Some guitar parts whether we like it or not can be rather vanilla. While I have my moods for the flavor, in certain situations, it may not be what’s best. Especially as a singer-songwriter or duo, we have to get a little creative and find ways to spice up or vary the same 4-chords / rhythm in our covers.
In order to properly season our rhythmic guitar playing, we are going to investigate the different tools to help us implement these variations within our playing: Picking Patterns, Chord Voicings, Accents, and Rhythm.
**Be forewarned, there will be food analogies to help get the point across**
Since all of these variations are centered around rhythm, we need to understand where the heart of Rhythm is. The answer to this is percussion (drums).
The aim of these variations are to support the song, not steal attention. Any amendments we make need to be with the intent of supporting the song.
Create a map of the song: highs, lows, builds, ext. Use this map to be strategic with your variations and dynamics.
If we take a rhythm [ 1 - 2 - 3 & 4 & ] that is originally strummed over an (Em) chord, we can keep this rhythm, but change our picking pattern. Now instead of strumming all (6) strings on all beats, I may do x2 full strums on beats (1) and (2), and the remaining 8th notes "3 & 4 &" I may pick, individually, the bottom (4) strings of the guitar.
This is a basic example, we can chose any strings or string clusters that best support the piece. Get creative!! Find what fits and sounds best.
There are (3) boxes going horizontally along the guitar neck:
Though the use of our movable CAGED Chords [barre chords] we can take the same chords but play them in different voicings and registers of the guitar. In certain cases, we can even substitute our triads for the appropriate 7th chords to pull out different colors.
Accents are the beats that are emphasized. For example, most RnB, this will beats (2) and (4). Once again, this goes back to our drummer, which beats are they accenting. We can add additional accents, or strip down our rhythm to just the accents themselves.
While altering the rhythm during a build or breakdown can be incredibly effective, we still want to ground ourselves around the root accents so as to keep the integrity of the piece.
The greatest part of all these tools is that you aren’t forced to only use one or the other. Combining multiple tools can produce a great new dynamic in your sound. Once again, if I’m making a sundae, I don’t want to drown it all in syrup or sprinkles, I want to put just enough to enhance the flavor without drowning it out. Same for seasoning your food, and same with music. Remember the WHY every time you go to add a variation; this will help keep you in check!!