3 Tips for Playing Rhythm

Most musicians in a group setting aren’t going to be playing lead 100% of the time.  Sometimes you will be expected to back up a singer, while other times you will be playing rhythm while another instrumentalist takes a turn.

Playing rhythm really can be enjoyable, whether you are on the guitar, the mandolin, or the banjo.  Fortunately, it is a pretty simple skill to pick up.

Here are three tips to help you master the art of playing rhythm, regardless of your instrument:

  1. Play considerately.  Remember, you are in the background.  Don’t overdo the licks, and don’t play too loudly.  Your job is to provide a backdrop for the sound of the lead singer or instrumentalist.
  2. Play in time.  Develop your sense of rhythm.  Practice playing with recordings of talented artists to get into the habit of playing in time.  If you need to, practice with a metronome.
  3. Play to bring out the best in the song.  Try to hear what the song is asking you to do.  Stock a mental toolbox with the different licks, patterns, and techniques that you can use on different songs.  Sometimes you may want to try out a mellower tone, a fingerstyle accompaniment, a bluesy break, or a different strum pattern.  Listen for ideas from your favorite artists, and feel free to experiment.

Your ear is your best friend when it comes to learning how to play rhythm.  Train it by absorbing good music, then listen to what it tells you to do.