How are some people able to play with rock solid rhythm guitar playing while others never learn how? Do you need to learn a ton of rhythm guitar riffs? Do you need to play more with others or get good with a metronome? No.
Excellent rhythm guitar skills come from:
-Learning how to hear the way things should sound as you practice.
-Knowing how to spot poor rhythm guitar playing errors and change them.
This video demonstrates how to fix a very frequent rhythm guitar playing mistake:
Watch the video to the end to make the rest of this article easier to understand!
Question: “Tom Hess, how does training yourself to improve your ear so you know how things SHOULD sound improve rhythm guitar skills? Isn’t ear training only good for identifying intervals, arpeggios and scale patterns?”
Answer: Ear training is a big area of music that is made up of many different things. Not only is it made up of being able to identify scales, chords or intervals, but also things like rhythm patterns. Additionally, ear training covers knowing how to identify rhythm guitar playing mistakes (as well as aspects of lead guitar such as poor vibrato, consonance/dissonance, etc.)
How good are you at quickly spotting rhythm guitar playing flaws?
Avoid these frequently made rhythm guitar playing mistakes:
Rhythm Guitar Mistake Category #1: Palm Muting Errors
Mistake #1: Palm Muting Constantly
When you palm mute everything, every note feels the same and it becomes difficult to add emphasis to any particular note. This makes your rhythm guitar playing sound too similar and it eventually becomes dull.
Palm muting is a great way to create variety between different notes by playing some with muting and others without. When done this way, it causes unmuted notes to feel accented. Muting is also a great way to give you a tighter control over the notes and the opportunity to create percussive sounds on the strings.
Check out the video (starting at 0:09) to see the difference between good and poor palm muting.
Mistake #2: Inconsistent Palm Muting
There are two variations of inconsistent palm muting:
-1: Arbitrarily switching which notes are muted. Sometimes the first riff played with consistent muting and the next with inconsistent muting.
-2: Arbitrarily varying how heavy the palm muting is played. Other times, the first power chord played with consistent muting and the next with inconsistent muting. Sometimes the muting is just right, sometimes it is too soft and in other instances too heavy.
Both versions of inconsistent palm muting generally happen at the same time.
Note: Arbitrarily inconsistent palm muting is NOT the same as intentionally using variation. The former is simply a mistake. The latter is done on purpose to be creative.
Question: “Tom Hess, do you actually know how to tell the difference between arbitrarily inconsistent palm muting and palm muting that is used with intention? Or is that really just your opinion?”
Answer: Inconsistent palm muting is pretty easy to identify. Here are a few ways to spot it:
-Inconsistent palm muting usually occurs on weird places within a riff. Example: muting on a downbeat and not muting the rest.
-Inconsistent palm muting usually also includes unwanted string noise and weak articulation (plus other mistakes mentioned below).
-Inconsistent palm muting has no strict pattern to it. This comes off as sounding unintentional.
A great guitar teacher can easily identify flaws in your rhythm guitar playing and give you honest feedback on how to improve it.
Rhythm Guitar Mistakes Category #2: Timing Mistakes
Common rhythm guitar timing mistakes include:
1. Playing too much ahead of the beat. This means your notes are played before the beat of the drum/metronome.
2. Playing too much behind the beat. This means your notes are played ahead of the beat of the drum/metronome.
Your goal should be to play exactly on the beat. Any note/chord should you play needs to fall right on top of the metronome or drum beat.
Taking rhythm guitar lessons helps you gain perfect timing fast.
Rhythm Guitar Mistakes Category #3: Picking Articulation Errors
Great picking articulation helps you emphasize specific notes within a guitar riff. Without it, the notes will tend to run together and the riff becomes weaker as a whole.
Great rhythm guitar articulation is NOT a product of:
Inconsistent Pick Attack – hitting some notes with a lot of force, others with little force. This inconsistency makes it difficult to articulate the notes clearly.
Sloppy Two Hand Synchronization – your picking and fretting hands are not in perfect timing with each other. The faster you play, the more apparent a lack of 2-hand synchronization becomes. This makes it easier to play without clear articulation.
Weak Pick Attack – picking notes very lightly.
Two-hand synchronization mistakes are caused by a foundation of poor guitar technique and poor practicing habits.
Steps To Take Now In Order To Improve Your Rhythm Guitar Playing:
1. Record yourself whenever you practice rhythm guitar playing. Then listen back to it. This will help you spot any inconsistencies or weaknesses in your playing.
2. Write down the specific mistakes in your playing that you want to get rid of. This way you will always know what you need to work on next and can avoid feeling overwhelmed.
3. Focus on the mistakes you want to fix. You can do this using two approaches:
Focus on one single issue in complete isolation until it is fixed. This tactic is best used for smaller problems that can be quickly fixed.
Work on fixing the issue by using a kind of circuit training during your guitar practice. For instance: play a guitar riff for 1 minute straight while focusing on exclusively improving your palm muting. Next, play it for 1 minute while focusing only on playing in perfect time. Last, focus on playing with excellent articulation for 1 minute. Play through this circuit for 10-15 minutes total. This will help you to massively improve your skills in the long term.
4. Work with a guitar teacher who will give you expert feedback on your playing so you can improve your skills much faster.