Is a Guitar a Percussion Instrument?

The guitar is not a percussion instrument but a stringed instrument because it has strings that are plucked or strummed to produce musical notes. However, the guitar can also be used as a percussion instrument; you can produce a sound by tapping the body with your palms or fingers.

Guitars are versatile instruments. This article explores how guitars exhibit qualities of both percussion and stringed instruments. I’ll explain why guitars fit into both categories.

Key takeaways

  • The guitar: Traditionally a stringed instrument, but can be used percussively by tapping or slapping the body.
  • Percussion qualities: Percussion instruments produce sound through striking or vibration, and can be made from various materials like wood or steel.
  • Stringed properties: Instruments like guitars and violins use strings to create sound through plucking or strumming.
  • Playing techniques: Utilize alternate tuning, body tapping, string slapping, and muting for percussive sounds on a guitar.
  • Blending sounds: Combining stringed and percussive techniques on a guitar can enhance musical versatility and creativity.

Qualities of a Percussion Instrument

A percussion instrument creates sound when struck. Examples include drums, cymbals, and xylophones.

Most percussion instruments create sound when struck with a drumstick or mallet, but that’s not the only method. Some generate sound by shaking or rubbing, utilizing vibrations instead.

The xylophone and the glockenspiel are percussion instruments that create sound by striking bars with drumsticks or mallets. These instruments use different materials; xylophones have steel bars, while drums feature a membrane stretched over a wooden shell.

Some percussion instruments are stringed, but not all stringed instruments are percussion. For instance, you can use a guitar as a percussion instrument by tapping its body to produce sounds. Many solo guitarists employ this technique during performances, often with a looper to create a beat.

Qualities of Stringed Instruments

Instruments like guitars, violins, harps, and cellos are stringed. They have strings stretched along a neck or frame that produce sound when plucked or strummed.

Stringed instruments, like percussion instruments, differ in their construction and materials. For instance, the guitar is primarily made of wood.

How To Use Guitar as A Percussion Instrument

There are several ways to use the guitar as a percussion instrument. This can be as easy as using its wooden body as a drum, hitting it with your hands, or slapping the strings hard. Below are some ways to use the guitar as a percussion instrument.

Change your guitar’s tuning

Play the guitar both as a string and percussion instrument by adjusting its tuning. You can change the tuning to suit your technique and the type of music. Loosen or tighten the strings to achieve specific notes for percussion playing.

Tuning your guitar to darker, deeper keys lets you achieve richer sounds ideal for percussion.

Beating the body of the guitar

An acoustic guitar is great for making percussive sounds because of its shape and the player’s free hand to tap its body. Tapping the guitar’s body creates a drum-like effect. You can hit it with your fingers, palm, or knuckles. The closer you tap to the soundhole, the deeper the sound. 

Slap the strings of your guitar

Slapping the strings of your guitar with your hand produces melodic and percussion sounds. Hitting the strings hard against the fretboard boosts the percussive effect. Many artists, like Ed Sheeran, often use this technique.

Mute the strings

Because of how your hands are positioned while playing the guitar, your hands are free for other actions. You can use this to mute the strings and create a percussion sound. Simply place the fingers of your fret hand over the strings to mute them.

Using your other hand to strum chords or pick notes while muting the strings creates a percussion tone. Ensure your guitar is accurately tuned and the strings are well stretched.