** As featured in issue 36 **
Hello groovers. Here I am again to rant about the importance of being able to play decent rhythm guitar. Strangely, in the world of the young guitar player, the priority seems to always fall on being able to 'shred' to an impressive level rather than concentrate on the things that really matter in real world guitar playing, which are timing, tone, feel and groove. The complete contemporary electric guitar player should have a balance of many aspects of the instrument, and the one thing that seems to catch many players out is rhythm playing, especially if it draws heavily on Funk and R&B guitar techniques and style.
Being caught out in the rhythm department is understandable, because to shred any fast technical lick merely takes repetition and muscle memory, whereas good groove playing involves musical instinct, musicality, chordal knowledge, chord fragments, chord voicings, chord inversions, string muting, touch, timing, tone, internal clock and that elusive 'feel' factor which simply isn't teachable. So when you add it up, it's easy to see why this area is often neglected because it is possibly one of the hardest areas to sound great in.
With that in mind I thought that this Pro Concepts we could take a look at a simple two chord vamp, followed by a pleasing four bar chord sequence that involves elements of funk to execute properly. Our two chord vamp is a Cmaj7 to a Gmaj7. A classic little movement used again and again in countless songs and grooves. But what gives it life and musicality are the choices you make. What chord inversions, voicings and fragments are you going to use to suggest these two chords? Where on the neck does it sound best? Which pickup sounds best? What strumming pattern feels good? Where and how do you mute the chord within the strumming pattern to get it to sound percussive and in the pocket? How hard or soft do you strike the strings? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions because they are personal to each player but the end result should sound full of feel, groove and be totally in the pocket.
Following on with same thought process I give a little demo of a four bar sequence with a chord every two measures of the bar, Our sequence goes like this, Cmaj7 Gmaj7 / Bmin7 Emin7 / Fmaj9 Cmaj7 (or Cmaj9 or Cadd9, they all sound good and work) / Gmaj7 Bmin7#5 (could also be described as Dsus4 over B or even G add 2). Check what voicings and chord fragments I use and combine, to execute this sequence, but maybe you have some cooler chord voicings in mind. The key to a large part of that R&B Funk vibe is to not have too many notes in your chord. In fact on most occasions when playing rhythm on the electric guitar, smaller three or four note chords sound better to me. Bigger five or six note chords generally work nicely for acoustic guitar rhythm.
The hardest part of all this is sounding authentic and controlled whilst playing, with a feel that says you have been doing it all your life. With or without a metronome you should have a good sense of time. Some people have better internal clocks than others, and it's a definite advantage. No sense of time is a bit of a disadvantage but doesn't seem stop some of us, a bit like some 'singers' are tone deaf but are always first to the mic on karaoke night. When you are in total command of the pulse, you can then develop playing slightly behind the click. Directly on, or slightly behind the groove can add great to the feel. What rarely works is playing just in front. It will make you sound like you are pushing the groove and you will definitely be spoiling it for the drummer and bass player, who will be trying to ignore your playing as best they can.
Have a look at my tutorial and see if it is within your comfort zone to recreate something close to what I'm doing in the demo. If you struggle with it, then you probably need to put some work in to this side of things. If you are serious about making a living as a guitarist, there is no escaping the horrible truth that rhythm is what you will be required to do most of the time, so being accomplished at it, and better than the next guy, will certainly open doors.