Top 15 Guitar Terms and Definitions You MUST Know

Guitar Terms and Definitions You Must Know

When you’re starting guitar there may be lots of new slang and lingo thrown at you.

Luckily, this guitar lingo is actually pretty straightforward and easy to learn.

So without further ado, here are 15 guitar terms and definitions you must know.

1. Guitar Chord

A guitar chord, or just a chord in general, is a group of three or more notes played at the same time.

Check out this article here if you’d like to learn more about guitar chords for beginners:

2. Chord Diagram

A chord diagram displays a guitar chord.

Here’s an example:

C Major
C Major Chord Diagram

The chord name appears above the chord diagram. The name is usually written with a chord symbol.

A chord symbol is a symbol that represents the chord name with either an abbreviation (Major=Maj.), or by using an actual symbol.

As for the fretboard diagram, it shows you which fingers to use (using numbers 1,2,3, or 4), and the black dots show you where to place your fingers.

Any string that is played Open will be represented with an “O“, and any string that is not supposed to played is represented with an “X“.

3. Chord Progression

A chord progression is a group/succession of chords that are generally played consistently. A chord progression may also represent the chords that a melody is derived from.

Most chord progressions are derived from scales, and these progressions are represented using numerals.

4. Guitar Riff

The rhythmic portion of your song that repeats itself over and over. They are usually short, and they are meant to accompany the song, rather than lead it.

Due to their rhythmic nature, they help to hold down the beat.

5. Guitar Lick

Melodic, stand alone phrases that usually come in a guitar solo or in little chunks between guitar riffs. They are often played by the lead guitarist.

You can think of guitar licks as little guitar vocabulary words/phrases.

6. Down/Upstrokes

Downstrokes and upstrokes are simple.

A downstroke occurs when you pick downward on a string/ above the string.

An upstroke occurs when you pick upward/ underneath the string.

7. Fretboard/Fret

The fretboard is the front piece of the guitar neck, where you play notes. It is also called the fingerboard.

Frets are the metal inlays that exist all over the fretboard.

You want to play between frets, rather than on the metal fret itself.

8. Tablature (Tabs)

Guitar Tablature is a form of musical notation that exists for stringed instruments such as guitar, bass guitar, ukulele, and banjo.

Tabs depict the strings, and have fret numbers written on each string, which show you which frets to play.

Here’s what a guitar tab looks like:

A Minor Pentatonic Guitar Tab
A Minor Pentatonic Guitar Tab

Tabs use tab symbols, which show you what type of technique you use to play something.

Tabs may also have standard notation written above the tab, which is there to show you the rhythm, and to help musicians who don’t read tabs.

9. Pick/Plectrum/Picking

Picking is what occurs when you actually play a note.

This can be done using your fingers exclusively (called fingerpicking), and can also be done using a guitar pick/plectrum.

10. Tuning

You tune a guitar by turning the pegs on your headstock. You figure out what notes you are tuning to by using a guitar tuner.

Most guitars are tuned to Standard Tuning, which is where you tune the strings from top to bottom as: E-A-D-G-B-E. Guitars are most commonly tuned at 440 Hz.

Check out this free guitar tuner on Fender’s website!

11. Strum

A strum happens when you play across multiple guitar strings at the same time. This can be done with fingerpicking, or with a plectrum.

You’ll find that most songs have strumming patterns, and these patterns are created by a succession of strumming upwards and downwards, and are created with a rhythmic patter in mind.

12. Open Chord

Open chords are guitar chords with open strings.

This chord has open strings, as shown by the “O’s

C Major
Open String C Major Guitar Chord

Most guitarists will start by learning open chords. The most popular of these are the open CAGED guitar chord shapes. CAGED just means the C,A,G,E, and D chords.

13. Body/ Bridge

The body is the main, largest piece of a guitar, and is home to the acoustic and electronic elements that allow a guitar to make noise.

The bridge is the part on the body that holds the guitar strings in place. It is also an ideal place to rest your picking hand.

14. Alternate Picking

Alternate picking is a picking technique where you alternate between upstrokes and downstrokes.

This technique helps you pick faster, and can help your picking hand save energy, rather than losing energy by using constant downstrokes.

15. Half/Whole Steps

Half and whole steps explain where your fretting hand should move.

Half step = Move 1 fret.

Whole step = move 2 frets.

You’ll see these two words used often in guitar books and by guitar teachers.

Guitar Terms and Definitions You Must Know Conclusion

These guitar terms and definitions are a must know for any aspiring guitarist.

You’ll start to see these terms everywhere as you progress on guitar, so make sure you get them memorized!