How does one go from not being good at rhythm guitar to becoming a master? Do you need to build a big vocabulary of riffs? How about jam with a tight band? Do you need to use a metronome more often? The answer to all of these is NO.
Rock-solid rhythm guitar playing comes as a result of:
-Training yourself on how to hear the right things during practice.
-Being able to spot sloppy rhythm guitar playing errors and correct them.
Watch the video to the end so you can understand the information in the rest of this article!
Question: “Tom Hess, how does working to improve my ear help my rhythm guitar playing? Isn’t ear training mainly used for identifying intervals, harmonies and the notes of scales?”
Answer: Ear training is a big area of music that is made up of many different things. Not only is it made up of being able to identify scales, chords or intervals, but also things like rhythm patterns. Additionally, ear training covers knowing how to identify rhythm guitar playing mistakes (as well as aspects of lead guitar such as poor vibrato, consonance/dissonance, etc.)
Stay away from these common rhythm guitar playing mistakes:
Rhythm Guitar Mistake Category #1: Palm Muting Mistakes
Mistake #1: Palm Muting Everything
When you palm mute everything, every note feels the same and it becomes difficult to add emphasis to any particular note. This makes your rhythm guitar playing sound too similar and it eventually becomes dull.
Palm muting is a great way to create variety between different notes by playing some with muting and others without. When done this way, it causes unmuted notes to feel accented. Muting is also a great way to give you a tighter control over the notes and the opportunity to create percussive sounds on the strings.
See the video beginning at 9 seconds to understand the difference between good and poor palm muting.
Mistake #2: Not Using Consistent Palm Muting
Palm muting comes in two forms when it is inconsistent:
-1: Switching between muted and unmuted notes at random. In some cases, the first riff is played with consistent palm muting and the next is not.
-2: Switching between heavily/aggressive muting and light muting at random. In other cases, the first power chord is played with consistent palm muting and the next is not. Sometimes the muting is spot on, other times it is too aggressive or too light.
Both of these kinds of inconsistent palm muting frequently happen at the same time.
Note: Inconsistent palm muting is NOT the same as playing with intention. The former is just a mistake. The latter is done with the purpose of creating variation in the rhythm of the notes.
Question: “Tom Hess, can you truly understand the difference between arbitrarily inconsistent palm muting and palm muting that is varied on purpose? Isn’t that just your opinion?”
Answer: Inconsistent palm muting is pretty easy to identify. Here are a few ways to spot it:
-Inconsistent palm muting usually occurs on weird places within a riff. Example: muting on a downbeat and not muting the rest.
-Inconsistent palm muting usually also includes unwanted string noise and weak articulation (plus other mistakes mentioned below).
-Inconsistent palm muting has no strict pattern to it. This comes off as sounding unintentional.
A great guitar teacher can easily identify flaws in your rhythm guitar playing and give you honest feedback on how to improve it.
Rhythm Guitar Mistakes Category #2: Poor Timing
Common rhythm guitar timing flaws include:
1. Playing ahead of the beat: the notes you play are timed poorly and land ahead (early) of the drum/metronome.
2. Playing behind the beat: the notes you play are timed poorly and land behind (late) of the drum/metronome.
Your main objective is to play exactly on the beat (right on top of the metronome/drum beat).
When you take rhythm guitar lessons you will quickly master perfect timing.
Rhythm Guitar Mistakes Category #3: Lacking Solid Picking Articulation
Excellent picking articulation will make it very easy to hear individual notes within guitar riffs. Poor picking articulation causes the notes to run together.
Poor rhythm guitar articulation is a product of:
Weak Pick Attack – not using enough force whenever you pick a note.
Inconsistent Pick Attack – hitting some notes with a lot of force, others with little force. This inconsistency makes it difficult to articulate the notes clearly.
Sloppy Two Hand Synchronization – your picking and fretting hands are not in perfect timing with each other. The faster you play, the more apparent a lack of 2-hand synchronization becomes. This makes it easier to play without clear articulation.
2-hand synchronization issues are caused by poor guitar technique and bad practicing routines.
How To Improve Your Rhythm Guitar Playing Right Now:
1. Record yourself practicing rhythm guitar playing on a consistent basis and pay close attention to your recordings. This trains you to see the weaknesses within your playing.
2. Make a list of particular issues in your playing that you want to eliminate. This helps you avoid becoming overwhelmed so you can know exactly what needs to be worked on next.
3. Focus on the issues that you want to solve. You can do this in two ways:
Focus on one single issue in complete isolation until it is fixed. This tactic is best used for smaller problems that can be quickly fixed.
Approach the issue by rotating your focus among several problems within the same practice session. For instance: play a guitar riff over and over for 1 minute focusing on palm muting only. Then play it for 1 minute while focusing on playing in perfect time. Next, focus on articulation for 1 minute. Repeat this circuit for a total of 15 minutes. This will help you to develop your skills in the long term.
4. Work with a guitar teacher to get consistent feedback on your playing so you can improve in the shortest amount of time possible.