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I play the piano, and also the guitar.

My piano playing is free and loose, and I can effortlessly string together melodies and harmonies, melting chords and melody lines into a polyphonic piece of music.

My guitar playing is a lot stiffer. I can play good rhythm guitar in various styles with barré chords, and I can play nice monophonic melodies, one note at a time.

My playing is harshly divided into these two styles, and I'm not able to merge them. I miss the creative freedom that I enjoy on the piano, where I feel at liberty to mix and match tones as I see fit. I'm not able to move my fingers around in an effective way that leaves me free to do effective, creative improvisation and composition.

What can I do to understand how to actually play the guitar in a dynamic and flowing way, mixing chords and melody lines in a natural and effective way?

  • I think you need to narrow this question down a little bit. Are you asking what skills : you need to become fluent in the guitar? It's-the same as for piano: Scales, Chord voicing and a lot of time on the instrument. What specific problems are you having with the guitar? – pro Dec 25 '14 at 6:43
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Playing melody and underlying chords on piano is somewhat easier than on guitar. All the notes you need on piano are there to be reached - within reason! Voicing is simpler because physically the chosen notes fall under the fingers/thumbs. On guitar, it's more tricky, as where a melody note/s are fretted usually dictates where the underlying harmonies will have to be found. If you're playing top string, 8th fret for a C in a tune, you'll be hard pushed to play a G on the bottom string to go with it, especially if you'd like an E in there somewhere on the 5th or 4th string.

So, voicing is more crucial with guitar playing - given that the maximum number of notes playable is 6 anyway.More available on piano! Knowing all the different chord shapes (based on CAGED system) is a good start point. But each accompanying chord/ part chord will need to be tailored to where on the neck the melody is being played. This can mean a lot more jumping around the neck to find the voicings needed, which makes flow more difficult to achieve.And more difficult to play spontaneously, unlike piano. Easier when ALL the chord cluster shapes are known, obviously!

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I agree with Tim. It should be noted that the same pitch can be played on the guitar at up to six different places on the fretboard. This alone requires the player to be very familiar with the fretboard and the locations of all the pitches on all six strings, and this is very unlike the piano. In order to get the most out of the guitar, it's necessary to know where all these locations lie on the fretboard. In contrast, the piano's octaves all look identical and thus are easier to remember.

Many other things restrict the guitar in comparison with the piano. Six strings means a maximum of six pitches at one time (barring any special effects such as striking the strings simultaneously above the nut, etc.). Clusters of pitches that are very close (neighboring 2nds, for example) are tough to do because the strings are separated by fourths (except the M3 between the third and second strings). Coordination is required by both hands for each note that is both plucked and fretted.

In a nutshell, other than the great ease of portability, guitar is usually more restrictive than the piano. To play with ease and fluency, a guitarist needs to learn from other guitarists and find the ways of playing that feel smooth and enjoyable. Certain things on guitar sound amazing, and are special only to the guitar. Likewise, things that sound wonderful on the piano (or any other given instrument) can be very hard to replicate on the guitar. Thus, to sound good and feel good on the guitar, it is important to accept the capabilities of the instrument.

  • What is this 'striking the strings simultaneously above the nut'? It's a new one to me. – Tim Oct 9 '16 at 7:47
  • @Tim If you strum the strings up at the head area, to the left of the nut (on a right-handed guitar), you get very high-pitched notes. This can be fun. – Mark Oct 9 '16 at 16:46
  • The same pitch can often be played in more than six places on a guitar - not just 'up to six'. Harmonics! – Tim Oct 15 '18 at 7:52

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