Don't try and master these techniques and approaches all at once. Take your time, and explore each, one at a time. There is much to be gained in doing so regarding your creativity and progress on the guitar.
Using Open StringsThe open string is generally underused in most guitarist's playing. Perhaps due to its simplicity, it gets over looked most times outside of chords, riffs, and melodies in the open position on the guitar. The open string however has huge potential to drastically increase your creativity on the guitar.
Here is an example starting with a typical G Major scale:
If we take each note in the scale above that could be played as an open string, and play it as an open string, the result would be this:
What a difference in sound the resonating open strings make against the fretted notes in the scale. Just be sure the notes you replace with open strings are in the same octave, or are unison to that open string. This approach will turn your acoustic guitar playing on it's head in all sorts of great and creative ways.
Some Ways in Which You Can Create With Open Strings on Your Acoustic Guitar1. Create similar scales with C, A, E, and D. These keys generally work best as they contain enough open string notes in them.
2. Take any existing melody or riff you know, that has enough open string notes in it, and play it using these open strings where you can. Don't just limit yourself to scales with this approach. They are just the beginning. You will totally transform the licks you play on your acoustic with this approach.
3. Move the licks and melodies you learn with this approach through the keys mentioned above. Because you are using open strings, they will work out and sound different each time.
Changing Things Up With a CapoA capo is a tool that allows you to change key on your guitar instantly while still playing the same chord shapes. Basically, you remain in the open position wherever you place the capo on the neck of the guitar, and is why you are able to predominantly use open chords whatever key you are in.
It might help to think of the capo as a moveable nut. Another way is to think of it as your index finger when barring chords, as it does the same job that the capo does.
For example, you can play an F chord on your guitar using the root 6 bar chord form at the 1st fret. However, if you place the capo on the 1st fret of your guitar you will now be able to play an open E chord and get the same sound.
Why is this?
By clamping the capo down at the 1st fret, everything is raised by one semitone. So you are fretting an open E chord form, but due to the capo being at the 1st fret, this is raised a semitone to sound as an F chord.
The capo is an essential stylistic tool for the acoustic guitarist. It allows you to do things in certain keys that you just can't do without it.
Some Ways in Which You Can Create With the Capo on Your Acoustic Guitar1. Take a song you know on guitar that uses mostly bar chords and capo at a position that allows you to play the same song, in the same key, only now with open chords.
For the key of Eb major, experiment by placing your capo at either of the following fret positions: 1st, 3rd, 6th, or 8th.
For the key of Ab major, experiment by placing your capo at either of the following fret positions: 1st, 4th, 6th, or 8th.
These positions will allow you to use mostly open chords in these keys, even though without the capo you wouldn't be able to use any at all. You can now take advantage of things such as chord embellishments that would not have been possible without the capo.
2. Use a capo with the open string ideas that we touched on above. The capo is all about being able to maintain the use of open chords and open strings so it goes hand in hand with this approach. Simply move your capo around to various positions on the neck, so you can play your open string riffs and melodies in any key without needing to change a thing.
3. Use your capo with a song that already has mostly open chords in it. Providing that you put the capo in an appropriate spot, this will give you a new set of open chords to play the same song. Using different open chords will give you a different sound and different possibilities. Definitely worth experimenting with this approach.
Playing Your Acoustic Guitar PercussivelyAn increasingly popular way to play your acoustic guitar these days is percussively. It's a wooden box after all, so why not.
When you get into this style, even if you only learn some basics, you will wonder why you never thought of playing your guitar like this before. It's heaps of fun, and the potential of what you can do with this approach is massive! You'll never look at your acoustic guitar the same way again.
The great news is you don't have to practice playing your guitar percussively for years before sounding any good. Focusing on some fundamentals will have you up and playing this way in no time at all.
Here is an example to start doing exactly that:
In the example above I am using the side of my thumb to hit the lower area of the sound board of the guitar, just below the bridge (see picture for reference). This is indicated in the drum notation with "B.T." (bass hit with thumb). Think of this as a kick drum sound and be sure to keep your wrist nice and relaxed. It is making a flicking motion as your thumb hits the body of the guitar.
To get the snare sound, simply tap or rap the side of your guitar just below the strap lock with two fingers of your picking hand (see picture for reference). I like to use my 3rd and 4th fingers for this, but you could use your 2nd and 3rd if you prefer. The snare is indicated with an "S" in the drum notation. You are after a higher pitched sound when executing this move to emulate a snare or rimshot. Be very patient as it can take a little practice to get this sound consistently.
Some Ways to Make Percussive Guitar Part of Your Acoustic Playing1. Be patient and spend a little time perfecting both the kick drum and snare sounds from our example above. You can do a lot with just these two percussive techniques alone, without any chords.
2. Copy some drum beats from existing songs. Listen to them carefully, and then using your kick drum and snare sounds, play along. You'll come up with some cool grooves doing this.
3. Add the kick drum and snare sounds into some of the chord progressions you play on your acoustic as we did in the example above.
Start Experimenting and Creating on Your Guitar NowIt's easy to get overwhelmed with each approach that has been covered in both parts 1 and 2 of this article. I suggest choosing one area to explore and taking your time to then go about doing this. The idea is to get you doing something different with your acoustic playing than you have done before. If you are doing that then great, you're on your way!
The key is to start now and enjoy the process of learning something new. There will be many victories along the way to keep you going as you become more and more inspired and creative with your acoustic guitar playing.
About the Author:
Based in Melbourne Australia, Simon Candy is a professional guitar teacher and musician. He has taught guitar for over 20 years covering a variety of styles including blues, rock, jazz, and fingerpicking. Founder of Simon Candy School Of Guitar, Simon also offers tuition for acoustic guitar online.