How to play Motown rhythm guitar

Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield brought plenty of invention to rhythm guitar technique (Image credit: Gilles Petard/Redferns)

Before we go any further, I want to define what I am calling ‘rhythm’ guitar. Many of the great blues artists such as BB King, Albert Collins and Albert King were soloists who didn’t really ‘do’ chords, but I wanted to have a play here with the guitar as a ‘featured instrument’ – not necessarily playing a solo or melody but not relegated to strumming inaudible block chords, either.

That said, the bass and drum backing provides very little harmonic detail, so it is also necessary that the guitar steps in here, while providing a bit of rhythmic and melodic variety. This sounds like a very tall order indeed, but if we talk through our options, hopefully you will see it is completely possible to develop a flexible approach that also allows for some spontaneity. 

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Richard Barrett

As well as a longtime contributor to Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, Richard is Tony Hadley’s longstanding guitarist, and has worked with everyone from Roger Daltrey to Ronan Keating.