There is no debate what type of instrument a guitar is, the way that 99% of guitarists utilize its parts determine it is a string, but there is a debate as to whether the guitar is also in the percussion family of instruments or not. So let’s take a brief look and probably upset a world of ax wielders and find out why the guitar is different from other string instruments.
The guitar is not a percussion family instrument but some players have developed a percussive style performance technique called fingerstyle that combines both the plucking element of stringed instruments and the striking technique common with percussion instruments.
So, traditional guitar players can rest easy as I do not attempt to claim the guitar as percussion, although many of the same, I am sure, would love to master the unique sound fingerstyle players can achieve. Let’s find out more.
The Guitar can be used as percussion
The video above displays percussive skill whereby the player plays a rhythm by strumming the strings but also through a series of strikes with the strumming hand on the body of the guitar also produces percussion. The percussion is not limited to the strumming hand however, you will notice some hammer strikes with the fretting hand which would also class as percussion
You can often see an acoustic guitar used as a percussion instrument when folk songs are being sung, sometimes with the instrument fitted with an interior contact mic that is capable of picking up the sound of someone drumming on it. This playing style creates a very unique, light beat that can compliment the sounds from the guitar if done properly.
However, it should be noted that this trick requires that your hand that is strumming be moving extremely fast, usually banging on the guitar after the downward stroke. Some musicians choosing to altogether do slower movements, banging out a beat with the palm of their hand, while picking at the strings.
Either way, the striking, which creates a drumming sound, will always be accompanied by the strings being played, which means that the guitar is rarely used as a percussive instrument solely.
Why do people use parts of the guitar as a percussion instrument?
Understanding why someone would use the guitar as part of the percussion sounds that they have can help you choose how you play. There are many reasons, but usually, they all fall within 4 reasons that the guitar is being used for something that it was not meant to do. Most people learning to use these techniques when they are playing alone at home.
It is important to understand that you should not be learning to play the guitar while trying to use the techniques you may see much use for drumming sounds. The technique to drum on an acoustic guitar is something you only learn after you have mastered the technique of playing the guitar normally. Many times you may find that people naturally start drumming as they master the strings of their guitars.
Acoustic music, folk music, chill sounds, or campfire melodies all have one thing in common that has helped people to master the technique of drumming on their guitar. They are usually played using only an acoustic guitar, with very few other music accompaniments, which means that the rhythmic beating on the side of the guitar helps to create the ambiance.
This example provides accompaniment of both bass and snare percussive sounds to a string strummed rhythm.
When playing with a band or even just a few other people the perfect rhythmic beating on the side of the guitar can deliver a unique sound that compliments the beats being made through the other sounds. In these cases, you will usually see that people are using a microphone on the inside of their guitars to record the beat they are hitting away.
It is rare for a guitar player in a band to play percussive guitar, as the percussion element is not loud enough or able to be amplified to a level whereby it would not affect the performance throughout.
Most often you will hear guitar soloist playing percussive guitar in isolation
Keeping the beat
The percussive guitar will maintain a beat by tapping, scratching, or knocking on the various parts of the body of the guitar, and/or muted strings while playing. These percussive strikes are regular and kept between notes and chords and help the guitar player keep to the beat of the composition he is playing.
This is most often used in a weird way that you would never imagine, as the right knocking and playing on the guitar can easily produce brand new sounds that cannot be made normally. Think of the double-tap that guitar players can do while strumming on an acoustic guitar, this sound can be hard to produce by someone not currently playing the guitar. Most guitar players that have played for a long while will be able to alter the sounds from their guitars by using the right kind of tapping.
However, with modern technology, this has become less used as amps, decks, and mixers can create many desired sounds without having to do extra movements from the guitars. When a new sound is needed to be made using an acoustic guitar it will usually be when people are playing around a campfire, or just having a quiet moment while they are playing at a concert.
What defines the guitar as a string instrument?
String instruments are any instruments that require a string or wire to produce music, the string will always be pulled taught over a certain length. With each note being produced from the instrument being plucked or strummed with either your hand or another special tool. The guitar is the most quintessential string instrument as it is ironically one of the simpler string instruments.
Most people immediately see a guitar, or ukulele, when they hear the words string instrument and despite all the other sounds that can be made with them, they are still considered to only be a string instrument. Many times you will see full concertos have guitars as well, and they will sit or stand close to the string instrument area, producing sounds that are in sync with violins and other instruments.
Defining a string instrument is fortunately quite easy and you will always be able to recognize them by simply looking at the main part of the instrument that produces the sound. For string instruments, this will always be the strings.
Guitars are the most obvious versions of string instruments that you can find and will usually be the instrument that is used the most dynamically out of all the instruments in a band. However, it should be noted that they are always considered string instruments, even though percussion can be played on them.
Does that mean you could play a melody if tuning the strings on a snare drum? Oh no, that’s not another debate, is it?