Cameron Hayes is a guitar educator at the London Guitar Institute, teaching a wide range of styles such as rock, metal, blues, jazz, folk, RnB, acoustic, and many more! He teaches a large volume of students on a weekly basis and always looks to provide outstanding value in each and every lesson!
Rhythm Guitar is The Glue!
So we all love a good bit of lead guitar. Slash’s “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” guitar solos, Angus Young’s iconic solos during “Back In Black”, and Kirk Hammett’s shredding in “Enter Sandman”. But one thing that all these great songs and guitar solos have in common is that they all possess a great rhythm guitarist keeping the whole thing together.
Guns ’N Roses have Izzy Stradlin playing a mix of arpeggiated open chords and thick distorted powerchords throughout Slash’s guitar solos, AC/DC have Malcom Young rocking away on those classic rock open chords, and Metallica have James Hetfield driving the ship with some of the best down picking rhythm guitar has ever seen! It is often said that rhythm guitar is felt and not heard, which is a skill that all of these great rhythm guitarists most definitely hold. In fact I bet that you are less likely to know of those three rhythm guitarists that I just mentioned although you no doubt know of the lead guitarists (with the exception of Hetfield since he is also the lead singer of Metallica).
It is a shame that these great rhythm guitarists don’t receive more recognition, since rhythm guitar is the glue that holds a great band together. All of these great players know how to hold down the fort and keep the rhythm going, locking in with their drumming and bass playing counterparts.
You Will Need to Play Rhythm Most of The Time
Ok sure, so there are a bunch of good rhythm guitarists in some famous rock bands, but why should I learn rhythm guitar? Well, the hard truth about playing in a band or even just jamming along to songs at home by yourself is that you will have to be playing rhythm parts most of the time! Think about it, what percentage of a song is made up of guitar solos? Most likely your song is going to look something like this:
That’s probably somewhere between 10-15% of the song (unless you’re playing in a Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen tribute band). So what are you going to be doing the other 85-90% of the time? Playing rhythm! For some songs, this may be a case of doubling the same thing as the rhythm guitarist which sounds great (think AC/DC), or playing other simpler parts around the lead vocal. So rather than nail your solos and have everything fall apart in the verses and chorus’, start practising those chords!
More Playing Opportunities
With our previous point in mind, which player do you think would have more playing opportunities if they could only play one – the rhythm or the lead player? I’ve met many guitarists who focus solely on lead playing, and even if they are a half decent lead guitarist, they often become lost when it isn’t time to solo anymore. You can always spot this type of player when it’s not time for them to solo, but they try to noodle over the top of the vocals!
A solid rhythm player will never find themselves unsure or bored, as they’re skills will almost always be needed! They will be needed in intros, verses, chorus’, and in guitar solos to play rhythm underneath the lead guitarist. Even outside of just playing in different parts of a song, think about professional musicians who play live gigs to audiences in bars, at weddings, or at your works Christmas function where you had too many drinks last year and probably didn’t even notice that there was a band playing.
All of these scenarios will require a solid rhythm guitarist, since this will keep the song glued together – even more so if they’re the only chordal instrument (if there’s no keyboard/piano). This becomes even more true when talking about acoustic duos and trios, usually made up of guitar/vocals or guitar/vocals/percussion. As an acoustic guitarist in this type of setting, you are really only playing rhythm guitar, meaning if you come from a strictly lead background this may be a struggle for you and will in turn leave you with slimmer opportunities to get out there and play.
Crucial to All Styles!
No matter what styles of music you listen to, one thing is for sure. Most styles that contain guitar will have rhythm guitar present! It is crucial to many musical styles. Think of any of these genres and then a guitarist who is a great rhythm player. Rock has Malcom Young, blues has B.B. King, folk has Bob Dylan, funk has Jimmy Nolan (guitarist for James Brown), and pop has John Mayer (actually, he could fit into any style!). When you have a listen to any of these genres you will always be sure to find rhythm guitar in there somewhere.
Relationship With The Bass and Drums
Have you noticed how all of these previously mentioned guitarists always lock in with the drummers and bass players of their bands? A great rhythm section will listen to each other to feel where everyone is placing the notes, to ensure that they all line up in the correct places whilst sometimes deviating from one another. This may mean striking the chord exactly when the snare is played by the drummer, or locking in in unison with the bass player on a descending root note passage.
The relationship between all three of these instruments will be essential to making the music feel strong and also create a solid foundation for the lead guitarist and vocalist to perform on top of. If the rhythm section isn’t listening to each other and not lining up in the correct places, then the whole band will feel much messier and will affect the overall groove of a song. That’s why you should strive to become a great rhythm guitarist. Not only will it make you a better musician, but also come with the ability to make or break the sound of your band!