Ultra Tight Rhythm Guitar Playing - The Key to Sounding Killer

An article explaining the importance of Rhythm Guitar and also outlines specific things to practice for improving this aspect.

Ultimate Guitar

I want to share a personal experience before I give some practical advice on how to make your rhythm playing tighter. I have been working on refining my lead Guitar skills for the past 4 years, sometimes for many hours every day. I have built up some serious skills over this time period but I didn't really focus on rhythm playing. It was always a "by factor" and I never really placed a lot of importance on developing the skill of playing tight and locking in with the drums (and other band members).

With a lot of musical knowledge and serious lead skills I joined a band named Strident. It is a South African Power Metal Band based in Cape Town. I am currently very happy to be part of them but I had to put in some serious work after joining them as my rhythm skills simply wasn't up to scratch. Firstly, I had a lot of difficulty playing solo's over sections in 5/4 because my I didn't have a good "internal count" going on while I was soloing.

My rhythm playing was all over the show and didn't lock in at all. It's not that I didn't have rhythm skills per se, that I had. In fact, my rhythm chops are pretty good actually. The skill to play on time and to lock in was under developed though. This spawned in me a deep urge to get this area under control.

I also started recording my debut solo album and yet again my producer (James Scott) told me how far off I was and that this area needed work. It makes a producer's job a lot more difficult and could end up embarrassing a Guitarist if his rhythm skills aren't what it should be.

I decided that this was an area I would have to look at and improve significantly in order for me to be very valuable as a player and also to be a good team player and take into consideration the needs of all other musicians I would be recording and playing live gigs with. I had a moral obligation to work hard and get tight, that was the end of that.

Now that we have established the importance of playing tight I just want to add the following. The skill of playing in time and on the beat isn't only a skill the "elite" should develop. Not at all, in fact. This skill is very necessary when you are playing in any form of band, even if it is just for fun. I have seen YouTube videos of bands not playing in time and if you are satisfied with that, that is fine but since you are reading this I have the feeling you are part of the minority who want to improve and work on your skills to become a better player and also increase your worth as a player by doing the things most other people won't do or simply don't have the motivation for.

Let's look at some exercises you can do to improve your "tightness":

1. We will keep things simple in terms of what we will be playing. Do NOT go for crazy/technically challenging riffs etc. That is not the issue here. The issue is internal timing and playing on the downbeat. So for a start I want you to create yourself a back track consisting of only drums at a comfortable speed (A metronome will work just fine). Start off at 90 beats per minute (Increase the tempo as you get comfortable with the staring tempo). Only play whole notes on an E5 power chord in the open string position. After that, do half notes, then go to quarter notes, eighth notes, eighth note triplets and ultimately sixteenth notes. Use ONLY down strokes. Listen VERY critically at how your accents line up with the down beat of the drums. In fact, I urge you to record yourself and listen back to it. Make sure you listen very carefully to how you're playing sounds, is it solid or does it move away from the down beat on occasion and make your playing sound sloppy and also disrupting the natural pulse of the drum beat underneath the Guitar? The key here is to be very critical on your playing. Not to degrade yourself but to make sure that you train your ear to play on time and make this a habit.

2. Do the exact same thing as what we did above but now I want you to do ONLY up strokes. There is a vast difference between down strokes and up strokes. Up strokes might feel very uncomfortable but once you develop a strong upstroke your chops and timing will really benefit, not to mention how much better your articulation will become when playing heavier rhythm sections.

3. Now to take the above mentioned ideas further, I want you to monitor the wav file of the Guitar over the drum track (In your DAW such as Reaper) and check if the articulation of the notes matches up exactly with the down beat of the drums. So this is where we want to be LOOKING for flaws and making sure with our eye that you're playing is lining up with the drums. This is just a tool and not something to be relied upon, although it is a very good tool to see if we are on the right track.

You can do all of the above examples with any kind of chord, you can incorporate picking through standard open chords and see how you lock in when doing this. Another very important moment is when you change between chords, is a whole new challenge. Even the simplest open chords become difficult to nail perfectly. Make sure to turn on the grid lines of your recording software for very accurate visuals of your playing. In the first example you can see how sloppy the 8th notes are lining up with the grid lines of my DAW. The 2nd example is one of tight playing and should become our natural way of playing.

If you are interested in drum tracks for you to practice over, go to my website and sign up to my newsletter, you will receive an email with a link to download the drum tracks. Using your own drum beats or a metronome is perfect as well.

I have gained so much more musical depth and richness since I have improved in this area and even my lead playing has benefited tremendously. I want to leave you with a final thought and from this I want you to think and create your own variations of the above exercises. The key word in improving at rhythm playing is perception. It is training your ear to be very perceptive to whether or not you are playing on the beat and perfectly in time. By simply practicing to increase your awareness you will have the tools necessary to improve vastly in this particular area. You can be your own coach when it comes to playing tight and in time.

If you like this article and its content, make sure to also read this article by my mentor, Tom Hess, entitled "How To Play Awesome Rhythm Guitar Riffs".

About The Author: George "ShredKing" Engelbrecht is a Neo-Classical Guitar Virtuoso in Vredenburg, South Africa. Visit GeorgeShredKing.com and sign up to his newsletter for more information about practicing effectively and to keep up to date with his latest releases.

51 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Just as i thought i had read an entire article without Tom Hess getting mentioned... About the article: Some of the points were okay. Nothing revolutionary, but still relevant and all are indeed important factors when playing rythm. I didn't like how much you ended up talking about yourself though. Everything you wrote before point nr. 1 could have been summed up in way less space, and thereby making space for more wisdom. Oh.. And the name "ShredKing" really REALLY puts the expectations for your work way high.
    Yeah that shredKing thing is a little over the top... But good lesson nonetheless
    I feel like this was a good article. I've been working on timing issues lately as well, its easy to get carried away when you THINK it sounds good.
    I love how the guy that wrote the article got a couple of his friends (Jahan Honma and Sir_Taffey) to come and defend him after people said that they didn't like his article because it seemed like simple autofellatio half of the time. Actually, I clicked the link in the article and listened to a couple of the samples from Strident. That was easily the most bland and uninteresting power metal I have ever heard. It's like if you took any more well known power metal bands, slowed it down 20%, threw in a vocalist that clearly doesn't have the vocal range to sing power metal, and tossed out anything that so much as resembled an interesting riff. I also love the way that you self-style yourself as a "Neo-Classical Guitar Virtuoso". After checking out your shred videos, I must say that your playing is nothing special, nothing more than a 3rd rate Yngwie copy. There are hundreds of lads on Youtube that play just like you but with half of the attitude. And there are many times more that play just as well from a technical point but play stuff that is far more interesting and original. I also loved the way your banner proudly proclaims "Home of Renaissance Metal" when in fact there was nothing that even closely resembled renaissance music (or classical music in general) save for a few external similarities that are not even necessarily exclusive or even major elements of classical music, such as the use of harmonic minor scales. The article itself wasn't bad (though nothing particularly special), but your holier-than-though, Mr. Superior attitude is pretty terrible, especially when you consider that you don't appear to have too much to back it up with.
    Hey guys, glad if you all got something out of this or even if it just reconfirmed important things you already knew. I just wanted to make a quick point. I am a musician and I do this for a living. I am from South Africa and have devoted 1000's of hours to music. If people get offended because I am promoting myself, that is their problem. Just remember that I am doing this to put food on the table and to take care of myself. Wouldn't any business man do the best he could and expand his horizons? After all, I am offering FREE advice for people that would like to read it, if not, well just don't read my stuff. I plan on doing more of these and providing better and better content as I get better at writing. Happy shredding!
    My Last Words
    For real mate, doing it for a living or not, the whole "shred king" thingy makes you sound really full of yourself. And frankly said, taken the fact that you're a tom hess disciple, it wouldn't really surprise me if what I just said was indeed the case. Meh, the rest of the things you've adressed were helpful tho.
    Did this guy just reference playing guitar for a living and then expects our sympathy?
    Good points. I recommend to anyone to start recording themselves, since I started my sense of rhythm has improved greatly.
    I have a question here, and please, don't let me come off as harsh or arrogant. In your years of playing, how did this take a backseat? I was a drummer before I played guitar, and I figured out timing, rhythm, the whole 9 there, and when I learned my first chords and scales, just naturally put it together. But even before that, you still develop a feel for it, as your learning. Now, where you just lacking a backing track? Or not being able to play with others? What exactly caused this? Cos this is the first time I've heard someone say they have skills, but can't stay in time with a band.
    How did what take the back seat? Try and work on scales/licks arpeggios/riffs for 5 years consistently (with or without a metronome) and not with recording yourself. Then go and write epic music or record riffs/solos for a band that writes intricate parts and see if you are tight and in time. You won't be as the skill of perfect timing is always neglected, or usually in musicians who hadn't been taught about the importance of playing tight through their development. Remember, this is a skill just as playing fast is, if neglected...you suck. Period. Btw. the fact that you are a drummer obviously helps in this department and us who never played drums before we play Guitar don't see things through "drum" lenses. We just chose the coolest instrument initially
    Lastly, I do appreciate all the feedback I received from my first article....be it good or bad. I believe everyone has a voice and should count for at least some consideration. The important thing here isn't me or my name though, it is if people actually learn something and it is that which I wish to bring about with writing articles among other things. Shred!
    I have to be honest. I read "ultra tight" and thought this was going to give me tips for my girlfriend.
    I checked out 'ShredKing"'s biography on his website. It mentions Tom Hess by name five times in six paragraphs... I lol'd.
    Jahan Honma
    He didn't get me to do anything. I noticed there were some negative nancies in here and decided to intervene myself because, yes, he is my friend. I think you would do the same for your friend. Anyway, I don't get why people don't like the name ShredKing. It's just an ARTIST NAME. That's different from actual narcissism. It's just for fun.
    If my friend was being pretentious, I would tell him to stop being pretentious. I don't like the name because it's like, "Look at me, I'm the King of Shredding! I'm so much better than you!" It's not an artist name: it's self-styling yourself as thinking that you're better than everyone else. If it was ShredFan or ShredGuy or MrShred or Shred4Life, that implies that you like shred without saying that you think you're the greatest thing ever. And don't say he doesn't, because claiming to be "a Neo-Classical Guitar Virtuoso" when you're more or less completely unknown shows that he's pretty high on himself.
    "It's not an artist name: it's self-styling yourself as thinking that you're better than everyone else. " I love it when people make it personal. Now since George got the ShredKing nickname there are a lot of people out there who feel it as a personal insult. Guess what guys. George is out there with an actual band, playing actual concerts, and making a living playing guitar - not writing envious comments in his bedroom on an article somebody else published on UG. Most naysayers here can only DREAM about doing what George does. Don't like my comment? Want to prove me wrong? Try and DO something better than him and let's see how you fare (wanna bet someone is going to post the old "I don't need to be able to do something in order to criticize"?)
    Thanks Jahan for injecting some positive vibes in this conversation. You are awesome, I know you personally and have been ONLY good to me You know, I have logged more than 10 000 hours on my ass to work on my craft and practice Guitar. I have spent thousands of dollars on guitar education and I have left a career as a lawyer (Yes, I have a Law degree and an Economics degree) to do music, what I love to do. Now sir, I all kindness - I will call myself a virtuoso because I am one. My playing is at this level and why wouldn't I call myself this? Did I ever say I am better than anyone? No! In fact, when I walked off a stage at a show here in Cape town, there was a guy that fell to his knees and praised me as if I were some sort of god. I told him to stand up and not treat me like that because I am an ordinary person who loves to do his best at life. It did feel very weird and I don't feel like I am worthy of being praised as a god...lets leave that to the great people like Ghandi etc. Hell, calling me a 3rd grade Yngiwe...let's be real - I'm more like a 10th grade Yngwie
    You do kinda look like Jesus. and just fyi, insisting that you are a virtuoso and telling a story about how an audience member worshipped at your feet (although you were virtuosically humble about it) doesn't do a lot to dispel perceptions that you are pretentious.
    Power Metal From Space...Really...Renaissance Metal... I can't take anyone who uses these terms seriously.
    Jahan Honma
    I actually wasn't under the impression that he has no rhythm at all. Just that it could be much tighter as it could probably be for most people.
    This was a pretty legit article, it is all relevant. And I live in Cape Town and Strident is a great power metal outfit, their chops are up there and they are very creative
    Glad you guys enjoy Strident! I am very fortunate to be part of them and also have access to very cool fans! Jahan, I think we should undertake a tour world wide
    Jahan Honma
    That's awesome, Sir Taffey. I would LOVE to see Strident live.
    I think you should Their song power metal from space is on youtube (free advertising) one of my favorites from them but not their best work
    Lets not get into a pissing contest here. I'm just saying, your individualist approach to guitar was obviously wrong. You overlooked a key feature in being in a band just to be the next Michael Angelo Batio, and I wondered how and why. I can understand it if you had a lack of backing tracks or even not playing in a band before, but honestly, not having a metronome while learning? Haven't you ever tried to play along before?
    Nice to meet you, My name is Miss Hannan,never married. i love your profile so much and want to be your loving Musician friend. below is my email ID contact me there so that i can tell you more a about me and send my pictures( hannan.abdallah@yahoo.in ) Thanks Ms Hannan.