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Learn How To Add Percussive Beats To Your Acoustic Guitar Playing

A popular and ever increasingly common way to play an acoustic guitar is to play it percussively. The style of percussive guitar see’s one take advantage of the fact that an acoustic guitar is a hollow wooden box essentially, and by hitting various areas of the body can create a range of different percussive sounds.

Many of these emulate parts of a drum kit such as the bass drum and snare/rim shot.

Maybe you’ve tried playing your acoustic like this before, or certainly seen someone play percussive guitar. As impressed as you probably were, you most likely doubted whether you’d be able to do this yourself.

I mean it can look incredibly difficult to do, right?

Today, I am going to introduce you to some of the basics of percussive guitar playing. This is not going to be one of those lessons where if you spend 2hrs a day for 3 years you’ll finally master what I show you.

No, this is going to be something you can start applying to your acoustic guitar playing right now! I will first take you through some percussive guitar elements in isolation, before mixing these together to create beats and grooves on the body of your guitar.

Next, we will take these beats and grooves and include them with a chord progression. You’ll be playing your acoustic both percussively and melodically all at the same time! It will sound great, and it really isn't that hard to do with just a little practice.

Percussive Guitar Techniques

The first step you need to take is to work on a number of percussive techniques in isolation. This is of the upmost importance. You cannot expect yourself to be able to play your acoustic guitar both percussively and melodically, with everything it entails, without first breaking things down.

So let’s begin by doing exactly that, and look at a number of common percussive guitar techniques in isolation.

Bass Drum 1 Hit: Thumb (B.T.)

Percusisve Guitar Bass DrumThumbThis particular percussive technique resembles that of a bass or kick drum sound on a drum kit. In fact we will look at two ways of doing this, the first using your thumb in the exact same way you just did for the muted slap, only this time you are slapping it on the body go your guitar instead of the strings.

Percussive Guitar Bass Drum Thumb

Check the picture for reference and watch the video for a demonstration of this technique.

The bass drum hit is notated in the first space of the musical stave.

Focus on the following when practicing this technique:

• A flick of your wrist as you slap the body of the guitar with your thumb. A lot of percussive techniques are executed this way

• A relaxed arm, wrist, and hand

Bass Drum 2 Hit: Heel Of Hand (B.H.)

Percusisve Guitar Bass DrumHeelThe other bass/kick drum sound is achieved by hitting the body of your guitar with the heel off your picking hand like so:

Percussive Guitar Bass Drum Heel

By using the heel of your hand you get more of a thud like sound. This technique is also notated in the first space of the musical stave.

Focus on the following when practicing this technique:

• Making sure the heel of your hand connects with the body of the guitar

• Not hitting the body of your guitar too hard with the heel of the hand, as you could do significant damage, depending on your guitar

Muted Slap: (M.S.)

Percusisve Guitar Muted SlapTo execute this percussive technique, you need to slap the side of your picking hand thumb on the lower strings of your guitar like so:

Percussive Guitar Muted Slap

Whether you end up slapping 1, 2, or 3 strings does not really matter. It’s the sound you are after, much like that of a high hat symbol on a drum kit. Check the picture for reference and watch me demonstrate this technique in the video that accompanies this article.

The muted slap is indicated with an “x” on the bottom string of the tablature.

Focus on the following when practicing this technique:

• Immediately relaxing as your thumb hits the strings of the guitar. Your not hammering a nail into the wall, so don't slap the strings like you are

• A relaxed arm, wrist, and hand

Snare/Rim Shot Hit: (S)

Percusisve Guitar Snare RimshotA great way to emulate a snare or rimshot hit is to tap/rap two of the fingers of your picking hand around the side of the body of your guitar like this:

Percussive Guitar Snare Rimshot

You are after a high end popping sound with this technique. I personally like to use my pinky and ring fingers when tapping the side of the guitar, you may prefer your ring and middle fingers. Either combination is ok.

This percussive technique is notated in the third space of the stave.

Focus on the following when practicing this technique:

• To achieve the snare/rimshot like sound, you need to make sure the base of the two fingers you are using to tap the side of the guitar land flush with the edge of the body. Check the picture for reference and watch me demonstrate this technique in detail in the accompanying video

• A relaxed arm, wrist, and hand

• Flicking/rotating your wrist as you execute this technique

Fret Hand Hit: (F.H.)

Percusisve Guitar Fret Hand SnareNow it’s time to bring our fretting hand into the picture. Simply hit the side of the body of your guitar just below the neck to execute this technique. Another variation is to hit the front of the body just below the fretboard.

Percussive Guitar Fret Hand Snare

I have also notated this technique in the 3rd space of the stave, as I reference the sound of this hit with that of a snare drum.

Focus on the following when practicing this technique:

• Getting your fretting hand into position to perform the hit and returning to continue playing whatever it is you are doing. Not too difficult, but may take a little practice to get this going fluently

• A relaxed arm, wrist, and hand

Creating Grooves And Beats By Combining Percussive Elements

Once you have the above percussive techniques down in isolation, it’s time to combine some of them to create beats and grooves on the body of your acoustic guitar.

I am going to show you three possibilities, however there are many more you could create from the percussive elements I have shown you.

Beat 1

This first beat is a straight 8th note rhythm bringing in our fret hand hit (F.H.) on the off beats of 2 and 4 along with a bass drum hit (B.H.) on 1 and 3, snare/rimshot (S) on beats 2 and 4, as well as our thumb hitting the body of the guitar on the offbeats of 1 and 3:

PercussiveGuitarBeat3.png

Beat 2

This next beat involves bass drum hits (B.H) on 1 and 3, a snare/rimshot (S) on 2 and 4, as well as thumb hits (B.T) on the offbeats of 1 and 3:

PercussiveGuitarBeat2.png

Beat 3

This final beat is a typical rock beat with bass drum hits on 1 and 3 and snare on 2 and 4:

PercussiveGuitarBeat1.png

Spend some time getting each beat above down. It’s an important step in being able to add some melodic guitar playing to the mix which is exactly what we are about to do!

Adding A Percussive Beat With A Chord Progression

Now it’s time to add a percussive beat to a simple two chord vamp to really step things up!

Let me show you first before breaking it down for you:

PercussiveGuitarExampleTab.png

Focus on the following when practicing this technique:

• Separating the melodic part with the percussive part. Both are actually quite simple in isolation, and will make this example so much easier to play by doing exactly this

Percusisve Guitar Harmonic Slap• There is a bit going on in the last bar, so be sure to spend time here working your way through it. One technique I use here is what is known as a harmonic slap. To get this sound, simply slap your middle finger across the 12th fret for a bell like chime. Check the picture for reference and watch the video to see me break this part down in detail

• Keeping a relaxed arm, wrist, and hand throughout

• Playing slowly and breaking the example up into small manageable portions for your brain to process. This is so important to do, so do not skip this vital step!

For more easy to play percussive guitar techniques, download this PDF guide complete with video and learn even more ways to play your acoustic in this style

About the author: With 20 plus years of teaching experience and expertise, teaching both locally in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, as well as internationally, Simon Candy specialises in the acoustic guitar through a number of styles including jazz, blues, rock and fingerpicking. It’s through these styles that Simon also offers tuition for acoustic guitar online

PaulJones9
@pauljones   last year
Wow, that sounds really awesome! I loved the harmonic slap you played at the end of the beat.
simon candy
@simon   last year
You are very welcome @pauljones. Glad you enjoyed the article! :)
ManchGTRLessons
@manchgtrlessons   last year
Great article Simon!
simon candy
@simon   last year
Thanks @manchgtrlessons :)
Flekador
@fl3k   last year
Wow! Thanks for the accurate description of the technique. I learnt a lot from this lesson Simon. You gave me the key to emulate Scott Huckabay with my Takamine properly. :-)
Thanks for posting!
simon candy
@simon   last year
You are very welcome @fl3k. Glad to have been of help :)