We can’t imagine rock music without the electric guitar; this truly is one of the most iconic rock and roll instruments of all time. But what role does the guitar play in a band? What are guitar players supposed to do?
In a time before rock music, the guitar player was a member of the rhythm section. Its function was to play the chords of a song in the background for singers. As time progressed, the guitar took a more central role in genres such as blues and R&B and would expand its rhythm duties and also sometimes used to be a lead instrument. This style of blues guitar playing set the blueprint for what rock guitar would become by giving us the bluesy guitar solo, distortion, and the use of riffs. Players we can look to for popularizing this electric blues style would be T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters.
When we think of rock guitar, we usually think of big chords and lots of distortion, but there are many different roles a guitarist can genuinely play. In most bands, there will be two guitarists who will normally switch off on what we call “lead” and “rhythm” duties. Lead guitar is the more melodic side of the guitar. When doing lead guitar, you’re mostly playing higher single note parts and solos. These melodies help to give the song a secondary part that’s recognizable to the listener along with the vocal melody. Rhythm guitarist usually plays chords which help to fill out the sound of the band and give the “sound” of the song. Rhythm guitar could also involve repeating a riff.
- Blake Mickens, STL Rock School
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