Percussive Acoustic Guitar Techniques with Don Alder

Following GI 13’s superb performances and interview, the Quiet Room is proud to welcome back the Canadian acoustic guitar virtuoso, Don Alder, for a short series on what is probably today’s hottest topic for acoustic players – percussive styles. Over to you, Don!

Hi and welcome to this issue of Guitar Interactive’s Quiet Room.

Acoustic guitarists have been using percussion techniques for some time now and when done properly can really engage an audience. We’re going to look at some percussive sounds and how to integrate percussion into your playing.

We will also explore an exercise to help build independence between the right and left hands as well as tighten up your rhythm. If you plan on using percussion in live performances keep in mind that real drummers always do it better, so be cognisant of using techniques for the sake of the composition versus using techniques for the sake of the techniques.

Lets get started by looking at my video. You can simulate the basic parts of a drum kit such as the bass drum, snare, hi hat, toms etc. As you explore the various areas, focus on finding the sweet spots. Using different parts of the hand also provides a range of sounds.

My approach is to get a layered sound by using the upper thumb to down stroke on the note while using the lower flesh of the thumb to hit the soundboard for a kick type sound.

Groove Lick – Std Tuning (Sequence of notes: E-E-F#-G-G-D-C-C-C-B-B)

In this example I modified my approach to incorporate the kick and snare. I use the thumb slap to play the bass line and the lower flesh of the thumb to hit the soundboard at the same time. The index finger strikes on the upper end of the fret board to get a muted snare sound. Depending on where you strike you can get extra effects such as harmonics. I strike upwards on the strings to get a percussive sound that is not exactly a hi hat sound but will call it that for lack of a better name. You can combine these techniques to create some very cool patterns such as the 1/8 note triplet fill shown in the clip. This technique sounds a bit like the Flamenco Rasgueos technique, however, instead of using strings and chords you actually slap the thumb down on the soundboard for the kick, followed by the index finger hitting down on the soundboard for the snare and then upstroke up to hit muted strings.

The last thing I want to show you is a rhythm exercise that you can do without a guitar anytime, anywhere. It will help you become more aware of right and left hand independence. You can also develop your own exercises. It will also help with your timing and keeping a solid groove. Important? Yes ! If people can’t tap in time to your songs they eventually will lose interest. Any song will do but for this example let’s use Day Tripper by the Beatles.

We start the exercise using the left foot and right hand. For some odd reason the limbs furthest apart are easiest to work with. You will be using your left foot to tap a single bar of 8 notes so 8 – 1/8th notes. Then with the right tap out the melody as shown in the video. Once you get this down switch to the right foot and left hand. Then move to both hands and once completed reverse hands. You’ll find using both hands is a bit harder. Then move to just one hand using the fingers for the 1/8th notes while using the index finger to tap out the melody. In my example I miss the first few but at 9:34 I get it right, so no need to email me with the correction! To conclude, we progress to the final stage where you use the thumb to tap out the melody and the fingers doing the 1/8 notes. Well I hope these examples inspire you to find your own sounds and grooves. See you next issue. Feedback and comments are always welcome at

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