The old guitarist joke is that singing is wasted time between guitar solos.
This is because guitarists are always looking for opportunities to show off their skills, be flashy, and play parts that keep themselves entertained. Solos are where stylistic choices and creativity really have a way of shining through.
And while the ability to play lead guitar is a skill in and of itself, no guitarist should see themselves as a complete musician unless they can play effective rhythm guitar.
Here are some tips and tricks for playing better rhythm guitar.
Learn As Many Different Techniques As Possible To Improve Rhythm Guitar
Techniques like hammer-ons, slides, and harmonics have a tendency to be seen as exclusive to lead guitar. This simply isn’t the case.
If you’ve ever listened to Eddie Van Halen, you know that he pulls out all stops whether he’s playing rhythm or lead parts. Most techniques he uses in his leads are often present in his rhythm parts too.
This isn’t to suggest that all rhythm parts need to be complex. You should always adapt your style to the song itself. Overplaying during a slow, quiet emotional song is tacky. So is lingering on long, sustained notes when the song calls for staccato shots and accents.
The point is that some chances need to be taken. If you only see a song as a chord progression, and not as a musical journey, then your tendency will always be to rely on eighth-note power chords.
And there are times when those power chords are exactly what a song calls for, but if you aren’t supporting the singer or other elements of the band, you’re either showing off, or you just have a “bad ear” – you’re not hearing what’s supposed to happen as you add your own layer to the music!
Look to apply various techniques in unique and creative ways, and don’t merely strum open chords through the verses, unless that’s what the song calls for.
Move Your Riffs To Different Positions On The Neck
Most guitars have six strings and 21 frets. Since there are only 12 notes in music, it’s good to know that riffs you’re playing in the open position can be moved to different octaves and positions on the guitar.
Sometimes it’s nice to use those beefy low notes for heaviness and emphasis (think Metallica), but there are also times when higher notes really serve the emotion and atmosphere of the song (think U2).
The main reason many guitarists never get around to exploring different parts of the neck usually has to do with laziness. They don’t want to use barres or play complicated chord shapes. But I’ll tell you right now that this is a very rewarding process.
Playing in different positions can give you access to chord inversions, variations and extensions, and in turn, riff ideas that can be used for different parts of the song.
Try Different Rhythmic Patterns
It’s human nature to settle into a groove. We play certain rhythmic patterns because they get reinforced through repetition – through the music we regularly listen to and play.
But just because the bass player is playing an eighth-note rhythm doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit, and just because the band is playing straight doesn’t mean you can’t throw some syncopation in there.
Fundamentally, there are only three variables you can control as a guitarist: 1) the notes you play (scale, key signature, etc.), 2) how you play them (the rhythm), and 3) how fast you play the notes (tempo – which is really just another aspect of rhythm).
What a lot of guitarists tend to miss is that rhythm makes a bigger difference than note choice.
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