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Role-specific

Guitars - acoustic and electric

Katy Kennedy

You can download the PDF of this resource here.

Rhythm (or acoustic) guitar

Rhythm guitarists are there to add just that - rhythm! The guitar is a brilliant instrument that combines melody, rhythm and percussion all in one, and as a rhythm guitarist you will be providing all three of these things. Your role is generally to support the rest of the band, often not being too prominent, but adding texture to the overall sound.

Provide rhythm

Largely a rhythm guitar will play chords and play a simple rhythm which complements the dynamic of the song: if it’s a more reflective song, keep it simple and play less (maybe pick through the chords rather than strum). If it’s a more up tempo song, feel free to go for a stronger rhythm. Just remember you’re there to support what the other band members are doing, try not to overpower them.

Be prepared!

If you are leading worship from the guitar, chances are you will be playing rhythm guitar. You need to be confident in your strumming, playing with conviction and making sure that the strumming pattern is appropriate for the rhythm of the song.

Make sure you familiarise yourself with each song and the change-overs between them, so that you can be ready for what song is coming next and put a capo on if need be. It is important that a rhythm guitar is ready to come in with the right rhythm at the right moment! If there’s a break between songs, get your capo and music ready before sitting down, not in a hurry before playing.

Make a difference

Generally, the guitar will play throughout the song. However, if a song starts off more reflectively, try coming in when the drums do. This helps reinforce the rhythm that the drums are setting and can really add to the overall sound once the band kicks in. As with all the instruments, the key is to listen to what the rest of the band are playing, and play sensitively to what is going on around you. Feel free to drop out if you feel it would benefit the overall sound - there’s nothing wrong with not playing!

 

Lead (or electric) guitar

The role of the electric guitar is usually two-fold:

1. To support the band by filling out the sound, often helping to drive the bigger sections of songs.

2. To add hooks and melodic lines which cut through the mix, often in the form of intros or tags.

Know your instrument

The electric guitar is a very versatile instrument, not only tonally due to the various different effects often used, but also due to its range in pitch. Often times as an electric guitarist you will be swapping between different registers, whether lower in pitch playing power chords or playing higher up the neck with lead lines. This means that we need to be comfortable with playing in various different positions on the neck - learning which notes/scales are where on the fretboard can be incredibly useful.

Listen well

As with every instrument, in order to know what is suitable for the situation we need to be listening to what the other band members are playing. Work with the rest of the band to add variety to the song - if it’s a small band you’re playing with, perhaps help to fill out the sound by playing more chords lower down the neck (or using a capo where necessary), picking some arpeggios where appropriate. If you’re playing with a larger band then it might not be necessary to play full chords as the sound from the rest of the band will already be fairly full - try smaller/different inversions of chords higher up the neck to compliment what the rest of the band are doing. And as always, there’s nothing wrong with sometimes dropping out completely and playing nothing, certain situations may benefit from being very stripped back!

Your pedal board

In a church setting, lots of electric guitarists use various different effects pedals. Before you get into this, try and start by sourcing a good guitar, and a good amp - that’s where good tone starts! The main 3 effects you should focus on are: reverb, delay, and distortion. A variety of combinations of these 3 types of effect should cover most bases. Different guitarists prefer different amounts of each effect, so find what suits you best. Personally I find that a fairly heavy amount of reverb helps my guitar to sit back nicely in the mix without being overpowering, and a fairly long, high-mix, delay allows me to create interesting rhythms and fills out my sound when playing lead lines - experiment with this and find your sound. As for distortion, again find what suits your playing style best. For me having a bit of drive always on helps to bring warmth to my tone - distortion doesn’t always have to be super crunchy! If you are using a lot of distortion in certain big sections (which I do), I find keeping the “tone knob” of the pedal fairly low will keep the distortion nice and warm sounding, allowing your guitar to sit nicely in the mix, rather than sounding too harsh and in-your-face. But as I said, personal preference is a big thing here - maybe start off with 3 pedals and experiment until you find a sound, or several sets of settings that suit how you play! Also I would definitely invest in a tuner pedal, there's nothing worse than not being able to tune up! It’s also worth noting that generally the order that you link up your effects should go something like this:

Guitar > Tuner > Distortion(s) > Delay(s) > Reverb(s) > Amp.

 

See also 'Guitars - working with the sound engineer'.