The straight forward, logical, answer is no. The guitar is a string instrument. But that doesn’t mean you can’t include percussive elements into your fingerstyle play for your next song performance or interpretation.
This article aims to inform you of a few ways you can include percussion elements in your guitar play. For starters, these techniques are taught on and most effective on acoustic guitar. Also, if you’re very conscious about the aesthetics of your instrument then this may not be the technique for you. I personally find these techniques are much easier when not using a pick, but feel free to try them regardless!
Slap, Tap, and Boom
Body percussion elements for the guitar involve a variety of techniques that impart rhythm and beat through the body of the instrument without playing the strings. This includes slapping, tapping, striking with your palm, and scratching. The effect of these percussion techniques creates unique tamber and rhythm to fingerstyle play and is a wonderful complement to fingerpicking and harmonics.
Here’s my open warning: If you’re highly concerned with the aesthetics of your instrument then you should avoid these techniques! These techniques involve slapping, tapping, and bumping your instrument with your hands for musical effect. These are not very destructive techniques; I have been doing them on my own instrument for years. They may leave a mark on your instrument through thorough and continuous use.
The extensive use of these techniques leave loads of character on the user’s guitar. A very notable example is Tommy Emmanuel’s guitar, which can be seen here.
This first technique is a simple slap on the body of the guitar just above the soundhole towards the neck of the guitar. This technique involves a brisk slap to the body of the guitar to emphasis a particular beat. This beat we are gonna emphasis, in this exercise, is the 3rd beat.
Start out by picking either a single chord or a chord progression. You’re welcome to jump right into fingerpicking and using this technique but I highly suggest just strumming until you’re comfortable with the technique before doing so. As I said earlier, we are going to emphasis the 3rd beat of the strumming pattern with a body slap. I suggest strumming 1/8th notes of your chord to help with your timing. Below is an example of what I mean without the body slap.
(Video of 1/8 strumming)
Now we are going to incorporate the body slap technique on the 3rd beat. Here’s what that sounds and looks like
(Video of 3rd beat slapping)
Getting the timing of this may be difficult at first. Slow your strumming down until you can fluidly incorporate the slap on the desired beat fluidly and still continue the strumming pattern. As you become more comfortable with this technique, try it with different patterns, timings, and progressions to find how you can use it in your own finger styling!
(Video of fun play through using the Technique)
As you familiarize yourself with this technique, try it on different areas of the body to acquire different sounds. There may be a particular slap sound that appeals to you more than the one demonstrated here. Depending on what beat your slap occurs, it may be more convenient to try the technique on a different part of the body. This is just more ammunition to your fingerstyle arsenal; take this technique and apply it to your own finger styling!
Finger Tap Roll
This technique will be demonstrated on the wider portion of the body below the saddle of the guitar. Once you determine your desired beat to emphasis, tap your pinky on the body of the guitar and roll the remaining three fingers subsequently afterward. When all four fingers are rolled in this styling, they create a rolling-tap sound. As you become more comfortable with this technique, feel free to experiment and try different areas of the body to experience different sounds and feel.
We will be strumming a G-chord and using this technique on the third beat of standard 4/4 timing. It should go: ‘One and Two and Finger-tap and four and‘.
(Video of finger-tap roll)
This last technique I dub the ‘Boom Cha’ due to the way it sounds. The ‘Palm Slap’, or ‘Boom Cha’, technique will use the palm to create the ‘boom’ sound and the fingers to create a ‘cha’ sound via a slap. It sounds similar to a drum kit bass drum kick and snare drum rim slap.
In this exercise, we will use a continuous up and down strum on a single chord and insert our ‘Palm Slap’ on the fourth beat to finish our 4/4. Start out by familiarizing yourself with the area we will be using by extending your strumming hand on an exaggerated downstroke all the way to where the body meets the side of the guitar
(picture of hand in strumming position going to where body meets the side)
Once your hand is in this position, lift the palm and bump the body of the guitar. You have completed the ‘boom’, now its time for the ‘cha’ or ‘slap’. Raise your four fingers (Index, Middle, Ring, and Pinky) and strike the side of the guitar. You have done the ‘cha’! Strike it three times in a row and you’ve done the ‘cha-cha-cha’
(Video of Boom Cha)
This is a great technique to play around with. I love coming up with different beats and its one of the most percussive techniques I’ve found that makes the guitar feel like a percussion instrument.
The Simple Tap Body Slap Boom Cha Finger Roll
Is the guitar a percussion instrument? I’ll let you be the judge. Now you have a firm understanding of percussive elements for guitar and how you can add this to your next finger styling. Using these types of techniques is a great way to add variety to your music, create suspense with dynamics and pause, and showcase your technical expertise.
Best regards as you find your Fingerstyle!