Having been a professional musician for the last 27 years, I’ve been put in many different musical situations and asked to play many different styles of music. Inevitably, the style of music always dictates what I end up playing. We’re talking about comping here, not soloing. On my gig that’s basically 80% of your night.
As a guitar player, most times I’ll take the path of least resistance; Blues I’ll shuffle, Reggae I’ll skank, the rock I’ll power chord, etc… This is where chord voicings, double stop, and knowing your intervals/harmony really influence how you sound and fit into the rhythm section.
It can be much more challenging playing today’s top 40 hits where many times there are no guitar parts at all on the track. When in this situation, I’ll draw from my little trick bag of licks that I’ve amassed over the years to come up with a guitar part or I’ll just lay out altogether (not play at all).
Just laying out sometimes can be a very effective approach. I’ve seen many musicians struggle with this concept, feeling they always need to be playing, strumming, stepping on a pedal, or noodling in one way or another. It’s like getting on an elevator these days. Two strangers on the same elevator often take out their phones and start noodling, trying to hide from that awkward silence.
So I might layout in verse one. In verse two, maybe I’ll enter and play a muted funky lick to create some interest. In the pre-chorus maybe I’ll add some double stops and then only open up in the chorus. Of course, this depends on the song. Record the band and listen back. Are you playing a part? Does it bring interest to the listener? Does it clash with anyone else’s part? And lastly, does it feel good? Does your drummer ever look up and smile or your bass player giving you an approving nod when you’re comping?
Make them smile and next time on an elevator leave your phone in your pocket unless of course, it’s your drummer calling to say how good it felt on stage last night.