When you’re ready to branch out and play with other musicians, you’re likely to find lots of available guitarists. Learning to blend musically with other musicians is an ongoing skill that can take years to develop and a lifetime to master. But the advice offered here will provide a roadmap and some guidance for your journey.
Ever watch a couple guitar players at an open mic and notice they’re playing exactly the same thing at the same location of the neck? That’s fine for learning a song and getting comfortable playing together, but it gets pretty boring pretty quickly for both the guitarists and anyone listening. Or worse, it can make for a muddy and garbled sound because the two guitars are fighting for the same sound space.
You can employ any combination of the techniques below to help distinguish your guitar part and make a song more interesting. Keep in mind when playing with others that there should be plenty of give and take. These techniques should give you a number of options so you can try them all out and see what works best for you in different situations.
Watch the area of the fingerboard the other guitarist is using and try to find chords or riffs that are in a different location. For example, if the other player is using mostly open chords at the bottom of the neck (close to the nut), try playing barre chords higher up on the neck.
Tone and Pickup
For electric players, what type of tone does the other player have? Is it bright and trebly or darker and more bassy? Try to dial in a tone on your guitar and amp that’s different, and complementary, to the other guitarist’s sound. Or, if you have access to a couple different guitars, make note of what type of guitar they’re using, especially regarding the pickups. If they’re playing a twangy Strat or Telecaster type guitar with single coil pickups, try switching to something with a humbucker (Les Paul type) and dial down the treble on the amp.
This is an amazingly effective technique, especially for two acoustic players: Try having one player put on a capo anywhere from 2nd to 7th fret. Use different voicings (chord shapes) to play the same chords. Now try some improvised arpeggios together. The effect of this can be almost magical! You’re essentially turning the capo-ed guitar into a different instrument. Try moving the capo even higher for a mandolin type effect.
Now Get Out of the Way!
The absolute most import thing to do when playing with another guitar, or any other musician, is to LISTEN. Are they strumming chords or picking arpeggios? Where are they focused on the neck? What kind of tone are they getting? Are they playing a busy part or is it more sparse? Simply paying attention to these factors can help you create a guitar part that complements the other player, lets you shine or allows you to become part of the background tapestry; out of the way, but still vital and essential to the bigger picture.