Acoustic guitar is not always present in a band. There are bands that do not even use an acoustic guitar to play their songs and that is not new since the electric guitar is already doing its part well. Because of that reason, acoustic guitarist find it hard to fit in a band.
Worry not, I have prepared some guidelines on how you can fit in a band as an acoustic guitarist. Understanding your role well can help the band produce better music because of your presence. The role of acoustic guitar in a band must be carefully done well because it can either destroy the band or improve it.
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The role of acoustic guitar in a band
1. Provide good rhythm
Rhythm is important in any songs. Failing to have a good rhythm will result to a terrible song and it can even end your career in music right away. As an acoustic guitarist, you have to help in building a good rhythm.
One thing you can do is to stick to one strumming pattern throughout the whole song. Changing pattern without relaying it to the drummer and bassist can make the rhythm section out of order. Without a good rhythm, your melody will not sound good.
You can also try arpeggiating the notes. It means fingerpicking the strings and you should do this in beat and complements with other instruments. Don’t ever fingerpick just to showcase your skills. Remember, you must provide a good rhythm even when you are fingerpicking. Don’t just pluck any strings because you like it.
Take note that there are songs that rely to the overdriven guitars for the rhythm. During those time, you should back-off in leading the rhythm parts and try to support it by moving on the higher frets.
2. Utilize the Percussive Element
Acoustic guitar is a Percussive instrument that’s why it can easily drive the rhythm section fairly well. You should work more with drummers and bassist rather than the melody parts. Support the melody lines by not doing so much chord change/variations and different strumming patterns.
This will require some discipline because you may take the spotlight by doing lead lines instead of rhythms but do not be like that. Your role is very important but you might like being heard just like the lead instruments, but without your part, your music will be lifeless. It’s better to not play at all than playing something different of your part.
3. Add good Harmony with the Rhythm section
You can play in time but still sound out of beat. Your strumming pattern should be complimenting with the beat of the drums and the groove of the bass. Having a different pattern can destroy the rhythm section and that will be because of you. I know you don’t want that. So instead of doing what you want, try to work with them and do the necessary strumming pattern that will work better in your song.
Some Do’s and Don’ts in playing with a band
I want to make clear that everything that I am saying is based on the genres I play. I am more inclined in playing popular songs. Some of this guidelines may not work on other genres like Jazz, Blues, Country or any other genre.
1. Don’t Fingerpick all the time
You may be tempted to Fingerpick on those emotional slow songs but that is not always the best way. I am not saying not to do it, but sometimes, strumming is better. Providing a good rhythm works better all the time and some people fail to have good rhythm when fingerpicking. Ask your bandmates if fingerpicking is much better for your songs, if not, then strum.
2. Don’t use Barre Chords if possible
One of the beauty of an acoustic guitar is when you hear the open string chords. Doing barre chords drastically reduces the richness of an acoustic guitar. Using a Capo makes it possible to avoid barre chords. By studying the key of C, D, E, G, and A, you can change the barre chords into open string chords by just using a different voicing.
While it is a good idea to avoid barre chords, don’t abuse the Capo. Using only one key to all of your songs by just changing the Capo position will make you sound the same all the time or monotonous. You should avoid that and achieve variety in every songs you are playing.
3. Don’t take the part of the lead guitarist
One sickness that every musician will have in their career is taking the spotlight always. We have a mindset that if you are not doing something flashy or explosive, then we are not going to be recognized. I disagree with that. If you want to be a great musician, doing your part well is the best way to that.
As an acoustic guitarist, your job is usually in the rhythm section. Avoid adding lead lines to your playing. You may be great at doing that and have practiced a lot of riffs, but if the song is not calling you to do lead parts, then don’t. Leave it to your lead guitarist or keyboardist and provide good support when he/she do his/her part.
4. Do change your strings regularly
Changing strings regularly should be your habit. Old, rusty strings have no life and crispness in it. No matter how good you are in playing, your strumming will be lifeless. I have one experience that I was asked to play the acoustic guitar because their bandmate will not be able to play.
The acoustic guitar that is available has very old strings. Not rusty, but I know it’s old. No matter how strong I strum, I can’t get any life in it. EQing, tuning, changing guitar picks, nothing helped at all. That experience made me realize that you should change your strings regularly.
My habit is to change it every 3 months, but it depends on how often you play. Once you heard your acoustic guitar beginning to lose the crispness, it is a good sign to change the strings.
5. Do observe the hi-hats of the Drummer
You should observe the hi-hats if the drummer is doing something in it. When the drummer is doing a 16th note beat or some fast beats on the hi-hats, your strumming pattern should be the same as what he is doing on the hi-hats.
6. Do use a guitar pick at appropriate times
Guitar picks have variations. There are plastic and metal. Thickness also differ and it will have different effects in your playing. Experimenting with it can help you know what thickness and material works better in your song.
Guitar pick adds crispness to the sound and while it is a good, you should not always use guitar pick. You should not use a guitar pick when the song needs a soft chord accompaniment. Mellow songs and sweet songs are some of the example but this is not a rule of thumb. You should still try playing with and without a pick and decide which is better.
7. Don’t play when not needed
This principle a little hard to accept because the reason we are in a band is to play music. But truth to be told, there are certain times that you should not do anything. Listen to one of your favorite songs, you can observe that every time, there will be a change in loudness which is called dynamics.
Playing always and not changing volumes will result to unpleasant music. Adding dynamics to your playing, which means sometimes not doing anything at certain part of songs, can improve your music. Amateur bands typically don’t have any dynamics and all throughout the song, their energy is the same.
Good songs have good dynamics. Verse has less energy and the last chorus typically have the highest energy. Changing volumes between parts is one of the elements that a band should learn to do. And as an acoustic guitarist, there are times that you will not play anything for a certain part and you should just trust your drummer and bassist that they will drive the rhythm parts well when you are not playing
8. Don’t play on the same frequency that other guitars are playing
When you see other guitar players doing chords on the lower frets, near the nut, then you should move on the higher frets by using a Capo. If you play on the same frequency or should I say, same notes, then both of you will just sound like one player. Electric guitar and acoustic guitar may sound different, but when everything is mixed properly, the notes you both play will just sound louder.
By moving to higher frequencies or lower if others are in the higher, there will be a distinction on both instruments and other frequencies will not sound louder than it should be. Your sound man will thank you for that.
Just imagine the sound you’ll make if everyone of you are focusing on the low end tones and forgetting the high ends. You should distribute the sound well and if they won’t adjust, then be the better person and do the necessary adjustments.
Acoustic Guitar is often not used in a typical band set up because many people don’t know how to utilize it in a band. When a good acoustic guitarist comes into the band and can really work well with others, you’ll see drastic improvements in your music because of the added rhythm that can really support the melody and lead lines.
So if you are in a band right now and you don’t have an acoustic guitarist, I suggest that you find one. Or if you are always playing electric guitar all the time, try using an acoustic guitar for a change and see what it can do to your band.
If you have any questions regarding the role of an acoustic guitar player in a band, feel free to leave it in the comment box and I will gladly answer all your questions.