By: Bill McRea
Learning to play good rhythm guitar was the hardest thing for me to figure out when I was first learning. Most people associate playing rhythm to just strumming chords, but it is so much more. I love playing guitar solos and when I sit down to play by myself I usually end up playing an amazing 20 minute solo for myself. Man it’s a lot of fun, but in reality 95% of your playing will be rhythm.
I read an interview of Eddie Van Halen once in which Eddie stated that he was primarily a rhythm guitar player first and a soloist second. Most of the songs you hear and the “riffs” you groove to are not solos but guitar rhythms. The guitar solo is missing in most modern rock music (too bad). I thought this was an indication that modern guitarists just did not have the talent. Listen to bands like Tool and you quickly learn that these guitarists are just as talented as their fathers. They focus more on supporting the song and providing the “vibe”. Each generation of musicians needs to do there own thing, but guitar solos are starting to make a come back.
Learning to play rhythm properly is IMPOSSIBLE if all you do is sit in your room a jam by yourself. Most guitarists have a hard time leaping from playing alone in their room to playing in a band. There are things you can do to make the transition easier. The most important advice is to buy a drum machine or at least find some sort of rhythm device to play along with. Use the drum machine every time you play. Tuning my guitar and turning on my drum machine is automatic for me.
Another effective way to learn rhythm is by playing along with your favorite songs. Tascam sells a machine called a guitar trainer that slows down a CD so you can learn a song at a manageable speed and then allows you to increase the speed as you learn the song. If you cannot afford one of these devices then play along to a CD or Ipod. I often load a song on my Ipod and then put my amp head phones over the Ipod head phones. Be careful of the volume.
Learning good rhythm guitar will land you gigs and teach you more about how to play music. So when you sit down to practice focus about 75% of your time on perfecting this demanding skill.