3 Great Blues Rhythm Guitar Tips
Here are 3 easy tips to help you play blues rhythm guitar. Follow these and your fellow musicians and the audience will thank you!
Number One: Proper Volume In The Mix!
Proper volume for the rhythm guitarist is one of the most crucial make-it-or-break- it elements. I recommend that you invest some quality time into listening carefully to professionally mixed recordings.
As you do so, note the volume given to each instrument, including the singer if there is one. Notice how the featured artist, a singer or soloist, is given the most volume in the mix. In other words, in a professionally mixed recording, no other instrument is louder than the singer or the soloist, not even the drummer, and especially not the rhythm guitarist.
Notice also the volume of the bass compared to the drums – they have a very close relationship in a band and must have well-coordinated volumes in the mix in order to ‘really set the stage’ for musical success! Now, listen to the rhythm guitarist and/or the keyboards in the mix.
Notice how the rhythm / chord player’s volume relates to the volume-coordination established between bass and drums. In a small combo, especially in a guitar-driven band, the rhythm / chord-player’s part may be more prominent compared to volumes that we might hear from a larger combo.
In a larger combo, there might be both a guitarist and a keyboardist competing for essentially the same musical space, and the solution is to have one or both instruments playing at a lower volume. Or, there might be horn section and/or a group of backup singers causing the chord player(s) to fit in at a lower volume compared to a smaller guitar or keyboard driven band.
Each format is ultimately going to alter how we fit into the mix as rhythm guitarists. Listen to how your favorite artists fit in when playing rhythm guitar and use this as a starting point to make sure your personal volume is just right for each gig!
Pro-Level Tip: Here is a great rule-of-thumb for establishing and maintaining proper volume when playing live on stage, especially when you don’t have a sound-engineer dedicated to real-time control of the mixing board: When in doubt, play your rhythm guitar parts so that you can barely hear your own playing compared to the other instruments.
As disappointing as this might sound ‘at first’, knowing that you are playing rhythm at just the right volume is going to make you sound and feel like a real pro! Another approach is to ‘plug in’ using a long instrument cable, or wireless system, and then ‘step away from the stage’ during sound-check in order to pre-hear what the audience is likely to hear.
This is an excellent opportunity to hear and make proper adjustments to the mix. Then, climb back onto the stage to play again to ‘memorize’ how your, now proper rhythm guitar volume, should sound while on stage so that you can then maintain a proper volume-ratio during the performance.
Number Two: Getting Great Tone!
In this category we are going to reveal a secret to getting greater ‘rhythm guitar playing’ tone along with a secret to gaining greater access to an even more fulfilling dynamic range.
The simple formula reads like this: we turn down our guitar-volume just enough so that we can then be more aggressive with our picking attack on the strings in our musical effort to achieve proper performance volume.
Listen-for and feel-for a sweet-spot that exists where you can then be more aggressive and more percussive while also generating adaptive-access to a broad range of possible volumes.
In this way you can be ready to ‘back-up’ and support a truly dynamic singer and/or a truly dynamic soloist (more on dynamics in just a moment).
Pro-Level Tip: Once you have mastered your ability to quickly establish this ‘reduced-volume’ sweet-spot, you can then begin to experience how your guitar is fully-capable of generating a quieter and more percussive voice that blends perfectly into the rhythm section. Then, when it’s time to play a more pronounced riff and/or solo, just roll your guitar volume right back up and then instantly you will be ready to shine as a great ‘riff-master’ and/or a great soloist as well!
Number Three: Dynamics, Dynamics, Dynamics!
In this category we are going to reveal the simple secret that makes ‘blues rhythm guitar playing’ truly come alive, making it a lot more effective and ultimately a lot more fun!
There is a hidden force in music-making that is responsible for making a musical performance into a vehicle that takes us on a powerful journey from ‘growing musical excitement’ to ‘musical climax’ and then ‘back again to a satisfying state of musical resolve’.
When it comes to this form of musical story telling, two main factors are definitely in play:
As we gradually increase the volume of a performance, we gradually increase the level of excitement. Then, when we bring the volume-level back down again, we all experience a satisfying return back to a state of resolve.
This ‘phenomena’ actually has much more to do with the actual ‘amount-of-change in volume’ than ‘how loud’ we actually get. In this way, it is important to state that ‘just playing loudly’ does not have any desirable effect where dynamics are concerned.
- As we gradually condense more-and-more notes into smaller-and-smaller musical spaces, like replacing ‘quarter and/or eighth notes’ with ‘triplets and/or sixteenths’, we gradually increase the level of excitement. Then, when we reduce from ‘triplets and/or sixteenths’ back down to ‘eighths and/or quarters’ again, we all experience a satisfying return back to a state of resolve. This concept can be taken even further the moment we end a song or piece on an elongated tone that also, harmonically speaking, matches the root of the tonic chord (a long ‘C’ note if we are in the key of ‘C’). This provides the ultimate musical resolve.
When we combine elements from examples one and two, as described above, we then have a powerful and dynamic set of musical tools at our disposal!
Pro-Level Tip: With each performance, as blues rhythm guitarists, we play at volume-levels that are quieter than the singer and/or soloist and we play at a levels of intensity that serve to highlight, support and not overshadow their efforts. As they begin to sing or solo louder and with more intensity, we immediately adjust creatively to continue highlighting and supporting their musical efforts.
For example: let’s imagine that as our singer begins to deliver lyrics with more passion and volume, we begin also to play more-passionate-rhythm-guitar in order to help support their movement up toward some level of musical climax.
This effort on our part might very well include replacing ‘quarter and/or eighth notes’ with ‘triplets and/or sixteenths’ in our ‘blues rhythm guitar playing’ while also increasing volume as well.
“What proportions are going to be best,” you might ask? This is the moment when you ‘become the artist in charge’ and decide-in-the-moment what is going to be best, and then continue being ready to adjust at a moment’s notice! This ‘deciding in the moment’ process is part of what makes ‘dynamic music making’ so much fun.
In this way, musical circumstances are always changing within what amounts to an exciting back-and-forth ‘musical conversation’ that we are having with band-mates and the audience, in real time, while performing live on stage!
Bonus: Before we go, here is one more helpful rule of thumb: in an effort to leave plenty of musical space for other players, and for other listeners to enjoy, we often comp and/or play rhythm guitar parts that are somewhat sparse. This approach tends to call for a slightly ‘elevated musical volume’ compared to the kind of ‘reduced musical volume’ that we would typically give to a more-active approach to ‘blues rhythm guitar playing’.
For example: in general, the more ‘active-and-space- filling’ our rhythm guitar part becomes, the less volume we play it with. It’s all about blending in with the rhythm section in order to highlight-and-support efforts of the singer and/or soloist as they climb to take us through a series of ‘musical climaxes’ before finally bringing us all back down to that final musical resolve!
‘Blues rhythm guitar playing’ is a great opportunity to wake up, be fully alive and become an exciting-and-dynamic part of a powerful musical experience!
Plus, for many logical reasons, great guitar ‘soloists’ who then also learn to play great ‘rhythm guitar’ tend to then become ‘even greater soloists’ and ‘even greater rhythm guitarists’, and ‘so on and so fourth’! And with that kind of musical momentum to enjoy, and until we meet again, happy practicing!
Finally, check out the actual blues rhythm guitar exercises and the free 14 day trial for Music Muse Academy.