Humans have a deep, instinctual need for music – from the sound of the wind soughing through the trees or man-made music, produced through various instruments.
While each musical instrument has its strong points and even banging on a drum can have therapeutic effects, no instrument is quite so pleasing and quite so portable as a guitar.
There are countless stories of strumming a guitar by firelight; some of our most romantic stories involve guitar music. Or, at least, that is how they are portrayed.
Indeed, the guitar features prominently in the soundtrack of humanity; this ancient instrument, moulded in the shape of a curvaceous woman is in turns sensuous and fiery, thought-provoking and jarring, unique yet ubiquitous.
Are you a guitar player? Would you like to be one?
Here, your Superprof explores four distinct styles of guitar music: their genesis and particularities, technical aspects of their construction and how they’re played, and the guitarists that made them famous.
Why don’t you put down your guitar pick and join us in discovery?
Long before Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off of any bat, in the remote hills of southern Spain, there existed a people who, through clapping and dancing, told the stories of their lives.
Today, Flamenco is a type of storytelling that involves three co-equal parts: canto (singing), baile (dancing) and guitarra (surely, you can guess this one!). Several hundred years ago, however, Flamenco consisted of only the first two elements.
Was it the gipsies, with their tambourines and violins that inspired some artist to add the guitar? After all, these stateless people had a heavy lyrical influence on the art of Flamenco… but then again, so did the displaced Arabs who brought the oud with them to Andalusia.
Migrant Jewish tribes, as persecuted as gipsies and Arabs were, contributed their laments to the genre as well.
The guitar became an integral part of Flamenco in the late 1800s, when the first cafe cantantes opened. These singing cafes offered spectacles of flamenco dancing, accompanied by a guitar or two.
The dancers themselves handed the percussion elements of the songs, either by clacking castanets or by clapping their hands. The dances were passionate and spirited and the singing was soulful; the guitarists had to fight for their chance to shine.
That is exactly what they did. Soon, guitarists were trying to outdo each other, by playing faster or more spectacularly, even holding their guitars over their head while furiously strumming away.
When the guitar first became a part of flamenco, luthiers made no distinction between the guitars used to play flamenco and guitars used for other purposes.
One major difference was that flamenco guitarists only bought the cheapest instruments, made of the lowest quality materials – and sparingly, at that!
It is that thinner top and fewer inner braces that give the flamenco guitar its bright, crisp sound; it’s nylon strings and size, slightly smaller than a regular guitar, help to minimise the sustain – another trademark of flamenco music.
When you first pick up a flamenco guitar, you may notice that its fingerboard is a bit narrower than a standard guitar and the strings lay closer to the frets. That is to make chord changes a little easier.
Tuning a flamenco guitar is a bit different than for other guitars and playing it involves strumming or plucking the strings between the soundhole and the bridge; a bit further back than you would play an acoustic guitar.
If you are a beginner guitar player, playing the flamenco guitar is a great type to explore; you should learn about the many ways to play it.
Jazz music is, in itself, a history lesson and how the guitar came to take part in telling it is one of the story’s most interesting chapters.
Jazz music was born out of slavery in the American south. Its early ‘call and response’ format was a direct reflection of working in the fields, it later had a huge impact on establishing Gospel music as an independent genre of music.
Early jazz music melded with ragtime and blues, shearing off the less compatible elements of those genres to become the complex, multi-layered type of music we know today.
As with flamenco, the guitar was not originally a part of jazz ensembles; with only acoustic guitars available, those stringed instruments could hardly be heard over the brass instruments, the trumpets and trombones that were essential components of jazz music.
Still, jazz orchestras included guitars, albeit in their rhythm section with the upright bass and drums, and occasionally gave particularly talented guitar players a solo of a bar or two.
It wasn’t until the Prohibition Era in the US, when the consumption of liquor was forbidden by law, that revellers went underground. There they found lively jazz music playing in the speakeasies where hootch was served.
This time coincided with the production of early-model electric guitars.
Finally, jazz guitar players could be heard above the horns! Finally, they had a way of leading the orchestra, not being relegated to the rhythm section!
Today, jazz is as legitimate a genre of music as any other; indeed, since the end of the Second World War, it has proliferated into many styles:
- Afro-Cuban (also called Cu-bop)
- Revival, or Dixieland revival
- Hard Bop
- Modal Jazz
- Free Jazz
- Latin Jazz
- Jazz fusion
- Smooth jazz, punk jazz and jazz core
- Acid jazz, nu jazz and jazz rap
The jazz of today is more pluralistic; no particular style dominates and virtually everything goes except for playing the guitar badly.
In fact, jazz guitar has not changed terribly much from when the Gibson ES175 was the guitar of choice for jazz musicians…
The birth of rock music followed as a result of American audiences’ love of bawdy speakeasy entertainment of the ‘20s and 30s. It was a blending of blues, rhythm and blues and also country music.
Music historians all agree: rock music would never have come to be if not for the electric guitar.
The electric guitar provided the backbone of rock music; ensembles were then fleshed out with an electric bass, drums and a singer who would sometimes play the guitar himself.
Yes, himself. Women seldom played guitar in the early days of rock’n’roll because, while singing was seen as acceptable, playing an instrument (or writing songs) was simply not done.
Most early rock groups were male; women tended more toward country music and gospel.
The artist widely considered to be the father of rock’n’roll was Chuck Berry; his under-three-minute rockabilly song formula was copied by subsequent artists all over the country, from Elvis Presley to Jerry Lee Lewis.
On the other side of the pond, we Brits had our own music revolution going on; soon four mop-tops would rule the rock’n’roll world. They would be only the first shot in what became the British Invasion…
Playing rock guitar takes a bit of skill and determination but it is one of the most flexible genres of guitar music.
You may play rock and roll on an acoustic guitar if you have a good microphone setup but the better bet would be to learn how to play rock guitar on a solid body electric guitar.
You may opt for a chambered-body guitar if you’re concerned about the weight but the sound and tone would be the same.
Tuning your guitar for playing rock’n’roll is easy; you could start with the standard E-A-D-G-B-E or you could go for alternative tuning; a Drop-D tuning is fairly popular among rock guitarists.
Rock music is immensely popular so you have a lot of guitarists to look up to, idolise and emulate.
Eric Clapton has enjoyed a long and storied career from his early days as a Yardbird to his solo ventures while Joe Satriani was a guitar teacher before finding fame as a guitarist himself. Steve Vai, himself an excellent rock guitarist, was one of Satriani’s early students.
Looking to a great guitarist for inspiration is a good idea but, to learn rock guitar, you have to take guitar lessons and practice, practice and practice more.
My misspent youth was filled with the strains of headbanging metal music; all of my friends wanted nothing more than to make a guitar scream like Lita Ford or Angus Young.
To be a metal guitarist, you have to have an electric guitar; six strings will do to start but you might want a seven or 12 string guitar once you really get good at playing.
Metal guitars, like all electric guitars, come with transducers built-in.
These pickups are generally installed at the base of the fretboard and close to the bridge to sense the vibrations of the strings, convert them to electrical signals that are then amplified and projected through a loudspeaker.
Additionally, the bridge should be equipped with a tremolo arm that permits the guitar player to distort the pitch of the guitar or create a vibrato effect that is so popular in metal music.
Learning to play metal guitar is an excellent gateway to playing other types of metal music like doom, thrash or speed metal.
If you are as keen to jump in the metal scene as I and my mates once were, you will probably want to find metal guitar lessons as quickly as possible…
Finding Lessons for All Types of Guitar Playing
If you feel so inspired and have the means to do so, we sincerely hope that you will seek out guitar lessons with a guitar teacher.
That doesn’t mean that those free guitar lessons on YouTube are worthless; it is quite generous of those guitar players to impart their knowledge for free.
There is just one problem with them: a video cannot tell you what you’re doing right or wrong. Those instructors are not in the room with you to remind you to warm your arms up before playing your scales or to chastise you if you don’t do warmup exercises.
A video cannot correct your posture or how you hold your guitar, correct your fingering or minor tuning errors. But a teacher can.
If you are opposed to group lessons and you think private guitar lessons would be too dear, take a moment to consider Superprof guitar tutors.
Most Superprof tutors do not charge for their first hour of instruction and their average price per hour is £22.
If you’d like, your Superprof tutor could come to your home for lessons or, if that doesn’t work for you, would likely teach you via webcam.
No matter whether you want to learn classical guitar or thrash metal, Superprof has a guitar teacher for you.