Some time ago, it was quite rare and a unique thing to see someone play their acoustic guitar percussively. These days it is becoming increasingly popular to do.

However, as great and impressive as this style of guitar playing sounds, it can also feel near on impossible to do.

It is a very challenging way to play an acoustic guitar, because not only are you coordinating all sorts of techniques to create a groove or beat, you are also playing the instrument melodically, all at the same time.

Despite this, even if you have just basic skills as a guitar player, you can get some percussive elements into your playing very quickly. Don’t misunderstand me by thinking basic means boring and dull. These techniques will sound awesome!

In this article I am going to run you through some percussive elements in isolation first, before mixing these together to create beats and grooves on your guitar. I’ll show you how to emulate the various parts of a drum kit right there on the body of your guitar.

Once you have these beats and grooves down, I will then show you how to mix these in with a chord progression by walking you through an example of doing exactly this. The resulting sound is awesome as you essentially become a one man band on your guitar!

You can also see me demonstrating the techniques taught in this lesson in the video below:

Acoustic Percussive Guitar Video

Percussive Techniques For Your Guitar Playing

To begin, we are going to look at a number of different percussive guitar elements in isolation. The need to break things down into small manageable portions is absolutely critical! You cannot be expected to play your guitar both melodically and percussively at the same time without breaking things down first.

So let’s do exactly that.

Bass Drum Hit 1 With Thumb: (B.T.)

I am going to show you two ways in which you can create a bass drum/kick drum sound on your guitar. The first is actually the exact same technique you just did with your fretting hand thumb to create the muted slap sound, only hitting the body of your guitar now, not the strings.

Simply slap your thumb onto the frontside of the body of your guitar. Check the picture for reference, and watch the accompanying video to see me demonstrate this technique for you.

To notate this technique, we simply use the first space of the musical stave. This is how the bass/kick drum is actually notated for drummers.

Bass Drum 1 Example

Bass Drum 1 Picture

What to focus on when practicing this percussive technique:

• Generating the movement with a flick or rotation of your wrist

• Keeping your hand, wrist, and arm relaxed at all times

Bass Drum Hit 2 With Heel Of Hand: (B.H.)

Another way you can emulate the sound of a bass/kick drum is to hit the body of your guitar with the heel of your picking hand on the lower area of the soundboard. Check the picture for reference.

Bass Drum 2 Example

Bass Drum 2 Picture

This percussive sound is also notated in the first space of the stave. It’s referenced with B.H. for a bass drum sound with the heel of your hand as opposed to your thumb, as was the case with the first bass drum hit.

What to focus on when practicing this percussive technique:

• Not hitting the guitar too hard as you could cause some damage

• The heel of your hand connecting with the body of your guitar

The Muted Slap: (M.S.)

This percussive technique is achieved by slapping the side of your picking hand thumb down onto the lower strings of your guitar. This is indicated with an “x” in the guitar tablature:

Muted Slap Example

Muted Slap Picture

You will most likely end up hitting more than just the lower string of the guitar when executing this technique, and that’s fine, even though the x only appears on the bottom string in the tablature above.

Listen carefully you this example and also watch me demonstrate it in the video that accompanies this lesson.

What to focus on when practicing this percussive technique:

• Flicking/rotating your wrist to generate the movement. Don’t hammer down on to the strings like you are hammering a nail into the wall. As soon as you hit the strings your hand must relax

• Keeping your hand, wrist, and arm relaxed at all times

Snare/Rimshot Hit: (S)

For this next percussive guitar technique you will need to tap/rap two fingers of your picking hand on the side of the body of your guitar. This creates a sound that is similar to that of a snare or rimshot hit on a drum kit.

I like to use my ring and pinky fingers for this, but another possibility is your ring and middle fingers. Try both and see which you prefer.

Snare/Rimshot Example

Snare/Rimshot Picture

As always, check the picture for reference as to where exactly to hit your guitar for this sound, as well as watch the accompanying video to see me demonstrate it.

What to focus on when practicing this percussive technique:

• As always, keeping your hand, wrist, and arm relaxed

• Flicking/rotating your wrist when executing the technique

• Tapping/rapping your fingers on the guitar where the base of these fingers are flush with the edge of the body. This will create that high end popping sound you are after to resemble a snare/rimshot hit

Fret Hand Hit: (F.H.)

This technique will bring your fretting hand into the picture, hence its name. We are going to use it to hit the side of the guitar just below the neck. Alternatively you could also hit the front of the guitar with the same hand just below the fretboard.

Fret Hand Hit Example

Fret Hand Hit Picture

This percussive technique is notated in the 3rd space of the stave, as the previous technique was too, as both resemble the snare/rimshot hit on a drum kit.

What to focus on when practicing this percussive technique:

• The ability to get your fretting hand thumb out from behind the neck of your guitar so you can easily hit the area of the body required, and then smoothly repositioning it behind the neck to continue playing

• Keeping your hand, wrist, and arm relaxed

Creating Grooves And Beats By Combining Percussive Elements

Once you have the above percussive techniques down in isolation, it’s time to combine some of them to create beats and grooves on the body of your acoustic guitar.

I am going to show you three possibilities, however there are many more you could create from the percussive elements I have shown you.

Beat 1

This first beat is made up of a bass drum hit with the heel of your picking hand (B.H.) on beats 1 and 3, a snare/rimshot on beats 2 and 4. In addition to this, your thumb hits the body of the guitar (B.T.) on the off beats of 1 and 3:

Beat 1 Example

Beat 2

This beat is a typical rock beat with bass drum hits (B.H.) on 1 and 3 and snare (S) on 2 and 4:

Beat 2 Example

Beat 3

This final beat is a straight 8th note rhythm bringing in our fret hand hit (F.H.) on the off beats of 2 and 4 this time:

Beat 3 Example

Spend some time getting each beat above down. It’s an important step in being able to add some melodic guitar playing to the mix which is exactly what we are about to do!

Adding A Percussive Beat With A Chord Progression

Now it’s time to add a percussive beat to a simple two chord vamp to really step things up!

Let me show you first before breaking it down for you:

Percussive/Melodic Guitar Example

Focus on the following when practicing this technique:

• Separating the melodic part with the percussive part. Both are actually quite simple in isolation, and will make this example so much easier to play by doing exactly this

• Playing slowly and breaking the example up into small manageable portions for your brain to process. This is so important to do, so do not skip this vital step!

• Keeping a relaxed arm, wrist, and hand throughout

• There is a bit going on in the last bar, so be sure to spend time here working your way through it. One technique I use here is what is known as a harmonic slap. To get this sound, simply slap your middle finger across the 12th fret for a bell like chime. Check the picture for reference and watch the video to see me break this part down in detail

Harmonic Slap Picture

Learn the magic of acoustic guitar percussion with this comprehensive video and PDF guide.

Author's Bio: 

From Melbourne, Australia, Simon Candy is in regular high demand and has over 20 years of teaching experience. In addition to running and teaching in his own guitar school, Simon also offers online lessons for acoustic guitar with lessons in many styles including rock, blues, jazz, and fingerpicking.