10 Basic Guitar Terms You Should Know

10 Basic Guitar Terms You Should Know

10 Basic Guitar Terms You Should Know

When you’re learning to play guitar, there are a few terms you need to know. Brush up on these guitar basics with Grosse Pointe, MI. guitar teacher Jerry W

You can advance quickly from a beginner to an intermediate guitarist by studying and mastering these guitar terms.

1. Tuning

Nothing says amateur like an out-of-tune guitar. Take the time to learn how to tune your guitar quickly and accurately. With modern technology, you can even have a tuner on your phone, so there’s really no excuse for playing out of tune.

2. Chord

Learning guitar chords is relatively simple, and you will feel a great sense of  accomplishment once you’ve mastered the basic chords.  A chord is when more than one pitch sounds at a time.  (To be technically correct, a two-note chord is called a diad.)

3. Chord Symbol

C     G7    Am7   Esus

Guitarists know which chords to play in a song by reading the chord symbols.  Chord symbols can be quite simple or very complex. The chord symbol includes the letter that represents the chord.  That letter can be followed by other symbols to designate variations.  You can learn how to play a chord by looking at a fretboard diagram.

4. Fretboard Diagram

Fretboard Diagram

You can find fretboard diagrams for almost any chord by searching the online for “guitar chords.”  In a simple fretboard diagram, the top parallel line represents the nut, and the lines below represent the first four frets.  The vertical lines represent the six strings of the guitar.  The dots show you where to place your fingers.  The “o” represents an open string.  Fretboard diagrams can also include fret numbers and barre symbols.

5. Tabs (Tablature)


Tabs indicate where to place your fingers on the guitar.  Tabs are a little more complex than fretboard diagrams, and they can be used to show melodies and more advanced techniques.  In short, the lines represent the strings and the numbers indicate where to fret the string. Learning to play tabs will open up a whole new world of music.

6. Strumming

Strumming is the most common way to play guitar chords.  Strumming is the act of drawing your fingers or pick across the strings so that all or most of the strings sound at once. The simplest strumming pattern is a top-to-bottom movement that strikes the strings on each beat.  To be a well-rounded musician, learn to play a variety of strum patterns.

7. Picking

The act of using a pick or your fingers to play individual notes on the guitar is called picking.  It’s called fingerpicking when you do this with your finger.  Use picking to play a melody or to play the individual notes of a chord one after another, which is called an arpeggio.  The tab below has a familiar melody followed by a chord arpeggio.


8. Open Chord

An open chord is played using open strings on the guitar. These are the simplest chords to learn, and are a great place for beginners to start.  Here are some of the most common open chords.

open chord

9. Barre Chord

You can play a barre chord by laying your index finger over all or some of the strings. You will see a curved line on the barre chords in a fretboard diagram.

Barre chords allow you to play many more types of chords, but they’re much harder to learn and may take some practice before you gain the strength and skill to play them well.

barre chord

 10. Capo

A capo is a simple device that clamps down on the strings to create a permanent barre over the strings.  A capo allows you to play open chords in the higher frets.  Learning to use a capo will help you play in many more keys without having to learn all of the barre chords. A capo can also make some keys much easier to play.

If you learn these guitar terms and practice the basic techniques, you will be a well-rounded player ready to take on greater challenges and more difficult music.

Need some help mastering these techniques? Find a guitar teacher in your area.


Jerry W. teaches classical guitar, composition, trombone and trumpet in Grosse Pointe, MI.  He received his Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition from Cornerstone University and went on to receive both his Masters and PhD in Music Composition from Michigan State University.  Jerry has been making music and teaching students for over thirty years.  Learn more about Jerry W. here!


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Photo by Gil Eilam

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