Written by Michael Casswell
If we lined-up all the Metal, Rock, and Shred players in the world (and that would be a mighty big line!), I wonder how many of them would be able to hold down a cool R&B groove? It’s an interesting thought. Probably a lot of them would have no interest in holding down a groove because that’s not what they do. Speed is usually highest on the list of priorities. But in order to be a ‘complete’ guitarist, rhythm chops should be a very big consideration, especially if you want a career as a professional and not just a ‘bedroom player’ or hobbyist.
The idea is to be able to do both to a high level, but still many of us only concentrate on perfecting the latest speed lick we saw on the web, without the slightest consideration that 90% of the time you will be asked for great feel, groove and rhythm, with the right chord voicings that might lead to the best part for a song or musical situation, all with the right sound and tone. Suddenly, with all this in mind, copying the latest speed lick seems the easier option!
I have covered some rhythmic ideas in previous issues, and trying to show the path to great rhythm and feel playing is a very big ask, because it’s such an enormous subject and there probably isn’t any right or wrong way to get there. A lot of it has to come from the finer points of your own playing and an understanding of groove. How you hold the pick, how you make contact with the string, how you feel where the downbeat falls in a bar, how you feel swing and shuffle, these are all elements that make or break the sound you make when playing Funk, R&B, Jazz and yes, even Rock. A good sense of time and feel is a huge advantage generally, but especially when it comes to holding down a groove.
So for this Pro Concepts column I’m throwing out a little R&B style idea that is basically just an A and a B section, and sort of old school in style, but gives you a tiny insight into what might be required when given a couple of chords that need to ‘lock in’ rhythmically, and still be full of vibe and flare.
The word ‘flare’ is a good descriptive word for what we are trying to go for here. Probably anybody with a few years playing behind them could absorb the chords in my demo and probably come fairly close to recreating what I’m playing, but the strange thing is that the ‘feel’ is a lot more elusive and unexplainable. There are, a couple things to bear in mind. Firstly, when it comes to feel and groove, it is rarely cool to play in front of the beat. Dead on, or ever so slightly behind the pulse will feel good, just in front will make you sound edgy and at the very least will make the drummer and bass player talk about you when you are not in the room. Secondly, the right sound helps. In this demo, I used a bit of overdrive with the guitar volume backed way down. This not only gives a little compression, and brings out the dynamics as you play softer and harder, but also makes it a little more R&B rather than 80’s Funk (not that there is anything wrong with 80’s Funk!).
As I keep saying, great rhythm work will give you a good fighting chance in the business. Obviously great improvised
solos are the flip side of the coin, and one without the other will narrow your chances. We all know how many guitarists there are out there, and the bar for being able to stand out gets higher every decade, so you want to stack things in your favour if you want to make it a career. As an experiment to yourself, it is worth seeing if you can absolutely nail these ideas I demo, can keep it in time, and play it with a stylistically correct tone and feel. If you can, then you can get back to working on those speed licks!