some more information about hammer-ons you can go here: How To Perform A Hammer On
For pull-offs, check out this lesson page: How To Perform A Pull-Off

How To Bend On The Guitar

Bending is probably one most notable guitar techniques people think of. You can’t really bend a note on a piano, right? It’s one of the things that gives the guitar its recognizable emotive sound. In a lot of ways, bending can replicate the feel and expression of the human voice.

The trick to executing perfect bends on the guitar involves using more than one finger to share the load and bend the string in unison. Strengthening the primary finger allows you to have more control and use less power to push the string up or down. Try using your third finger to bend a note while placing your first and second fingers right behind it. Use all three fingers to push and try and raise the note by a whole step.

Just like every other important guitar technique, bending requires you to develop some muscle memory. One way to work on this is to practice bending one note so that it exactly matches the fretted version of that same note. Bend up to the target note, then stop and play the note a whole step up to see if the tones are the same. The goal here is for the bent note and the fretted reference note to be indistinguishable from one another.

Bending requires a lot of precise strength and just like any other group of muscles it will take some time to gain full control. Be patient and practice consistently and you’ll have this technique down in no time!

How To Use Vibrato On Guitar

Vibrato is a technique where you can really develop that unique voice on the guitar. Many guitar heroes like B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan are recognizable by their vibrato alone. Each player has their own version of vibrato and it’s totally up to you to create your own.

Unlike bending, you’re only trying to slightly raise the pitch of the note you’re playing then bring it back down. Repeating this in a smooth fashion will sound just like the vibrato of the human voice when singing. There are a few different approaches to vibrato. Each one involves using a different part of your body to move the string up and down. 

The first type of vibrato uses your wrist to push the string up and down. The next one uses your whole arm and comes from the elbow and the shoulder. The last one comes from your fingers. Every variation has a different sound and you can combine them while varying speed and depth to create a vibrato that’s completely unique to you!

Develop Your Vibrato With Ayla Tesler-Mabe

In this video, Ayla Tesler-Mabe shares her personal approach to vibrato and they talk about some of their individual influences. As you can hear, she and Nate both have different vibratos. 

It’s important to note that vibrato isn’t just something you learn early on and forget about. Over time, your vibrato will grow and change. As your abilities develop, you’ll gain greater control over your vibrato technique and be able to add more nuance and texture to it. 

More Lessons

How To Practice Guitar
Have you ever wondered if you’re practicing the guitar the right way? Whether you’re a fresh beginner or a seasoned veteran, getting the most out of your practice sessions is important. In this article, we go over the different mistakes that guitar players make when they spend time with their instruments. You’ll also learn a bunch of great tips and tricks for getting more out of your practice time!

The Bar Chord Survival Guide
One of the hardest challenges that beginner guitar players face is bar chords. Bar chords require some incredible strength and dexterity to pull off consistently. Luckily, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide where you can learn all the ins and outs of bar chords! Even if you’ve never played bar chords before this article will help you reach your rhythm guitar goals.

The Guitarist’s Toolbox
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Andrew Clarke is a guitarist, educator, and content creator from Vancouver, Canada. He's best known for his YouTube channel, where he creates easy-to-follow guitar lessons and informative guitar gear videos. Andrew also manages The Riff.

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