Rhythm guitar

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In music performances, rhythm guitar is a technique and role that performs a combination of two functions: to provide all or part of the rhythmic pulse in conjunction with other instruments from the rhythm section (e.g., drum kit, bass guitar); and to provide all or part of the harmony, i.e. the chords from a song's chord progression, where a chord is a group of notes played together. Therefore, the basic technique of rhythm guitar is to hold down a series of chords with the fretting hand while strumming or fingerpicking rhythmically with the other hand. More developed rhythm techniques include arpeggios, damping, riffs, chord solos, and complex strums.


In ensembles or bands playing within the acoustic, country, blues, rock or metal genres (among others), a guitarist playing the rhythm part of a composition plays the role of supporting the melodic lines and improvised solos played on the lead instrument or instruments, be they strings, wind, brass, keyboard or even percussion instruments, or simply the human voice, in the sense of playing steadily throughout the piece, whereas lead instruments and singers switch between carrying the main or countermelody and falling silent. In big band music, the guitarist is considered part of the rhythm section, alongside bass and drums.

In some musical situations, such as a solo singer-guitarist, the guitar accompaniment provides all the rhythmic drive; in large ensembles it may be only a small part (perhaps one element in a polyrhythm). Likewise, rhythm guitar can supply all of the harmonic input to a singer-guitarist or small band, but in ensembles that have other harmony instruments (such as keyboards) or vocal harmonists, its harmonic input will be less important.

In the most commercially available and consumed genres, electric guitars tend to dominate their acoustic cousins in both the recording studio and live venues. However the acoustic guitar remains a popular choice in country, western and especially bluegrass music, and almost exclusively in folk music.

Rock and pop

Rock and pop rhythms

Most rhythms in rock and blues are based on 4/4 time with a backbeat; however, many variations are possible. A backbeat is a syncopated accentuation on the "off" beat. In a simple 4/4 rhythm these are beats 2 and 4. [2] Emphasized back beat, a feature of some African styles, defined rhythm and blues recordings in the late 1940s and so became one of the defining characteristics of rock and roll and much of contemporary popular music.

Rock and pop harmony

Harmonically, in rock music, the most common way to construct chord progressions is to play major and minor "triads", each comprising a root, third and fifth note of a given scale. An example of a major triad is C major, which contains the notes C, E and G. An example of a minor triad is the A minor chord, which includes the notes A, C and E. Interspersed are some four-note chords, which include the root, third and fifth, as well as a sixth, seventh or ninth note of the scale. The most common chord with four different notes is the dominant seventh chord, which include a root, a major third above the root, a perfect fifth above the root and a flattened seventh. In the key of C major, the dominant seventh chord is a G7, which consists of the notes G, B, D and F.

Three-chord progressions are common in earlier pop and rock, using various combinations of the I, IV and V chords, with the twelve-bar blues particularly common. A four chord progression popular in the 1950s is I-vi-ii-V, which in the key of C major is the chords C major, a minor, d minor and G7. Minor and modal chord progressions such as I-bVII-bVI (in the key of E, the chords E major, D major, C major) feature in popular music.

A power chord in E for guitar. This contains the notes E, B (a fifth above) and an E an octave higher. Power-chord-e.png
A power chord in E for guitar. This contains the notes E, B (a fifth above) and an E an octave higher.

In heavy metal music, rhythm guitarists often play power chords, which feature a root note and a fifth above, or with an octave doubling the root. There actually is no third of the chord. Power chords are usually played with distortion.


One departure from the basic strummed chord technique is to play arpeggios, i.e. to play individual notes in a chord separately. If this is rapidly done enough, listeners will still hear the sequence as harmony rather than melody. Arpeggiation is often used in folk, country, and heavy metal, sometimes in imitation of older banjo technique. It is also prominent in 1960s pop, such as The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun", and jangle pop from the 1980s onwards. Rhythm guitarists who use arpeggio often favor semi-acoustic guitars and twelve string guitars to get bright, undistorted "jangly" sound.

The Soukous band TPOK Jazz additionally featured the unique role of mi-solo, (meaning "half solo") guitarist, playing arpeggio patterns and filling a role "between" the lead and rhythm guitars. [3]


In some cases, the chord progression is implied with a simplified sequence of two or three notes, sometimes called a "riff". That sequence is repeated throughout the composition. In heavy metal (or just "metal") music, this is typically expanded to more complex sequences comprising a combination of chords, single notes and palm muting. The rhythm guitar part in compositions performed by more technically oriented bands often include riffs employing complex lead guitar techniques. In some genres, especially metal, the audio signal from the rhythm guitar's output is often subsequently heavily distorted by overdriving the guitar's amplifier to create a thicker, "crunchier" sound for the palm-muted rhythms.

Interaction with other guitarists

In bands with two or more guitarists, the guitarists may exchange or even duplicate roles for various songs or several sections within a song. In those with a single guitarist, the guitarist may play lead and rhythm at numerous times or simultaneously, by overlaying the rhythm sequence with a lead line.

Crossover with keyboards

The availability of electronic effects units such as delay pedals and reverb units enables electric guitarists to play arpeggios and take over some of the role of a synthesizer player in performing sustained "pads". Those serve as sonic backgrounds in modern pop. Creating a pad sound differs from usual rhythm guitar roles in that it is not rhythmic. Some bands have a synthesizer performer play pads. In bands without a synth player, a guitarist can take over this role.

Replacing lead guitar

Some rhythm techniques cross over into lead guitar playing. In guitar-bass-and-drums power trios guitarists must double up between rhythm and lead. For instance Jimi Hendrix combined full chords with solo licks, double stops and arpeggios. In the 2010s, "looping pedals" are used to record a chord sequence or riff over which musicians can then play the lead line, simulating the sound achieved by having two guitarists.


Rhythm guitarists usually aim to generate a stronger rhythmic and chordal sound, in contrast to the lead guitarists' goal of producing a sustained, high-pitched melody line that listeners can hear over the top of the band. As a result, rhythm and lead players may use different guitars and amplifiers. Rhythm guitarists may employ an electric acoustic guitar or a humbucker-equipped electric guitar for a richer and fatter output. Also, rhythm guitarists may use strings of a larger gauge than those used by lead guitarists. However, while these may be practices, they are not necessarily the rule and are subject to the style of the song and the preference of the individual guitarist.

While rhythm guitarists in metal bands use distortion effects, they tend to use less of the modulation effects such as flangers used by lead guitar players. Whereas the lead guitarist in a metal band is trying to make the solo tone more prominent, and thus uses a range of colorful effects, the rhythm guitarist is typically trying to provide a thick, solid supporting sound that blends in with the overall sound of the group. In alternative rock and post punk bands, however, where the band is trying to create an ambient soundscape rather than an aggressive Motörhead-style "Wall of Sound", the rhythm guitarist may use flanging and delay effects to create a shimmering background.


Rhythm guitar has been especially important in the development of jazz. The guitar took over the role previously occupied by the banjo to provide rhythmic chordal accompaniment.

Early jazz guitarists like Freddie Green tended to emphasize the percussive quality of the instrument. The ability to keep a steady rhythm while playing through complicated chord patterns made the guitar invaluable to many rhythm sections. Jazz guitarists are expected to have deep knowledge of harmony.

Jazz harmony

Jazz guitarists use their knowledge of harmony and jazz theory to create jazz chord "voicings", which emphasize the 3rd and 7th notes of the chord. Unlike pop and rock guitarists, who typically include the root of a chord (even, with many open chords and barre chords, doubling the root), jazz guitarists typically omit the root. Some more sophisticated chord voicings also include the 9th, 11th, and 13th notes of the chord. A typical jazz voicing for the chord G7 would be the individual notes B, E, F, and A. This voicing uses the 3rd (the note B), the 7th (the note F), along with the 6th (the note E) and the 9th (the note A).

In some modern jazz styles, dominant 7th chords in a tune may contain altered 9ths (either flattened by a semitone, which is called a "flat 9th", or sharpened by a semitone, which is called a "sharp 9th"); 11ths (sharpened by a semitone, which is called a "sharp 11th"); 13ths (typically flattened by a semitone, which is called a "flat 13th").

Jazz guitarists need to learn about a range of different chords, including major 7th, major 6th, minor 7th, minor/major 7th, dominant 7th, diminished, half-diminished, and augmented chords. As well, they need to learn about chord transformations (e.g., altered chords, such as "alt dominant chords" described above), chord substitutions, and re-harmonization techniques. Some jazz guitarists use their knowledge of jazz scales and chords to provide a walking bass-style accompaniment.

Jazz guitarists learn to perform these chords over the range of different chord progressions used in jazz, such as the II-V-I progression, the jazz-style blues progression, the minor jazz-style blues form, the "rhythm changes" progression, and the variety of chord progressions used in jazz ballads, and jazz standards. Guitarists may also learn to use the chord types, strumming styles, and effects pedals (e.g., chorus effect or fuzzbox) used in 1970s-era jazz-Latin, jazz-funk, and jazz-rock fusion music.

Big band rhythm

In jazz big bands, popular during the 1930s and 1940s, the guitarist is considered an integral part of the rhythm section (guitar, drums and bass). They usually played a regular four chords to the bar, although an amount of harmonic improvisation is possible. Freddie Green, guitarist in the Count Basie orchestra, was a noted exponent of this style. The harmonies are often minimal; for instance, the root note is often omitted on the assumption that it will be supplied by the bassist.

Small group comping

When jazz guitarists play chords underneath a song's melody or another musician's solo improvisations, it is called "comping", short for "accompanying" and for "complementing".[ citation needed ] The accompanying style in most jazz styles differs from the way chordal instruments accompany in many popular styles of music. In many popular styles of music, such as rock and pop, the rhythm guitarist usually performs the chords in rhythmic fashion which sets out the beat or groove of a tune. In contrast, in many modern jazz styles within smaller, the guitarist plays much more sparsely, intermingling periodic chords and delicate voicings into pauses in the melody or solo, and using periods of silence. Jazz guitarists commonly use a wide variety of inversions when comping, rather than only using standard voicings. [4]

Gypsy pumping

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Gypsy jazz is acoustic music, usually played without a drummer. Rhythm guitar in gypsy jazz uses a special form of strumming known as "la pompe", i.e. "the pump". This form of percussive rhythm is similar to the "boom-chick" in bluegrass styles; it is what gives the music its fast swinging feeling. The strumming hand, which never touches the top of the guitar, must make a quick up-down strum followed by a down strum. The up-down part of la pompe must be done extremely fast, regardless of the tempo of the music. It is very similar to a grace note in classical music, albeit the fact that an entire chord is used. This pattern is usually played in unison by two or more guitarists in the rhythm section.

Jazz chord soloing

Jazz guitar soloists are not limited to playing single notes by their instrument. This allows them to create "chord solos" by adding the song's melody on top of the chord voicings. Wes Montgomery was noted for playing successive choruses in single notes, octaves and finally a chord solo. This technique differs from chord-melody soloing in that it is not intended to be used unaccompanied


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Funk utilized the same extended chords found in bebop jazz, such as minor chords with added sevenths and elevenths, or dominant seventh chords with altered ninths. However, unlike bebop jazz, with its complex, rapid-fire chord changes, funk virtually abandoned chord changes, creating static single chord vamps with little harmonic movement, but with a complex and driving rhythmic feel. Some have jazz backgrounds. The chords used in funk songs typically imply a dorian or mixolydian mode, as opposed to the major or natural minor tonalities of most popular music. Melodic content was derived by mixing these modes with the blues scale.

In funk bands, guitarists typically play in a percussive style, often using the wah-wah sound effect and muting the notes in their riffs to create a percussive sound. Guitarists Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers and Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic were notably influenced by Jimi Hendrix's improvised solos. Eddie Hazel, who worked with George Clinton, is a notable guitar soloist in funk. Ernie Isley was tutored at an early age by Jimi Hendrix himself, when he was a part of The Isley Brothers backing band and lived in the attic temporarily at the Isleys' household. Jimmy Nolen and Phelps Collins are famous funk rhythm guitarists who both worked with James Brown.


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The guitar in reggae usually plays the chords on beats two and four, a musical figure known as skank or the 'bang'. It has a very dampened, short and scratchy chop sound, almost like a percussion instrument. Sometimes a double chop is used when the guitar still plays the off beats, but also plays the following 16th or 8th beat on the up-stroke. Depending on the amount of swing or groove, this next secondary stab is often the 16th note sounding closer to an 8th placement in the rhythm. An example is the intro to "Stir It Up" by The Wailers. Artist and producer Derrick Harriott says, "What happened was the musical thing was real widespread, but only among a certain sort of people. It was always a down-town thing, but more than just hearing the music. The equipment was so powerful and the vibe so strong that we feel it." [9] Reggae chords are typically played without overdrive or distortion.

See also

Related Research Articles

Funk is a music genre that originated in African American communities in the mid-1960s when musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B). Funk de-emphasizes melody and chord progressions and focuses on a strong rhythmic groove of a bassline played by an electric bassist and a drum part played by a drummer, often at slower tempos than other popular music. Like much of African-inspired music, funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments playing interlocking grooves that create a "hypnotic" and "danceable" feel. Funk uses the same richly colored extended chords found in bebop jazz, such as minor chords with added sevenths and elevenths, or dominant seventh chords with altered ninths and thirteenths.

Jazz guitar Jazz instrument and associated playing style

The term jazz guitar may refer to either a type of electric guitar or to the variety of guitar playing styles used in the various genres which are commonly termed "jazz". The jazz-type guitar was born as a result of using electric amplification to increase the volume of conventional acoustic guitars.

In music, an ostinato[ostiˈnaːto] is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, frequently in the same pitch. Well-known ostinato-based pieces include both classical compositions, such as Ravel's Boléro and the Carol of the Bells, and popular songs such as Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love" (1977), Henry Mancini's theme from Peter Gunn (1959), and The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (1997).

Bassline Low-pitched instrumental part

A bassline is the term used in many styles of music, such as jazz, blues, funk, dub and electronic, traditional music, or classical music for the low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument such as the electric bass, double bass, cello, tuba or keyboard.

Accompaniment Musical parts which provide the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece

Accompaniment is the musical part which provides the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece. There are many different styles and types of accompaniment in different genres and styles of music. In homophonic music, the main accompaniment approach used in popular music, a clear vocal melody is supported by subordinate chords. In popular music and traditional music, the accompaniment parts typically provide the "beat" for the music and outline the chord progression of the song or instrumental piece.

Lead guitar, also known as solo guitar, is a musical part for a guitar in which the guitarist plays melody lines, instrumental fill passages, guitar solos, and occasionally, some riffs within a song structure. The lead is the featured guitar, which usually plays single-note-based lines or double-stops. In rock, heavy metal, blues, jazz, punk, fusion, some pop, and other music styles, lead guitar lines are usually supported by a second guitarist who plays rhythm guitar, which consists of accompaniment chords and riffs.

In jazz, comping is the chords, rhythms, and countermelodies that keyboard players, guitar players, or drummers use to support a musician's improvised solo or melody lines. It is also the action of accompanying, and the left-hand part of a solo pianist.

Rhythm section

A rhythm section is a group of musicians within a music ensemble or band that provides the underlying rhythm, harmony and pulse of the accompaniment, providing a rhythmic and harmonic reference and "beat" for the rest of the band. The rhythm section is often contrasted with the roles of other musicians in the band, such as the lead guitarist or lead vocals whose primary job is to carry the melody.

Fingerstyle guitar

Fingerstyle guitar is the technique of playing the guitar or bass guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking. The term "fingerstyle" is something of a misnomer, since it is present in several different genres and styles of music—but mostly, because it involves a completely different technique, not just a "style" of playing, especially for the guitarist's picking/plucking hand. The term is often used synonymously with fingerpicking except in classical guitar circles, although fingerpicking can also refer to a specific tradition of folk, blues and country guitar playing in the US. The terms "fingerstyle" and "fingerpicking" also applied to similar string instruments such as the banjo.

Chord substitution

In music theory, chord substitution is the technique of using a chord in place of another in a progression of chords, or a chord progression. Much of the European classical repertoire and the vast majority of blues, jazz and rock music songs are based on chord progressions. "A chord substitution occurs when a chord is replaced by another that is made to function like the original. Usually substituted chords possess two pitches in common with the triad that they are replacing."

Guitar chord

In music, a guitar chord is a set of notes played on a guitar. A chord's notes are often played simultaneously, but they can be played sequentially in an arpeggio. The implementation of guitar chords depends on the guitar tuning. Most guitars used in popular music have six strings with the "standard" tuning of the Spanish classical guitar, namely E-A-D-G-B-E' ; in standard tuning, the intervals present among adjacent strings are perfect fourths except for the major third (G,B). Standard tuning requires four chord-shapes for the major triads.

A broken chord is a chord broken into a sequence of notes. A broken chord may repeat some of the notes from the chord and span one or more octaves.

Jazz piano

Jazz piano is a collective term for the techniques pianists use when playing jazz. The piano has been an integral part of the jazz idiom since its inception, in both solo and ensemble settings. Its role is multifaceted due largely to the instrument's combined melodic and harmonic capabilities. For this reason it is an important tool of jazz musicians and composers for teaching and learning jazz theory and set arrangement, regardless of their main instrument.

In popular music, a fill is a short musical passage, riff, or rhythmic sound which helps to sustain the listener's attention during a break between the phrases of a melody. "The terms riff and fill are sometimes used interchangeably by musicians, but [while] the term riff usually refers to an exact musical phrase repeated throughout a song", a fill is an improvised phrase played during a section where nothing else is happening in the music. While riffs are repeated, fills tend to be varied over the course of a song. For example, a drummer may fill in the end of one phrase with a sixteenth note hi-hat pattern, and then fill in the end of the next phrase with a snare drum figure.

Gypsy jazz Music genre

Gypsy jazz is a style of small-group jazz originating from the Romani guitarist Jean "Django" Reinhardt (1910–53), in conjunction with the French swing violinist Stéphane Grappelli (1908–97), as expressed in their group the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Because its origins are in France, Reinhardt was from the Manouche clan, and the style has remained popular amongst the Manouche gypsies, gypsy jazz is often called by the French name "jazz manouche", or alternatively, "manouche jazz" in English language sources. Some scholars have noted that the style was not named manouche until the late 1960s; the name "gypsy jazz" began to be used around the late 1990s.

Jazz improvisation

Jazz improvisation is the spontaneous invention of melodic solo lines or accompaniment parts in a performance of jazz music. It is one of the defining elements of jazz. Improvisation is composing on the spot, when a singer or instrumentalist invents melodies and lines over a chord progression played by rhythm section instruments and accompanied by drums. Although blues, rock, and other genres use improvisation, it is done over relatively simple chord progressions which often remain in one key.

The chord-scale system is a method of matching, from a list of possible chords, a list of possible scales. The system has been widely used since the 1970s and is "generally accepted in the jazz world today".

Glossary of jazz and popular music List of definitions of terms and jargon used in jazz and popular music

This is a list of jazz and popular music terms that are likely to be encountered in printed popular music songbooks, fake books and vocal scores, big band scores, jazz, and rock concert reviews, and album liner notes. This glossary includes terms for musical instruments, playing or singing techniques, amplifiers, effects units, sound reinforcement equipment, and recording gear and techniques which are widely used in jazz and popular music. Most of the terms are in English, but in some cases, terms from other languages are encountered.

Musicians use various kinds of chord names and symbols in different contexts to represent musical chords. In most genres of popular music, including jazz, pop, and rock, a chord name and its corresponding symbol typically indicate one or more of the following:

  1. the root note,
  2. the chord quality,
  3. whether the chord is a triad, seventh chord, or an extended chord,
  4. any altered notes,
  5. any added tones, and
  6. the bass note if it is not the root.
Heavy metal guitar

Heavy metal guitar is the use of highly-amplified electric guitar in heavy metal. Heavy metal guitar playing is rooted in the guitar playing styles developed in 1960s-era blues rock and psychedelic rock, and it uses a massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos and overall loudness. The electric guitar and the sonic power that it projects through amplification has historically been the key element in heavy metal. The heavy metal guitar sound comes from a combined use of high volumes and heavy distortion.


  1. Traum, Happy (1974). Fingerpicking Styles For Guitar, p.12. Oak Publications. ISBN   0-8256-0005-7. Hardcover (2005): ISBN   0-8256-0343-9.
  2. "Backbeat". Grove Music Online. 2007. Retrieved February 10, 2007.
  3. "TPOK Jazz, members band members, guitarists, history". kenyapage.net.
  4. http://eden.rutgers.edu/~pfelton/inversions.html Archived September 30, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  5. Natter, Frank (2006). The Total Acoustic Guitarist, p.126. ISBN   9780739038512.
  6. Marshall, Wolf (2008). Stuff! Good Guitar Players Should Know, p. 138. ISBN   1-4234-3008-5.
  7. Snyder, Jerry (1999). Jerry Snyder's Guitar School, p.28. ISBN   0-7390-0260-0.
  8. 1 2 3 Peretz, Jeff (2003). Zen and the Art of Guitar: A Path to Guitar Mastery, p.37. Alfred Music. ISBN   9780739028179.
  9. Bradley, Lloyd. This Is Reggae Music:The Story Of Jamaica's Music. New York:Grove Press, 2001