Guitar Lesson 17a: Playing an acoustic guitar effectively and some rhythmic tricks and ideas

UnpluggedGuitar Lesson 17a: Playing an acoustic guitar effectively and some rhythmic tricks and ideas

There have been some really successful guitarists who are classed primarily as acoustic artists: Andy McKee, Tommy Emmanuel, Laurence Juber, Ed Sheeran and Rodrigo y Gabriela to name but a few.  There are still others who are perhaps more known for their work using electric guitars who have then performed using acoustic or releasing an acoustic album: Eric Clapton, Eric Johnson, Alice in Chains, Nirvana and the Foo Fighters all have acoustic performances and albums worth checking out.

What is it that makes the acoustic guitar such a prevalent instrument in the trade?  It has a certain atmosphere and tone which draws people to it and can create a different colour to a song which has already been recorded as an electric song.  For me, I like the portability and ease of setup which you get with an acoustic guitar and find that it is easier to pick up and strum and sing along to, than an electric which requires some plugging in and playing with the sound to get the desired tone.  A really nice acoustic guitar has some beautiful harmonics and a ringing sound to it when played and it can be quite inspiring, perhaps particularly for singer/songwriters who may need or want that ‘raw’ sound when writing music.  It can be argued that it strips away an element of distraction which might be gained from pedals, amps and other gear.  This can be a good starting place for creating music.

Podcast episode 17a:

In this lesson Dan and I look at the topic of playing acoustic guitar.  In particular, Dan comes at this topic from the perspective of viewing the acoustic guitar as an entirely different instrument to an electric and then from this how to play rhythm to the strength of the acoustic instrument.  Our next podcast – 17b – will tackle the question I ask of Dan which is how to add dynamics and include a punchy solo when playing in a group setting.  The last thing you want is to get to the solo and require a massive volume decrease from everyone in order to be heard.


  • 5 mins 40 – Dan has just explained how he views the acoustic as a different instrument to the electric guitar and at this point introduces his aim for the next section where he hopes to have a look at some of the main things which people do, how these can be improved and some techniques which may be employed.
  • 8 mins 15 – start to consider what differences there may be between an acoustic player and an electric guitar player over a simple chord progression: [Em  –   C   –   G   –   D].  An electric guitarist will most likely sit back on his sustain and his gain and if he’s just rocking out to it he may simplify the chords to power chords (otherwise known as 5 chords – e.g. the root and the 5th only, missing out the 3rd which denotes whether the chord is a major or a minor).
  • 10 mins 25 – Dan shows how this kind of electric guitar line, translated directly over to the acoustic guitar might sound and then asks what we can do to improve this playing.
  • 10 mins 45 – First suggestion from Dan is to play the full chords (12 mins 40 secs).
  • 13 mins 15 – Second suggestion is to arpeggiate the chord and break it into notes.
  • 14 mins – after struggling to get in speed on the picking pattern with my right hand for this arpeggiated version, I change to using fingerstyle.  Dan picks up on this and how it changes the sound and tone and so can become another variation to bear in mind when choosing how to play a progression.
  • 14 mins 40 – getting dynamics between a driving chorus and an arpeggiated verse.
  • 15 mins 50 – open strings and how on an acoustic it is good to aim to allow the open strings to ring.  Also a demonstration on how this softens the tone at 16 mins 40 secs.
  • 16 mins – a reminder to use a Capo in different keys.  This can work really well with more than one guitar playing chords and one guitar can have the progression transposed for a set of open chords in one position while another guitar can use the Capo on a different fret and, as such, have some different inversions playing over each other.  This can be very effective.
  • 17 mins 5 secs – a swing feel to the same four chords.  Piano-style, using the thumb on the bass notes and the other fingers to pluck the higher strings together.  Slapping the strings percussively also works.
  • 19 mins – some advice on how to insert some recordings of acoustic into an electric track.
  • 19 mins 20 secs – extend the bassline to connect chords together.
  • 22 mins 50 secs – extending chords in the right key; e.g. Em can become Em7, C can become a Cadd9, G can become a Gadd9 and D can be a D7sus4
  • 25 mins – using a Capo to gain a 12 string effect.  More on playing different inversions for two different guitar parts
  • 27 mins 40 secs – using hammer ons and pull offs to different chord shapes to create some further rhythmic dynamics; alongside chords rephrased in different positions using the Capo.
  • 28 mins 40 secs – revoicing the chords using the Capo at the 7th fret.

The remainder of this podcast involved some hints and tips for playing dynamically with others and getting the most out of your alternate tunings.

Keep listening for next week’s advice on soloing in an acoustic band.

If you want a preview of some of our future lessons along with Dan’s amazing guitar playing, here completely unrehearsed and very much impromptu, then see our developing YouTube channel: Subscribe and keep in touch with us here: YouTube channel.  I’ll link our first three videos at the bottom of this page.

I think it worth mentioning some of my own personal favourite acoustic guitarists:

Tommy Emmanuel – if you’ve not yet seen this video, then get watching:

Andy McKee – He came to global attention with the first video and then here he is with another version of Purple Rain:

Luarence Juber – what a player!

Two greats together:

Three greats together (including Ritchie Sambora!)

If you’ve not yet seen the great Rodrigo y Gabriela, here’s a great video of their incredible style and playing:

Our YouTube Channel (under development):





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