Many guitarists treat rhythm guitar and lead guitar as two separate entities. However, more advanced players see the connection between the two and how intimately interwoven they truly are. In fact, huge benefits can be reaped by practicing a combination of both skills at once. Today, we’ll talk about developing a stronger melodic ability in your playing through just such a combination.
Nuno Van Halen – Master of Rhythm
Better Melody Through Rhythm?
Better phrasing and melodic skill can be developed by expanding rhythmic sensibility. To begin developing this ability, we must first create and master a rhythm. I prefer to mute all of the strings when doing this and strum the strings in time until the rhythm is locked in. Once you feel that you’re “in the pocket,” you can begin to add this rhythm to your vocabulary by playing lead and rhythm lines with it. Let’s take a look at example 1.
Once the rhythm has been internalized, a lead can be applied to it. The goal is to be very strict and stick to the rhythm precisely while still trying to keep it interesting. You’ll find that note choice becomes extremely important when you’re no longer blazing as fast as possible. Example 2 shows one possibility using A Dorian over a quick I IV VIII, but keep in mind that this approach should be used with many different scales and even arpeggios.
At first, playing in this manner is going to require a lot of effort to keep things compelling. However, after strictly adhering to this technique for a while and mastering many rhythms, you will be able to improvise in this way and your melodic sense will be greatly enhanced. You’ll find new and unique ways of phrasing and moving around the fretboard as well.
Let’s look next at a two bar example that uses triplets. Played with a shuffle feel, there are a couple of choices when it comes to strum pattern but I notated the pattern that I used on the audio clip.
Now let’s see an example of an interesting lead that utilizes this rhythm. Here’s one with the D Lydian scale that is played over a sequence that implies a static D tonality. Be sure to hybrid pick those last two triplets for ultimate smoothness. Forgive the quick bend in the second bar that isn’t strictly adhering to the written rhythm, but hey, it sounds cool doesn’t it?
Putting it Together
Let’s wrap things up with an exercise for you to try on your own. I’ve kept things theoretically simple by keeping the progression in the key of C. Listen to the rhythm that the lead line will follow and then practice it over the harmony. Once you’re comfortable with it, create a lead. Try to make it as interesting as possible while following the indicated rhythm. Don’t forget to include any and all tools at your disposal such as bends, slides, etc.
Rhythm Guitar Chord Progression
Doing this work will be very rewarding. It will force you to play things that you would never have thought of otherwise. It is also a great exercise for rhythm playing and your timing skills will improve dramatically. As well, it’s a wonderful tool for generating song ideas. Try it and see. I’m sure you’ll agree.