The rhythm guitarist is in charge of setting the basis for an entire song. In bluegrass, that is one of the most important things. Without the rhythm, bluegrass can be hard for certain listeners to follow.
In this article, we’ll give you a few pointers in bluegrass rhythm guitar playing and how you can seamlessly blend into a bluegrass band.
First off, you need to know what you are playing. All songs are made up of progressions. How do we know? Because all songs follow a basis of chords or notes in a certain order to make up a section.
As a rhythm guitarist, it is your job to find out what exactly fits, where it fits, and why it fits. Take for instance the I-IV-V progressions. Does it fit with the sound you are hoping to achieve?
The only way to know is to look at the key in which you are playing and then decipher the chords of the progression. If we were to play that I-IV-V in C Major, our chords would be C E G, F A C, and G B D. This is only with the use of basic triads. These aren’t the only notes available, but they are the basis of the notes we can use.
If you are trying to play a progression that fits closer to B, this I-IV-V progression in C Major may not be the right fit for you. Remember, it is all about your goal. If you don’t have one, then anything will work.
Study your lead guitarist, or if you have a fiddle player or a mandolin player or any other form of stringed instrumentation as lead, study them. What are their patterns? What are their habits? Knowing these things will help you to create progressions that will fit the music well.
While the rhythm is a large part of the sound of any band, the lead instrument can make or break the band as well. If the voices are contrasting in a nonproductive way, the ideas will become lost in translation.
One thing that is important as a rhythm guitarist is to work on your bluegrass guitar picking. Picking needs to, in most cases, synchronize. This is especially true with acoustic guitar playing. While the lead doesn’t necessarily have to fit to your every stroke, you should try and make the two as close as possible for most of the song.
This will help to avoid a chaotic atmosphere, which can be caused by two fully different strumming patterns being played at once. Keep in mind; acoustic guitar picking is much more noticeable than electric guitar picking. The strings tend to scrape more and produce more overall sound.
By now, you should already know the positions of the notes on the neck as well as the shapes of the basic C Major triads, from the C chord to the B chord. It is also helpful (but not entirely necessary) to understand the scale degrees. This will help you to discern the progression that you are playing and allow you to get a better feel for what is going on within the rhythm itself.
If any of these things sound foreign to you, it may benefit you to take some time and gain a bit of basic theoretical knowledge (triads and scale will do you just fine) before tackling these rhythms. It will allow you to take what you learn here and apply it to your playing and improvisations.
The most commonly used blue grass progression is the G-C-D progression. This progression consists of the chords G, B, D (G triad), C, E, G (C triad), and D, F, A (D triad). This gives you a few options. If you want to write a melody over the progression, you can do it in one of three ways.
The first is be following the roots of the chords, playing G to C to D. The second way is by playing the thirds of the chords, playing B to E to F. The third and final way is by playing the fifths of the chords, playing D to G to A. All three of these melodies could be incorporated into the rhythm easily.
The best thing that you can do to improve your rhythm guitar skills is to practice. Take some time each day to work on different techniques and try out different progressions. Bring the ideas up to the other musicians you are working with. Get their opinions. If they don’t like it, consider scrapping the idea or changing bits of it. Have fun with your playing, and good luck!