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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Songster Bob Guitar as a Rhythm Instrument (35) RE: Guitar as a Rhythm Instrument 23 Nov 04


I play the guitar in many ways, but not all ways. That is, there are methods, styles, that don't occur to me to attempt or master. Richie Havens was mentioned, and he's a strummer. Pretty much full-chord strums hitting all the strings, and I've never liked that.

But it might be effective on some songs, or in some situations. So I should learn how to do it effectively (it's got to be more than just waving the pick up and down through the plane of the strings).

Ditto classical guitar fingerpicking. I'm pretty good at ragtime fingerpicking, but classical picking is a foreign language to my fingers.

And single-note playing, like lead guitarists do (of course, for rhythm, that's not the point, but it's a style, and that IS the point). I should learn to do this, too.

And then apply it to my playing, choosing the most useful of the techniques (I almost said, "picking" the technique, but that's a pun and I'm avoiding puns in an attempt to lose weight) for a given song.

Now, what makes one technique/style better than another for the song? Part of it will be the song itself, of course. If you're trying to keep to a genre, say Cajun, you can't go too far afield in your accompaniment without sounding sort of non-Cajun, or even anti-Cajun. Like using Spanish rasquederos on "Jolie Blon."

Another factor is your own competence/confidence -- don't choose the newest, just-learned technique for that complex, just-learned song. It's hard enough to think of singing a hard song without having to think of the guitar part, too. Now, if you're accompanying someone else, that's a little less your problem, but you have the new problem of needing to listen and follow, and a just-learning-it-this-week technique may not be the best even in this case.

Someone mentioned singing unaccompanied in order to be free of the guitar's insistent thump. Well, I do that, but sometimes I try to sing freely OVER that thump. It's one of the harder things to do when accompanying yourself, that's for sure, but it can be helpful, since the steady rhythm reminds you of the pattern you're soaring above, and the chords help keep your sense of melody and pitch "on the up and square."

I tend to like, and learn, songs that fit some kind of inner "picture" of myself as a performer. There are wonderful songs I wouldn't ever try to learn, and others that I know backwards and forwards that, as songs, ain't that great. But they're what I'm used to, as the song says. And the guitar accompaniment should match this mental picture I have. Now, mental pictures can be of some OTHER player (like Doc Watson -- I'll never sound like him!), and that can be okay. Remember, though, you're not Joan Baez, or Rambling Jack Elliott, or Gordon Bok, so that picture will have to be Photoshopped to look like you.

But I'm not wedded to this picture of myself -- sometimes I try to see what that picture would look like in a different color, or with more contrast, so I'll try a different way to play the song that's in the frame at the moment.

For example, I wrote a song, "World of Time." I wrote in using finger-picking, sort of pattern-picking, a la Tom Paxton's early songs. Then I tried ragtime picking, Travis-picking, really, and that's the model I had for it. But flat-picking turns it more country, and I suppose it'd be even more different using the Richie Havens model. I don't think it'd be a good blues, though I could be wrong.

But I usually play it on banjo. Written on guitar, worked into a nice presentation piece on guitar, but works best on banjo.

And I wouldn't have known it if I hadn't tried to break the mold.

I guess that's the whole point of this rambling, Jack*.


Bob Clayton


* I couldn't resist that big, fat pun. No dessert for me, then. I have to save my calories somewhere.


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