Kathy Dickson: Revolutionize Your Sound with These Percussive Tricks

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Revolutionize Your Sound with These Percussive Tricks
Whatever your style of music, incorporating percussive effects into your playing will add variation and make your sound way more interesting. Instead of just strumming or plucking your instrument in the conventional way, you can add a slap here, a scratch there, and create a rhythm section to approximate the feel of a band without the need of a bass player or drummer.

Many talented guitarists like Kaki King, Daryl Kellie 

John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Andy McKee

James Taylor, Jon Gomm

, Jimi Hendrix, JJ Cale, and others use percussive techniques to create mesmerizing waves of sound with just two hands. Let's take a look at four of these effects and how they can work to take
your playing to the next level.

Slap Technique
Slap is the method of whacking the guitar strings to get a percussive sound. It can take on many forms using the different parts of your hand. Slap technique is commonly used with pull-offs and hammer-ons to help increase playing speed.

To slap, angle your hand and wrist so that your thumb naturally rests parallel to the strings. This angle gives your thumb easy access to the lower strings for slapping and your fingers easy access to the higher ones for picking.

Let's try it. Using the knuckle of your thumb, thump or slap the low E string. Bounce the thumb fast on the string, leaving the string as rapidly as you hit it. Expect your thumb to get a little sore when you first take up slapping, but just as you developed calluses on your fingertips when you started playing notes, your slapping thumb will toughen up too.

Another method of executing slap technique is to slap your strumming hand across all the strings at once. Try this with the palm of your hand flat against the strings. You don't have to do it very hard, just hard enough to deaden the strings.

You can also slap the strings with the side of your picking hand between the pinky and wrist, coming down like a karate chop between the sound hole and the bridge. This will mute the strings and give them that chunky sound.

Yet another way to slap is to hit the strings with your strumming hand balled into a loose fist, like you're holding a microphone, with the thumb tip lightly touching the fingertips. Hit the strings with the part of the fingers between fingernail and Try slapping at different points between the bridge and neck of the guitar for more or less treble sound. Obviously, how hard you slap the strings will dictate how much slap effect you get.

Pop Technique
The other component to slapping is popping, where you slap the lower strings with the thumb and then pluck or pop the higher strings with either the first (index) or second (middle) finger. To pop a string, place your index or middle finger of your strumming hand part way under the string, just enough to grab it, pull the string out lightly and then let it snap back against the fretboard.

Knock Technique
For a deeper, more resounding percussive effect from the guitar body, try the bone-on- wood sound of knocking on the guitar body. Knocking works especially well on acoustic and classical guitars, where the bodies are hollow, but it can be done on electrics as well. Knocking on the guitar using different parts of your fingers and hand against different parts of the guitar body will give you the most drum-like effect of all percussive techniques.

You can use your fingertips or the pads of your fingers to knock and rap against the body of the guitar. You can also use your knuckles, open palm, or the heel of You can knock the top corner area of the guitar, the bottom right corner, the sides, or just about anywhere you can get your hand to without disrupting the beat. Each part of the guitar sounds a little different, so experiment in different places on the guitar's body.

Scratch Technique
Scratching is the act of strumming completely muted strings, which can be done by lightly placing your fretting hand over all the strings, silencing the notes from being played.

There are a few things to know in order to scratch correctly. Alternate picking is one of them. If you haven't already mastered this skill, do so. Another skill you need to master is damping or muting the strings. You don't want to press your fingers down too hard on the fretboard or the notes on those frets will ring out. At the same time, if you press down too lightly, the open strings will ring out. The key to damping is to find the middle ground, the place where the strings are muted
just right to produce an actual scratching sound.

To scratch, mute all six strings by laying the fingers of the fretting hand over them, and then simply run the pick across the dead strings on beats 2 and 4 of a 4/4 measure. In drum circles, this is known as the backbeat. Scratching creates a "blip"; kind of sound that is a pleasing rhythmic contrast to the full-tone strums.

The key to its effectiveness is accenting the deadened backbeats by hitting the muted strings harder, which will make those beats stand out. It's good to note here that scratch picking and pick scratching are completely different techniques and make very different sounds. A pick scratch is the sound
made when you slide a pick down the length of a string, as in the Alice in Chains song "Down in a Hole”.

Percussive techniques can be fairly disruptive of the rhythmic pattern at first, especially if you're playing faster songs, but like anything, they get easier with practice. Use this primer as a jumping-off point to further explore these techniques. They may sound a bit disjointed at first, but keep trying. You'll get them eventually, and the world of sound they unlock will make you glad did.

Kathy Dickson writes for Guitar Tricks.  , the #1 site for online guitar lessons.