What is a guitar part, exactly?
This video shows an example of a Guitar Part. This is where you replace the basic chords with something more creative.
The part shown replaces two basic chords (A major and E major) with suspended chords, volume swells, overdrive, and a chord/lead line riff played up at the ninth fret.
Creating a guitar part means that you take the basic chords of the song, but find creative ways to play them.
But how do we do it? Let’s dive right in!
How to create a worship guitar part on electric guitar
A typical chord chart will have the lyrics, and above those, the basic chord names. Like “G – Em – C – D”, for example.
Usually, the acoustic guitar player in a worship team will strum those.
We want to play something that fits in – but is different to the acoustic guitar part.
I call the way I think about this ‘The Diamond Method‘:
To build our guitar part, we:
- Start from a single point: the chord chart
- Expand out – the wide part of the diamond. Consider every guitar technique you know.
- Throw out everything that doesn’t work
- Contract on to the final point – the list of things which you are going to use
Let’s go through those steps in detail.
Start with the basic chords
The first step: take the basic chord chart and play it!
To add some interesting texture, we will use the chord substitutes in the Ultimate Worship Chord System to do this.
In our example above, we will then be playing G5, Em7, Cadd9 and Dsus4. These chords are easier to change between, and have a good sound to them.
Right away, we’ve achieved two useful things:
- We know the outline of the song
- We can play it solo – great for house groups, or ‘unplugged’ worship sets
(As a bonus: this works great as an acoustic guitar bed track if you are recording.)
Break into sections
Praise/Worship songs are made up of one or more sections.
Typically, a song will feature sections of:
- Intro – a brief musical start-up piece, often based on the chorus
- Verse – has lyrics. Conveys some unique idea. Has it’s own chords. Often quieter, or lighter.
- Chorus – the ‘catchy part’. Often repeats chorus lyrics to hammer home a theme. Often louder, or busier.
- Outro – the ending of the song. Live songs benefit from a crisp, clear end.
Some songs have more sections. Others less.
The key for us is that each section has its own feel, and its own set of chord changes.
All the chorus sections will be the same – or more or less so. All verses will have more or less the same chords and same vocal melody, just different words.
So mark up the sections. Then consider each one.
Starting with the chorus, we ask the question “What else can we play for these chords?”
Explore chord/melody options
Given the basic chords, we start trying out all the techniques we have learned to alter them. The full course describes the techniques below – how to do them, and where to use them.
For us, now – it’s time to put them to work.
We simply go through all the things we have learned, and try them. We take note of all that sound good, and suit the mood of the worship song:
Chord Substitutes Like our Ultimate Worship Chord System shows, we can make small modifications to the basic chords. By adding notes from the parent scale, we can create a lush, contemporary sound. It will complement – not compete – with the acoustic guitar.
Basic Open Chords Nothing wrong with playing basic versions of G, Em, C, D. We would probably use some technqiues below to change the tone, but if it works … keep it simple!
Broken Chords Don’t strum. Pick out each note in the chord one at a time. Keep your fret fingers pressed down. Let all the notes of that chord ring. Very effective for quiet worship. You can achieve a very gently, tender, ‘fragile’ sound.
Chord/Melody riffs We can choose chord fragments higher up the neck, then hammer on/pull off notes from the parent scale. We can combine chords with melody. Jimi Hendrix pioneered this technique, and it still has its power. Adds movement to an otherwise static section. Brilliant with delay over a synth pad. Excellent during verses.
Power Chords ‘Power’ and ‘Majesty’ are common themes in worship songs. Chorus sections in particular often benefit from a feeling of ‘power’. Using power chords will create this.
Barre Chords We can play in a higher register up the neck by using Barre Chords. These give a ‘choppy’ rhythm, just because of how they are played. Useful for a sense of fun, energy, action, motion. All good themes in praise songs.
U2 Style We can use two note chord/melodies to play a power-praise style, like ‘I Will Follow’. Or we can go towards ‘Where the streets have no name’ to get a quieter, worship sound.
Clean Tone Setting our amp to a clean tone can be used for quieter playing, or a sense of tenderness.
Crunch Tone Adds energy, emotion, expectancy. Simply playing open chords with a bit of crunch can add an energy to a section.
Volume Swells + Delay Flick the delay pedal on. Using a volume swell, you can create a sound almost like waves in the sea. Create ambient textures. This is very powerful in worship moments, combined with synth pads and Hi Hat textures from the drums.
Harmonics A bell like sound to create a sense of the ‘heavenly’.
Silence Ok, so we guitarists aren’t best known for not playing :) But it can be the single best thing you can add to a section.
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Apply musical sensitivity
As we try these out, we are sensitive to what fits this song in this position on the worship service.
We ask questions like:
- Should this be loud, triumphant praise? Or quieter, reflective Worship?
- What is the ‘arc’ of feeling in our set? Getting more intense? Or more introspective?
This informs the techniques we try above, and how we rate them:
- Do power chords fit?
- What sounded better for this song – clean, crunch or more power?
- Would simple, basic strumming actually be better?
- Could we use “A shape” triads, and hammer on suspended notes?
- Should we play “G shape” fragments, and add on major scale notes?
- Would some ‘altered worship chords’ fit?
- U2 style? Heavy style, a la ‘I will follow’, or lighter, like ‘Where the streets have no name’?
- Single notes, picked from the chord?
- Broken chords?
We are at the ‘widest point’ – time to make some decisions
Considering our chord chart as the tip of our diamond, we are now at the widest part.
We have considered every idea we can think of. We are open to ‘surprises’ – where we didn’t think something would work, but it does.
This is regular brainstorming: We look at all the ideas, with preconceptions.
Then we honestly judge which are the better ideas.
It is here where we start ‘narrowing back down’ – rejecting ideas both ok and bad to cherry pick the best ones.
Consider song dynamics
Next, we refine our ideas by paying attention to the dynamics of each section. This allows us to reject some ideas.
Dynamics refers to ‘how loud’ and ‘how intense’ a section is:
This chart shows how the intensity of a song varies over time, as each section unfolds. In the example shown, the song starts out punchy, then drops to a gentler verse.
The first chorus ramps up – probably becoming a bit louder, and with more energetic playing.
The second verse drops down again – but not as far down as the first verse. Probably, we are playing a little busier here. Maybe, another instrument sound has joined the mix, to maintain interest.
The second chorus is flat out. We reign it back in for a gentle middle 8 section, before going flat out for a loud and noisy finish.
A lot of praise songs are structured this way.
Can you see how this directs our playing choices?
We reflect the intensity of each section in our choice of guitar technique:
- Should I make the chorus more powerful? If yes, I can try power chords, if I hadn’t before
- Is this part ‘fragile’? Or ‘tender’? Maybe broken chords, picked gently would be appropriate
- Mysterious? In awe? Suspended chords plus delay plus volume swell can emphasise this mood
- Should I play more in the chorus, make it more busy?
- Should I intentionally leave out some chords in the verse – make it sparse, and ‘light’?
- Could using harmonics give a chiming, ‘heavenly’ tone? Would that enhance this section?
We stay honest about this. I might want to crank out power chords on 11, but if it doesn’t fit this song in this section, I will reject that idea.
Find space in the mix – consider other instruments
We also consider what the other instruments are doing.
This is so important in bands. And it is the number one reason I have seen ehind ‘why doesn’t it sound good?’ problems in worship bands.
Each player must craft a part that
- Fits the song
- Leaves space for the other instruments
- Stands out and contributes on its own
Because this is involved, this module works through the typical splits in a worship band.
Again, we are narrowing down to our part. If my guitar idea conflicts with a critical part on keys, say, or the lead vocal, I’ll reject it.
Conflicts with other instruments are often a good source of creativity. Work together to make subtle changes to both your parts, and the result can be stellar.
Narrow down – decision time
We’ve explored ideas. We’ve rejected ones that don’t fit. We’ve created a part that fits the song, the worship service, and the other instruments.
Pick your favourite approach for each section.
Give it a quick play through, to double check all the sections work, and you can physically play them. I say this, because some parts are ok on their own – but the transition happens to quickly, or you can’t change pedal settings fast enough. So check, and make final adjustments.
And then …
Lock it down – make notes
- Mark up your charts with effects settings and cues: “Delay ON”, “Swell here”
- Rough record yourself on your phone/tablet/laptop – as a memory jogger
- You might share that round the team, to help them pick parts that fit. Use private youtube, google drive, direct messages for this.
If you are a music reader, adding notation to your own copy of the sheet is great.
Let’s work through the video clip at the start of this guide.
The starting point for this playing has no lyrics, and just two chords: A and E. The four and one chords of the key of E Major. You might get this in a worship service when the band plays to support either a prayer, reading – or spontaneous worship, where the congregation make up their own words.
So, just A and E.
Let’s look at how we broke it down into a part.
Overall Structure and Dynamics
Whilst the chords stay the same, A to E throughout, the song starts softly, builds in intensity across the whole band, then drops back down to quiet again.
The individual sections of playing reflect that.
We start softly. To support that, we chose a simple but effective technique.
- Substitute the chords A and E for our preferred chords in E: Asus2 and E5.
- Use a crunch overdrive tone (perhaps counter-intuitive?) and delay
- Use slow picked ‘rakes’ – slowly moving the pick over the strings
- Pick gently – a very light touch from the pick hand
- Use Volume Swells, from a foot operated volume pedal
The volume pedal is placed before the overdrive, so you not only control how loud the guitar is, but how crunchy. You can hear this build up.
We begin by playing very lightly, and using broken chords.
The overdrive is set so that it isn’t pushed into breaking up here. But you do get a very nice treble boost.
As the intro progresses, we push further into the volume pedal. This gives us more volume, and more crunchiness.
This says “we are building”.
Transition to maximum intensity
We go high up the neck, and substitute our basic E chord with an E5 at the ninth fret.
We play the top three strings, using fast sixteenth notes, and varying fret hand string muting. We hit the strings hard.
Overall, this gives a ‘clicky’ sound, vocalised as a “chick-a-chow”.
As the E5 chord is played hard, it gives a suitable ‘kick start’ into the maximum intensity section.
This part plays a melody on top of the ninth fret E5 chord.
Picking notes from the E Major scale to form a memorable hook, these notes are played with a double stop on the ninth fret.
The overdrive gives this a hard sound, and the melody hook adds energy and movement.
This section crescendos to a “cry”. Two single notes, played with wide vibrato and a Wah pedal effect create a ‘crying out’ feel.
The notes themselves are single notes from the A and E chords: A (the root of the A chord) and G# (the major third of the E chord).
I use this technique a lot. It’s called voice leading, and it happens when you play a chord change by moving a featured note along a scale pattern. So instead of getting disjointed chords, you hear a flow through them. The flow is the smooth, small changes of note – but each note also features in the chord.
The cry is accentuated by using Wah and pinch harmonics.
The Wah is pushed further into its ‘high pitched’ setting, and follows the tempo of the song. It’s not just used randomly.
Pinch harmonics are a pick hand technique that plays a squealy note an octave higher than the fretted note.
Outro – calming down again
Finally, the other instruments calm down once again. The acoustic reverts to more gentle strumming. Drums and bass both play with less intensity.
The electric guitar part goes back to the techniques in the intro. Gentle pick rakes of open chords, with volume swells through delay.
The final note, as a deliberate effect, is pushed to full volume. This causes the overdrive to go crunchy. It gives a satisfying, loud and definite end to the piece.
Main takeaway point
Our example shows what can be done to liven up just two plain chords.
The techniques apply to all chord progressions. Do the experiments yourself on your own progressions to see what you like.
It’s worth pointing out that the example above is by no means the “best” playing. It’s just what I liked at the time. You could – and probably should – choose to play it differently.
For any set of chords, there are many different guitar parts possible.
And that is the secret of how we can make worship songs sound different from each other – even though they share the same chords.
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