It seems that guitarists are very occupied with whether they play rhythm or lead guitar. Of course everybody wants to be the lead guitarist, but in the end it comes down to both skills. It just isn’t that black and white. As a good guitar player you must have the ability to do both. You simply play guitar, there’s no adjective.
When I first started out I wanted to be the lead guitarist of course. I wanted to be that guy in the spotlight. My theory was that I had to be either a lead singer or a lead guitarist to reach that goal. I was looking at all those classic rock duos like Robert Plant & Jimmy Page, Axl & Slash and Steven Tyler & Joe Perry.
Since I didn’t think I had a good singing voice the choice was easy.
So I started to practice my ass off. Talked my friend into buying a guitar, taught him the basics and started a band. Him being the rhythm guitarist of course.
There is a chapter in Frank Zappa’s autobiography ‘The Real Frank Zappa Book‘ on ‘The Anthropology of the Rock and Roll Band‘.
It gives a very good explanation why everybody wants to be the lead guitarist. Just check it out if you have the chance, it’s very funny and so true.
But anyway, we had the band together with me as the new local guitar hero. A teenage dream fulfilled.
That was back then. Now after years of playing I learned that rhythm is the key to being a good musician. And that playing rhythm can be much harder than playing solos. Try to play a James Brown song for example. It looks easy, but it’s not. You think it’s just the same riff over and over again throughout the whole song. That may be, but to play that constantly and evenly for a few minutes. That’s hard work and might take just as much practice as mastering a guitar solo.
So here are a few tips on how to improve your rhythm skills.
First of all, always practice with a metronome. You may already have a good time feel, but this will definitely improve it.
Try to tap the beat with your foot when you practice, you need to feel the beat. You can also rock your head or anything else that feels comfortable. But if you don’t want to look like a complete idiot when playing, tapping your foot is probably the best idea. But than again, if Dave Grohl can can get away with it, just rock your head if you feel like it.
When playing rhythm guitar it comes down to your right hand. That’s where you keep your time and timing. Your right hand should have a constant movement. And you want that movement to come from the wrist, not your whole arm. Just take a 16th note rhythm for example. Which means that every beat is divided into four segments. So you go down, up, down, up per beat. Try to play that constantly with a metronome. Just mute the strings with your left hand, you don’t need it for this example. You can try to play an accent on the first down stroke of every beat. This will help when you start playing at a faster pace.
Now that you’ve mastered that you can try and play a simple riff. In the end you find that it doesn’t matter that much what your left hand does. You can even hide certain mistakes by just muting the strings with your left hand or you can mute certain parts you don’t remember. Just keep on going with your right hand and no one will know you fucked up! Trust me, it saved my ass a number of times.
This is the rhythm figure I play with some variations. It basically is an A power chord followed by an E and D power chord.