Bass, rhythm and lead guitar – same look, different stories

Bass, rhythm and lead guitar – same look, different stories

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You wouldn’t hire a canoeist to teach you to drive, and you wouldn’t ask a decorator to fix your boiler. You surely don’t go to the dentist for an ingrown toe nail!

But, why not?  After all, cars and canoes are both forms of transportation.  The plumber and decorator both work on your house just like your teeth and toes are parts of your body.

The same is true for guitars!  “Bass” and “rhythm” may be terms used to describe guitars; but, the similarities stop there and the differences begin.

Bass Guitar

  • Music is read in bass clef or bass tab
  • Bass guitar links the rhythm with the sound, creating the style of the piece
  • A bass player sets up the rhythm of the song
  • They also provide the foundation for the harmonies
  • Because they are often playing the lowest note, most listeners do not necessarily hear the detail of what the bassist plays
  • Therefore, any mistakes really stand out
  • The bass player is the boss, the organizer in the background running things

Rhythm Guitar

  • The rhythm guitarist, if playing by ear/not reading music, will take the chords they play from either letters or tabs
  • Just like it says on the tin, the rhythm guitarist sets the rhythm along with the bass and the drums – so they have to work well in a team
  • You need a good understanding of tone; it isn’t just the chords you play, it is the way that you play them
  • You need a strong hand and a strong arm. Strumming for long period of time is tiring, and holding down chords requires a firm grip. Develop your chops.
  • You need strong musicality to work off the bass player, enhancing their playing of the root notes.
  • The rhythm player is the worker, the one who seeks not glory, but everything falls apart without them

Lead Guitar

  • If playing reading music to play, the lead guitar will read from the treble clef or guitar tab
  • The lead guitarist helps make a piece memorable through the use of riffs
  • They will need to be an expert player – a lot of lead work is played down the neck of the guitar, where fingering is more difficult and needs to be more precise
  • They break up a song, providing relief from vocals and providing variety
  • They need excellent musicality, knowing feeling for the notes that work and the riffs that enhance
  • The lead guitarist is the star centre forward, the one the fans come to see

In fact, the only thing bass, rhythm, and lead guitarists agree upon is that they are the most important member of the band.  Oh, and that the vocalist is the one without the talent. Just kidding!

So, don’t get confused by the similarity in names.  If you want to learn lead, get a lead guitarist to teach you.  Interested in bass? You know where to go! Bass teachers only!

Remember, you don’t ask the harp player to teach you drums – that would just be stupid…