** As featured in issue 28 **
Hi everyone. This guitar basics lesson I am going to try to demonstrate how exciting and tricky it is to be able to lift your rhythm guitar playing above the average strumming of the average guitar chord voicings. This means having a look at detailing our approach and attitude towards making what we can do rhythmically really stand out as being special when playing rhythm guitar.
Most ambitious guitarists seem to prioritise their soloing when working towards becoming a better player, rather than looking at approaching the guitar as the fantastic rhythmic instrument it can be. Bass players think groove, tone, feel. Drummers think groove, feel, tone. Guitarists generally get in the way of what the bass player and drummer are trying to achieve, until it's their solo when they play something as fast as possible and expect everyone who can hear them to be impressed. The real world out there is all about flare, ideas, creativity and not only about being a fine soloist, but also an outstanding rhythm player.
When you actually think about it, once you have a few pentatonic box shapes under your belt, it's fairly easy to sound OK doing a Blues solo, providing you pull a good face and have a sweet vibrato. Unfortunately, when the solo is over, it's much harder to impress with your chord work, and I have witnessed some shocking examples both at a semi-pro and pro level. I have even had to work with a few, but that's another story!
So what 'details' can we think about. Well firstly, I have said this many times in Pro Concepts, you must must must have a good sense of time and a rock solid 'inner clock'. Many teachers out there talk about playing with a click or metronome, and yes, this certainly helps, but it can also make you lazy with regards to where the pulse, is when the click isn't there. I am including times when you play with a drummer. You still need that inside pulse to steer everything you play, so that you can purposely play behind the beat, or right on it (rarely in front) or still know where the groove is when there is nothing outlining where it is. Your inner pulse also enables you to swing, shuffle or syncopate and sub divide what you play. Without it, you are only ever going get to a certain ability with your playing and generally any musical situation will be a much more pleasant experience if we can actually play in time.
But it doesn't just stop at 'playing in time'. That is just expected if someone is paying you to play. Where a large percentage of guitarists fall away is when it comes being able to really add detail, so that something becomes inherently cool rhythmically. Hendrix was a master of this, and players like John Mayer, Steve Lukather, Mike Landau, Nuno Bettencourt, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tommy Emmanuel to name a few, have all taken his mastery to a whole new level. They are all (were) great players because they have approached the guitar with all the possibilities in mind, not just the bit where they get to solo. Approach can be as important as technique. Hopefully one, or all, of these names will resonate with you to illustrate how exciting truly great groove is in all genres.
So rather than me write about it, and tell you the importance, I have tried to illustrate it with four short examples on our filmed tutorial. Details included are things like pickup choice, guitar volume pot control, accents, dead notes for percussion, being able to swing using the thumb, raking the strings, chord voicings, riffs to suggest the chord and even changing to playing what we have gone over in a different time signature. Obviously the subject is huge to tackle in a 20 minute film but hopefully you will be able to hear why each example has something about it that draws you in, and how rhythm, feel and approach combined with details that you can add, give you an end result which is very rhythmic and cool.
I have touched on this subject many times in my Pro Concepts column, and no doubt, I will do again. There is no shortage on the net of various players teaching you how to be a Rock god that can solo, and I have done my fair share, both on here and for Lick Library, but there seems be a distinct shortage of people out there talking about what we do most of the time, which is add rhythm. You see how much I care about you guys!