by Richard Freeman
Have you ever been to a jam session or practice with a group of musicians, and they asked you to play rhythm guitar? Was your answer (either stated or unstated) one of the following:
- I’m mainly a lead guitar player so I don’t play rhythm (but really, you just aren’t comfortable playing rhythm).
- I don’t know how to play rhythm guitar (the most honest answer).
- I can play rhythm, but I’m not able to consistently play in time with a metronome or drummer.
If you’ve ever responded in one of these ways, then you really need to understand the importance of rhythm guitar, how it fits into the band and how it can massively improve your overall technique/skills. I’ve met countless guitar students over the years that just want to learn how to play lead guitar because they think that is where they need the most development. However, when asked to play through a cycle of just 4 chords with a standard rhythm, they buckle up and everything they try to play goes out of whack. This can be extremely embarrassing and make you very uncomfortable.
And now… The 7 reasons you need to play rhythm guitar.
- Increase Versatility – Fact is most songs are based around some type of rhythm, not just the lead guitar parts. When we listen to music, generally speaking most people can easily find a beat to tap or nod their head along to. In most cases, the rhythm they are picking up on is a mixture between the drums, bass and rhythm guitar. When guitarists isolate themselves as “lead only” players, they are missing out on the main reason most people even listen to music. Being versatile in your ability to play both rhythm and lead will make you a much more valuable asset to your band.
- Master Timing – It is crucial for guitarists to work on their rhythm playing because when placed into a live playing situation with a drummer or metronome, you do not want to buckle up and be unable to stay locked in time. Many guitar players discover rhythmic weaknesses when they enter a studio to record an album. This is NOT where you want to find out you can’t play in time, because when you pay by the hour to be in a studio, you will want to execute your parts as quickly and cleanly as possible. Even as a lead guitarist, if you don’t understand timing, you won’t survive in a recording studio.
- Develop Technique – Another fact is that almost 80-90% of the time you play in a band, you will be playing rhythm guitar. When people neglect their rhythm skills, they are unknowingly neglecting their overall technique. As your rhythm playing gets better, your lead playing will improve also (more on this in #4).
- Add Creativity – Having a solid understanding of rhythm will increase your creativity as well. It’s not enough to just come up lead guitar parts. Being able to implement rhythmic variations in both your lead playing and chord compositions will increase your creativity beyond belief.
- Expands Fretboard Knowledge – Who doesn’t need to improve in this area? Learning how to move chord progressions around in different inversions will help force you to focus on memorizing the note names in new areas of the fretboard.
- Enhances Music Theory Knowledge – Focusing on rhythm, usually involves a great deal of studying chords. By having a full knowledge of how chords work, this will make it drastically easier to understand what scales fit over different chord progressions. Even lead players need a solid understanding of chords in order to quickly decide what scales they want to use.
- Improves Hand Strength – The picking hand often gets overlooked when we think about developing hand strength and endurance. Truth is, your picking hand needs just as much work as your picking hand to ensure your 2 hand synchronization is 100% locked in time and accuracy. Being able to strum and pick for extended periods of time is often a necessity in live situations. An example would be in a worship team for a church, many times worship leaders will have the band cycle through chord progressions for lengthy periods of time so that the congregation can connect with the music.
All of these reasons (and more) are exactly why you need to focus on your rhythm playing immensely. If you don’t know where to begin, a great way to dig into rhythmic notation is to bring this topic up to your guitar teacher so he/she can create a learning path that will ensure your success. Keep going and don’t give up!
About the author: Richard Freeman is a professional performing guitarist and guitar teacher living in Miami, FL. He is a regular author of many guitar playing and music articles that have been published all over the world. If you are interested in taking guitar lessons in Miami, FL, be sure to contact Richard!