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Guitar Embellishments

OK, if you have followed the course from page one you should have an extensive vocabulary of lead patterns to draw from, more than you currently realize. We looked previously at rhythm technique, and now we want to look at some additional playing techniques that will prove useful in rhythm and lead playing. Specifically, we want to look now at embellishments.

In the dictionary, embellish means to beautify, adorn, or enhance. It means the same thing in guitar playing, but in our "trade lingo" it specifically refers to some common means of adding sound variations without much additional finger movement. There are three basic embellishments we want to look at that involve manipulation of the strings with the fingers. There are other possible embellishments we can accomplish through guitar hardware and various effects equipment, but for the purposes of this lesson we will limit the discussion to the basic ones we can do with our hands.

The Slide

The first embellishment we will tackle is the slide. The slide is just what the name implies: pluck a held note, and then slide the holding finger up or down the fretboard by one or more half steps, while maintaining pressure on the string so that it rings throughout the procedure. We can also add a bit of flavor to a chord progression by sliding an entire chord. For instance, in a I-IV-I-V chord progression, we can enhance the sense of movement by briefly sliding the IV chord up one half step and back. (This will work best with moveable chord forms, which we will be looking at later in the course.)

slide, illustrated

The Hammer/Pull

The next embellishment technique we will consider is the hammer/pull. The hammer is performed in this way: pluck a note held with the index finger, and while this note is still ringing, use your ring finger to fret a new note two frets above the original note. This is the easiest variation of the hammer, but you may use any combination of fingers and steps, half steps, etc. For instance, you might pluck a note held with the index finger, and hammer the note three frets above with the little finger. The pull is the opposite of the hammer: pluck a note held with the ring finger, and while also holding a note two frets below with the index finger, quickly release the ring finger, with the string ringing throughout the procedure. Hammers and pulls can be used during a lead riff as lead-ins to a note you wish to linger on, or they can used simply to include a note in a lead run without actually plucking it, greatly increasing the speed of the run.

Hammer/Pull, illustrated

The Bend

The last embellishment we will consider for this lesson is the bend. The bend, just like the slide, is just what the name implies: bending a string. Here is how it works: pluck a held note, then use your holding finger to bend the string while the note continues to ring. This will be easiest for the notes along the middle of the fretboard. You should be familiar with the concept of steps by now. The bend allows us to include a whole range of frequencies that are between the standard steps, adding limitless variety to our solos. We can also bend full chords to add a bit of variety, but this will require advanced control and strength, so it may be a bit much for a beginner. Just make a note of it. When you are ready for that you will find it coming to you naturally.

Some electric guitars have the bridge mounted to a pivot, with some type of spring mechanism that counter-balances the tension of the strings, and a bar also attached to the bridge. Guitarists usually refer to this set-up as a tremolo bar or whammy bar. By depressing or pulling the bar we can achieve an effect similar to bending, except that it will affect all the strings. This bending technique will often leave the guitar out of tune, so if you intend to use it, experiment with your guitar to develop a sense of how much tremolo you can get away with without going completely out of tune. This will be particularly important when you are playing with a group.

Bend, illustrated

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