Beyond Metal & Blues: 7 Hidden Genres Every Guitar Player Should Explore

If you’re just getting started on guitar, you likely spend most of your practice time on mainstream styles like rock, metal, or blues. And while genres like classic rock and heavy metal offer a solid foundation —with their focus on catchy riffs, face-melting solos, and all the iconic songs we air guitar too— there’s a whole world of lesser-known styles that can help you advance your playing in thrilling new directions.

From the complex rhythms of math rock to the textural soundscapes of post-rock, to the exotic scales of Gypsy jazz, niche guitar genres open up different technical challenges, tonal flavors, and creative mindsets. Consider branching out beyond your metal and blues comfort zone to discover new sounds and take your technique to the next level.

Guitar player with an electric guitar

Here are 7 compelling hidden genres that every developing guitar player should explore:

1. Fingerstyle Guitar

Fingerstyle guitar forgoes picks and strumming altogether, using the right-hand fingers and thumb to pluck the strings directly. This articulate technique unlocks capacities beyond strumming chords, with the ability to simultaneously play melody and accompaniment.

Key Artists to Check Out

  • Tommy Emmanuel
  • Andy McKee
  • Peppino D’Agostino

Developing finger independence and control opens up songs that would otherwise seem impossible on guitar. Modern masters like Andy McKee create lush polyphonic arrangements that sound like three guitars at once, using tunes and techniques found nowhere else.

Learning fingerstyle improves your dynamic dexterity, taking your musicality to new heights.

2. Math Rock

If you wish your guitar riffs were more rhythmic calculus than basic addition and subtraction, the intricate sub-genre of math rock delivers in spades. Groups like Chon and Polyphia write music with constantly shifting time signatures, complex rhythms, and progressive song structures that twist and turn in thrilling new directions.

What Makes Math Rock So Interesting

  • Unconventional meters like 7/8 and 15/16
  • Polyrhythms layering different time sigs
  • Precise synchronization between multiple instruments

Math rock also utilizes two-handed fretboard tapping, sweep arpeggios, and extended guitar techniques rarely seen in pop music. This is thinking musician’s rock.

Training your ears and hands to navigate math rock’s rhythmic nuances and tight arrangements will level up your playing.

Guitar player on stage playing an electric guitar

3. Post-Rock

If math rock is all about precision, post-rock lives at the opposite end of the spectrum…a more textural, cinematic style painting ambient soundscapes across the guitar fretboard.

Bands like Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You use open strings, volume swells, delay, and reverb to craft emotionally evocative instrumental music. Instead of guitar pyrotechnics, the focus is on chord textures and atmospherics.

Key Qualities of Post-Rock Guitar

  • Lush and layered effects
  • Extended droning chords
  • Crescendos from quiet to thunderously loud

Letting notes ring out and learning to maximize an instrument’s available resonance develops your musical sensitivity. Post-rock’s emphasis on timbre also trains your ears in mixing and arranging.

4. Progressive Metal

Progressive or ‘prog’ metal builds on traditional heavy metal with elements of jazz fusion, classical, and experimental avant-garde influences, creating this maximalist subgenre. Groups like Animals as Leaders, Periphery, and Meshuggah overload listeners with rapidly changing time signatures, extended-range guitars, intricate solos, and enough headbanging breakdowns to summon a mosh pit.

Why Guitarists Should Study Progressive Metal

  • Alternative tunings and 8-string guitars
  • Melding advanced musical theory with metal aggression
  • A platform for extreme technical ability

Playing extended-range guitars presents new left and right-hand challenges to build strength, accuracy, and speed. Progressive metal encourages mastering modes, odd meters, microtones, and other demanding music theory beyond the minor pentatonic scales.

Harness all that newfound power into songwriting and you’ll leave generic metal in the dust.

5. Flamenco Guitar

Flamenco’s rapid percussive strumming and exotic scales summon the fiery spirit of Spanish folk music. Tracing its origins to Andalusian Roma musical traditions, flamenco has also evolved by embracing influences from Moorish, Sephardic Jewish, and Latin cultures over centuries.

Today, traditionalists like Paco de Lucía carry the torch expanding its boundaries like the late great Jorge Morel.

Core Aspects of Flamenco Guitar

  • Specialty nylon string guitars
  • Phrygian dominant and gypsy minor scales
  • Rhythmic rasgueado strumming

Between distinctly ethnic scales, unfamiliar techniques like Golpe (tapping the guitar body), and playing in unusual positions, flamenco stretches guitarists in exciting new ways.

Training your hands to create fiery flamenco rhythm and tonality pays off with chops no rock or blues player can match.

6. Surf Rock

Calling all guitarists who wish they could teleport to California in the 1960s heyday of bands like The Ventures, The Beach Boys, and Dick Dale. Surf rock blends driving rhythm guitar with spring reverb-drenched sparkling leads evoking the spirit of the surf and hot rods.

This iconic instrumental genre is riding another wave right now with modern bands like Los Straightjackets and Man or Astro-Man electrifying audiences with their high-octane shows.

Why Surf Rock is Essential for Guitarists

  • Heavy use of tremolo picking and palm muting
  • Catchy melodies using major scales and arpeggios
  • Lots of fun bravado and energy

Surf rock trains stamina and synchronization between guitarists while keeping things upbeat. Scale runs get more athletic while saturated spring reverb effects transport you right on stage at the beach.

7. Gypsy Jazz

Jazz isn’t always about slick studios or dimly lit clubs. Gypsy jazz summons up swinging acoustic campfire music to jam out with friends. Started by the legendary Romani French guitarist Django Reinhardt, Gypsy jazz mixes jazz harmony with European folk melodies and driving rhythm guitar.

What Defines Gypsy Jazz

  • Fast swing tempos
  • Advanced jazz harmony using arpeggios
  • Improvisation over standard tunes

Groups like Gonzalo Bergara Quartet are keeping Django’s rhythmically tricky “hot club” jazz style alive, performed on nylon string guitars in crowded pubs worldwide.

Training your ears to follow complex jazz changes while keeping up with breakneck tempos makes Gypsy jazz fantastic for building guitar fluidity.

FAQ: Quick Answers for Guitarists New to Niche Genres

What special gear do I need?

  • Fingerstyle: steel-string acoustic guitar
  • Math Rock: electric guitar, effects pedals
  • Post-Rock: electric guitar, delay/reverb pedals
  • Progressive Metal: 8-string electric, distortion pedal
  • Flamenco: nylon-string guitar
  • Surf: Electric guitar, reverb/tremolo pedals
  • Gypsy Jazz: Nylon/steel string acoustic

Where can I access this music?

Any streaming service like Spotify has niche guitar music, but also explore YouTube channels to dig deeper.

How do I learn the advanced techniques?

Great question! Look for YouTube channels and specialty guitar lesson sites devoted to each genre. I’d be glad to provide recommendations if helpful.

As a developing player, what genres should I start with?

Surf and Gypsy Jazz are very approachable first steps into niche styles. Fingerstyle is fantastic for building skills. Math rock and progressive metal do require proficiency with advanced theory and guitar mechanics beforehand.

Branch Out and Have More Fun Playing Guitar!

Hopefully, this journey through 7 lesser-traveled guitar genres has your mind racing with new possibilities. Music has so much unexplored territory beyond standard rock and blues. Use these hidden styles as inspiration when you practice guitar or write new songs.

Learning niche techniques keeps your playing fresh, engaging, and full of delightful surprises. See what unlocked doors pull your playing to unimagined new heights.

The world always needs more, better guitar music.

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