Article: How To Simplify Rhythm Guitar Playing
Author: Dr. William Fowler
Publisher: Downbeat Magazine, June 15
Because it clearly marks the beat, a crisp and steady "chunk"
from the guitar helps stabilize the rhythm section of any big band, as
Freddie Green does on dozens of Basie recordings. To achieve this often-desirable
effect, a rhythm guitarist need only put into practice the following few
Keeping the Beat Steady
When a tempo feels uncomfortably fast, beat-keepers sometime unconsciously
slow down. Counting in the head at half-tempo while playing at full speed
reduces that chance of dragging the beat. (Play quarter notes while thinking
half notes.) Conversely, when a tempo feels uncomfortably slow, beat-keepers
sometime speed up. Counting in double-time reduces the chance of rushing.
(Play quarter notes while thinking eighth notes.)
Keeping the Beat Crisp
Holding strings down between pick strokes detracts from rhythmic clarity
- the sound becomes continuous rather than metronomic. Since the guitarist's
left hand controls the duration of sound, a quick left-hand release of
pressure adds crispness to the beat. That hand therefore should remain
relaxed on the strings until the precise instant that right hand activates
them, then should cut off the sound by releasing the pressure immediately
after the right hand stroke.
The faster the tempo, the quicker should be the left-hand release. When
the hands coordinate exactly, maximum precision of the beat will result.
This technique, because it avoids the continual isometrics caused by holding
chords down, allows a guitarist to play for long periods without tiring
the left hand.
Keeping the Dynamics Balanced
Rhythm guitar playing, if played at the volume level required for soloing,
upsets dynamic unity within the rhythm section. If using an amplifier,
set the volume at approximately the level produced by a high quality carved
archtop acoustic guitar to provide a good dynamic blend. Also, too much
treble content in the amplifier tone thins the guitar sound into a non-blending
biting quality; and too much bass content muddies the tone. Again, the
carved archtop acoustic sound blends best in a rhythm section.
Keeping Peace with the Pianist
When pianists take solos, their left hands often comp. Concurrent comping
from a guitarist usually produces a jagged rhythmic effect which disrupts
the clarity of the beat. Whenever the piano is comping, during a solo
or not, a straight on-the-beat guitar rhythm will avoid rhythmic comping
collisions. Many guitarists avoid the undue interference with piano problems
by laying out during piano solos.
Keeping the Chords Simple and the Voice-Leading Smooth
Trying to play every note in every chord usually forces a guitarist to
make awkward fingering changes or to slide positions up and down the neck.
When a complex chord appears in the guitar part, though, it generally
duplicates harmony spread throughout other instruments in the band. There's
no need, therefore, for a guitarist to sacrifice playing ease and concentration
on the beat by trying to play complex chords - leaving out the chord fifths,
ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths in no way hampers an effective beat
from a guitarist. Actually, two and three note chords suffice harmonically,
and in addition allow smooth voice leading.