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I am playing drums in an alternative punk band we just started. I am wondering how to play songs that basically are from bands that contain one guitarist, as we have two guitarists. What can be the best approach? Both playing the same, or at some moments playing the same and some moments one of them will do like bass?

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Some alternatives from the top of my head

  • Double the guitar part on both guitars
  • Double the bass part on one guitar
  • Split the roles inside the chord: guitar 1 plays power chords (root and fifth only), and guitar 2 plays the third and the fifth or seventh, without root note.
  • Split the parts rhythmically: guitar 1 playing kick/snare and guitar 2 playing "hi-hat". (Coordinate with the drummer - you want the whole band to play tightly together, not just the two guitarists.)
  • Split between rhythm and "harmony only": Guitar 1 plays normal rhythm chords, guitar 2 plays long pad-like chords from a high position up the neck. (or harmonics but it's difficult)
  • Split between rhythmic chords and "almost only rhythm" with a single note: guitar 1 plays full chords lower and guitar 2 plays single-note lines higher.
  • Split between rhythmic chords and unpitched sounds. Guitar 1 plays chords, guitar 2 plays unpitched muted noises only.
  • Just play different voicings: guitar 1 plays open string chords or low position barre chords, and guitar 2 plays barre chords higher on the neck.
  • Another way to split voicings: guitar 1 plays chords where the root note is on the E string, guitar 2 plays chords where the root note is on the A string or the D string.
  • Split roles to harmony and melody: guitar 1 plays chords, guitar 2 doubles the lead vocal melody
  • Make guitar 2 play like vocal harmonies that background singers would do, doubling the rhythm of the vocals, but with different pitches. There are basically two strategies for vocal harmonies. For a single-voice vocal harmony, either (1) track the lead melody a third or sixth above or below (and if you want more than one voice, add fifth or seventh etc) within the scale, or (2) do chord tones on either side of the melody, but without keeping a constant third or sixth distance. Strategy 2 is a bit easier to do, because you don't have to keep track of what the scale is, only what the chords are, which is what guitarists do anyway. And it's perhaps more rock-n-roll oriented than the more jazzish strategy 1.
  • Play "horn riffs", additional lines that a brass section would do, usually filling any empty holes left by the lead melody, or accenting big rhythmic hits in the drum beat or in the melody.
  • Split between picking patterns. Guitar 1 plays full strummed chords, guitar 2 plays arpeggiated chords.

There's a lot of fun to be had, and better music to be made, when band members coordinate their playing and singing like this, trying to make the whole group work as one "engine". Quite often, drummers and bass players are used to coordinating their playing, usually so that the bass and kick drum play the same pattern together, which sounds really nice and feels rewarding and motivating. But I'd say, not only the bassist and the drummer, but everybody should think about the whole, listen to other players and try to coordinate their playing. What's the guitar's rhythm - does it double one or more of the drum parts? What's the relationship between vocals and guitars? Is everybody playing and singing notes in the same register - does it work as one single big voice, or is it just big a mess? How about giving everybody their own space in the pitch spectrum? Is there a single common idea of the song's rhythm to begin with - does everybody agree if it's a 1/16th or 1/8th beat song? Etc. The more players you have, the more coordination is needed. :)

  • 1
    Would this advice be just as applicable (when practical) for a keyboardist added to the group? – elliot svensson Feb 19 at 16:59
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    @elliotsvensson Yes I think so, although a keyboard and a guitar cannot create the kind of chorusing-doubling that two very tightly played guitars can, sort of like if it was a single 12-string. But the general principle is the same: you divide the musical roles and elements between instruments. For most of the things I listed, you could image it being a guitar+keyboard situation just as well. – piiperi Feb 19 at 17:02
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    what I like mostly from this answer is that you're telling OP that a band doesn't always have to play a textbook song, it's about playing it your own way, and my favorite advice in this answer is the third one from the bottom – gl_prout Feb 20 at 5:32
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    Also, "guitar 1" and "guitar 2" aren't fixed roles; the two guitarists can trade off during a set or during a song, according to their talents, their egos, or good showmanship. – hobbs Feb 20 at 15:12
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    Is "give one of the guitarists a break for that track" not an option? – Adam Barnes Feb 21 at 9:58
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Generally I would have only one guitar play during the quieter parts and both guitars play the same thing during the loud parts. Often this means both guitars play during the chorus and only one during the verses.

For instance, in "Smells Like Teen Spirit", one guitar would play the intro, both the opening chorus riff, then one guitar plays the verse and pre-chorus, both guitars play the chorus, etc.

For "Basket Case", I would have one guitar play up until the drums come in, and then basically have both guitars play the same thing for the rest of the song. This matches with what it sounds like they did on the recording, where the double-tracked the guitar starting when the drums enter.

For "What's My Age Again", it also sounds like they double tracked it starting with the first chorus, and then the double track stops for the bridge, and then comes back in for the last chorus and ending.

The secret is that even for bands with only one guitarist, a lot of times on the recording they record multiple guitar tracks in layers. So by listening carefully for those layers, you can figure out where the best places are to have two guitarists playing.

If one guitarist is getting bored, you could switch off who is playing each quiet section. So one guitarist plays alone for the first verse, both together for the first chorus, then the second guitarist plays alone for the second verse.

Having one guitarist quietly double the bass an octave higher can bring out the bass part, which could be good or bad depending on the song.

Overall, you want to take it on a song-by-song basis. Use your artistic sense and tastes to figure out what sounds best.


One more note: Kurt Cobain said that punk music is about freedom. To me, that means freedom to do whatever you want, and especially to express yourself. Think about that and keep that in mind when you are playing punk. You can always add a guitar part to a song that was recorded with only one guitar part. But more than that, I think if you really want to get punk, you have to write your own stuff. Playing covers is a great way to learn and to connect with an audience, but writing your own songs is really what making music is about. You're free to play anything you want, however you want. Don't hesitate and don't be afraid. The world needs everyone to speak in their own voice. Punk means you've decided not to keep quiet about it.

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    And today is Kurt Cobain's birthday. Oh, and good answer. – JPhi1618 Feb 20 at 16:47
  • Good point about double-tracking on recordings. +1 – David Bowling Feb 20 at 20:34
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Something to try:

I saw an (oldskool) R&B band play once. They weren't bad musically, but not great.

The setup: Drums in the middle, 2 x Les-Paul-&-Marshall amp guitars, bass and a singer in the middle.

The guitars were setup up one on each side of the (small) stage.

A lot of the songs they played would have had one gutar orignally, so both guitarists played the same thing. It sounded GREAT! But the trick they had learnt was both guitarists pleased exactly the same thing, especially the timing. The effect was like listening to a huge stereo, with a lovely wide guitar sound. It probably also helped that they had the same gear.

And that's the trick: Notes-wise, 2 x guitarists would have to play un unison or same chord or some relationship to each other, of course. But timing-wise: If you have two guitarists playing almost the same thing timing-wise, you just get a mush. If they're syncapated or exactly in unison, it suddenly sounds sharp, but huge.

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    I wonder how it would work if the guitarists swapped places but keeping the amps in place ... player 1 would stand in front of player 2's amp and vice versa. ;) Gotta play very tight together to get the illusion that it's your sound you're hearing. Probably a bad idea. – piiperi Feb 19 at 16:40
  • @piiperi I've had some experience of that at a jam night when people kept moving about and me and the other guitarist ended up in each other's 'spot'. Surprisingly, it's not bad, although it depends on the amp setup a bit (how they're aimed): The worst place to stand if you want to hear an amp is right in front of it. Assuming the amp's op the floor, you don't have ears in your knees, so you probably aren't hearing it wholly. Standing aside a bit (and in front) possibly means you hear more of it! The problem would be that to adjust a setting, you'd need to ask your colleague to adjust the amp – user2808054 Feb 20 at 9:41
  • However I get what you're suggesting: If you were playing in unison, it'd sound/feel probably a bit weird. If you made a mistake you could look at the other guitarist as if it was their fault hahaa – user2808054 Feb 20 at 9:41
4

I personally think the best three ideas to try are:

  • Double up the guitars to give a louder impact on the guitar parts. It creates a bigger sound, possibly a good idea for a punk band.

  • Improv lead. This can be more challenging without much theory to back you up, but if you know the key, one guitarist can just improv some basic riffs (much like The Clash)

  • Two different rhythms. Try two different rhythms that compliment each other. I find the Libertines do this pretty well, and I for one tend to use off-beat chunks whilst my friend plays a more consistent rhythm part.

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I was about to say use stacked traids but then I realized it is punk rock so very likely this won't work. This is also the reason why the first bit of the top rated answer is not really sensefull to me.

Punk is mostly distorted power chords so their is little room to play the fancy harmony card. Therefore you probably have to rely on playing the same thing which isn't that great in the first place and it's more error prone as we can hear the slight inaccuracies very easy when two things play the exact same thing.

The good thing is that you can play solos, licks and other melodic elements without stopping the main riff.

This is last bit is probably somewhat off topic but I personally would try to convince one of them, to play bass instead, in case you don't have one, which you don't specified so far. I only can guess from your statement that one of them "could do like bass"

  • not true at all. Listen to The Clash. – treyBake Feb 21 at 8:32

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