In the first of a new series, Chris Woods explores the percussive side of acoustic guitar with a look at applications on strings and body.
In this brand new series, acoustic virtuoso Chris Woods introduces you to modern styles like tapping, harmonics, percussion and more!
Over the next four issues, I’ll be opening up the creative acoustic toolbox and sharing some exciting ideas. We’ll be getting stuck into the percussive side of playing; looking at both string percussion and on the guitar body. Percussive techniques have been around for donkey’s years, but in the past decade they have become even more widespread. These techniques don't just feature in pyrotechnic viral videos and niche finger-style events, they can be found in mainstream pop and are equally at home in classical music and a huge range of folk genres. Percussive approaches are now an essential part of the creative acoustic arsenal. You don't have to be writing virtuosic instrumentals either: even the simplistic subtleties of string percussion have given some players that extra layer of magic and helped them to gain adoring audiences – and you deserve your share too.
All the techniques within this article originate from three movements. It’s crucial you keep this in mind throughout as it will help you to keep things flowing and stop your rhythms becoming ‘spiky’ or out of time. The first two and most important movements with string percussion, are down and up. They are barely distinguishable from the down and up strokes you use when strumming. The movement should come from turning the wrist; you’ll soon notice how similar a string slap is to a downwards strum and when you do, things will flow really easily.
When we enter into the body percussion realm, you’ll still see the down and up motion dominating most techniques but you’ll also find the third movement. This may be new to you; we use it to achieve the lowest kick drum sound above the sound hole. The motion consists of rocking your wrist so that the heel of hand creates a ‘thud’ sound against the body. Your fingers should naturally flick out as your wrist moves back; the movement does not come from your arm. It does come with a mild health warning though: if you do it too hard you will crack the top of your guitar, so start very, very gently and increase in volume until it is just audible. Oh, and avoid using pre-war Martins or other such delicacies on your first few run throughs! The notation for the percussion has been put into an extra line of music; the lowest note denotes a kick drum sound using the ‘third movement’ while the higher notes suggest a hit with the thumb or fingers. Check out the video for added clarity.
The examples begin in the more familiar realms of string percussion and develop into the occasionally controversial world of body percussion. Both categories progress from beginner to advanced. Good luck, stay relaxed and enjoy yourself!
Chris Woods: new acoustic series begins
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