Why I Play Rhythm Guitar Not Lead

I have been playing guitar for fifty-two years and I have always been a rhythm guitarist. Lying in bed this morning I started thinking about why that is.

Well, for one thing I’m not a good enough lead guitarist to play lead. But it’s not that; I love playing rhythm.

I started playing guitar because I was excited by the music I was hearing, on the radio (occasionally), on TV (even more occasionally) and on record. When I think back to the records that made an impression, a big part of their effect was due to the rhythm – Bo Diddley, The Kinks, The Beatles – and I wanted to be able to play those rhythms.

So, when I was fourteen, my parents bought me a guitar for Christmas, a small, steel string acoustic. Of course I didn’t know how to play it or tune it or even that you could get different notes by using the fingers of your left hand (I’m right-handed) to make chords. I didn’t even know what chords were. I moved my thumb across the strings and got six out-of-tune sounds. “Is that it?” I thought. “Is that all it can do?” I was very disappointed.

Anyway, my brother-in-law took me out and bought me a book, Bert Weedon’s Play in a Day (Bert Weedon was a well-known guitarist in the early sixties, and I started laboriously trying to learn how to play.bert-weedon-play-in-a-day-cover-970-80

I was a very slow learner, still am, I should be brilliant by now after over fifty years. But slowly I learnt a few chords and started trying to play the songs I was hearing.

The first song I can remember trying to play, over and over, was You Really Got Me by The Kinks. Not the most difficult song in the world, but it wasn’t so much the actual chords but the rhythm I was trying to get. The same with Bo Diddley, it was the Bo Diddley beat I was trying to get. So I kept at it, learning slowly.

Then I met another guitarist, Dave Wynne, a friend of Steve’s, and I learned a lot from him. He was more a jazz guitarist than anything but he did help me to learn some more chords and styles of playing. But it all took a long time.

Over the years there were other songs which grabbed hold of me, not always for the rhythm but that was often the thing which pulled me in; All Along the Watchtower (Dylan’s version which I still love), Sweet Jane by the Velvet Underground, Somebody Help Me by The Spencer Davis Group, Wild Thing by The Troggs and many other reggae, punk, post-punk etc. songs.

I’ve tried playing lead but two things in particular get in the way:

  1. I’m not that dexterous, my fingers (and my brain) don’t move fast enough to become really competent
  2. My grasp of music theory – scales, progressions etc. – isn’t so hot

But the main reason is that I just find rhythm guitar more satisfying and exciting.

Just thought I’d share that while it’s on my mind.

Take care.

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