I frequently receive emails from guitarists who want to know how they can improve their rhythm guitar playing and make their own rock and metal guitar riffs. Most guitar players do not learn much about rhythm guitar outside of how to play basic power chords. As a result, they quickly run out of ideas, and have a hard time creating interesting rhythms on guitar. After reading the rest of this article, you will understand how to play rhythm guitar more creatively so that you can make killer guitar riffs.
Starting off, you will likely need to think about rhythm guitar playing in a totally different way than the way you are used to. In order to make cool riffs for rhythm guitar, you need to think less about the specific notes you are using and more about HOW you play the notes you use. Fact is, you can take even a simple power chord and make it sound awesome without using any additional notes. Additionally, you don’t need to rush out and learn a bunch of new chords in order to create interesting rhythm guitar ideas.
You probably already know that to truly master rhythm guitar playing, you must work on improving a variety of different skills and you may even know what some of those skills are. However, if you are still having a hard time writing rhythm guitar riffs that you are happy with, most likely your approach to practicing this area of guitar playing could use additional help (even if you aren’t aware specifically of “what” skills need to be improved). If you would like to understand exactly what needs to be done in order to improve all areas in your guitar playing, I recommend that you seek out a great guitar teacher who has already helped many other guitarists make significant progress toward their musical goals. In the meantime, there are 5 essential ideas that you can use to make great rhythm guitar riffs regardless of your current skill level. Once you have become comfortable with using these ideas in your rhythm guitar playing, you will be able to make creative guitar riffs any time you pick up the guitar:Focus on playing rhythm guitar as cleanly and ‘in time’ as possible. If you cannot do this well, your rhythm guitar playing will sound mediocre at best. Most guitar players understand that being able to play in time means to play consistently to a beat, but few of these guitar players can determine when rhythm guitar parts are TRULY in time. If you can’t play tight to a metronome or drum beat, your rhythm guitar playing will not sound good regardless of the notes you play.
An easy way to test your rhythm guitar timing is to record yourself playing quarter note rhythms using a single note. To keep the beat, use a metronome that is playing quarter notes. If you are playing the rhythm with perfect timing, you will start to notice how the click of the beat seems to blend together with the notes of your guitar, creating the illusion that the click has been turned off. However, if your timing is a little off, the click of the metronome will sound like it happens slightly before or slightly after the notes you are playing.
Aside from having great timing when playing guitar to a beat, it is important to improve other areas in rhythm guitar playing such as palm muting control and pick attack articulation. Having the ability to play well in these areas will not only help improve your overall rhythm guitar skills, but it will save you A LOT of cash in the studio if you ever record an album. Learn how to master these aspects of rhythm guitar by checking out this free guide to recording guitar in the studio. Think about the way the actual rhythms you play work together to make the guitar riff as a whole. Similar to lead guitar, many guitarists ‘overdo it’ when playing rhythm guitar riffs. The truth is that you can make great guitar riffs by using only one or two notes. It’s easy to get caught up in all the various aspects of rhythm guitar playing, but remember…rhythm guitar is about RHYTHM!
By building guitar riffs with only one or two notes (or chords) you will naturally focus more on the rhythm of the notes you are playing. Here is a good exercise for this: Start by writing down 32 eighth notes on a sheet of paper. Next randomly erase 8 of these notes. Once you have done this, replace the notes you have erased with rests. Now, play the resulting rhythm with the notes that are left on guitar using only single notes or power chords.
This exercise will give you many rhythms that you can use to create cool guitar riffs. Additionally, you can make things more interesting by using various time signatures or alternate note durations.Use a single rhythm to create many new guitar riffs. Take an interesting rhythmic pattern and use it with 5-15 different groups of chords or notes. This will greatly expand your capacity to play creative rhythm guitar. Additionally, you can use this idea from the opposite perspective: Use a single chord or note to play 5-15 different rhythmic patterns. This will give you a lot of material to use when coming up with new guitar riffs.Work to improve your pinch harmonics and vibrato skills. These two guitar techniques can make your guitar riffs sound very intense (especially in rock or metal guitar playing). Vibrato is useful for giving your guitar a voice-like quality, and when you combine it with pinch harmonics, the end result is a powerful guitar riff that is sure to get the attention of your audience. If you have not fully mastered these techniques, start by using them separately. Once you are more comfortable with each one, combine them both together at the end of your guitar riffs for an extra strong finish!Learn creative ways to combine guitar chords together. This will enable you to think of many cool sounding groups of chords to use in your rhythm guitar riffs. If you are familiar with the idea of ‘keys’ when using chords, this will be much easier for you. However, if you don’t know about this yet, simply combine different major and minor chords together with power chords. For instance, if you are playing a guitar riff that contains an A power chord, you can add in the notes of an A minor chord to get a different sound. Experiment with this idea to expand power chords into full major or minor chords.
Mastering the ability to play creative rhythm guitar riffs does not happen overnight. However, as you have read, there are many things you can work on right now to make good progress in this area of your guitar playing. As soon as you learn how to make great guitar riffs you will start to enjoy the creative musical process each time you play. Not only will better rhythm guitar playing help you personally as a musician, it will prove to be a very valuable skill when performing with a band on stage or recording music in the studio.
To learn more about becoming a really TIGHT rhythm guitar player, read this free guide on recording guitar in the studio.
To get more help with your guitar playing, check out this free guitar playing advice.
About The Author:
Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, recording artist and the guitar player for the band Rhapsody Of Fire. He teaches guitar players from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. Visit his website tomhess.net to get free guitar playing resources and to read more guitar playing articles.