A rhythm guitar is a technique and role that performs a combination of two functions: to provide all or part of the rhythmic pulse in conjunction with singers or other instruments; and to provide all or part of the harmony, i.e. the chords, where a chord is a group of notes played together. Therefore, the basic technique of rhythm guitar is to hold down a series of chords with the fretting hand while strumming rhythmically with the other hand. More developed rhythm techniques include arpeggios, damping, riffs, chord solos, and complex strums.
In ensembles or “bands” playing within the acoustic, country, blues, rock or metal genres (among others), a guitarist playing the rhythm part of a composition plays the role of supporting the melodic lines and solos played on the lead instrument or instruments, be they string, wind, brass, keyboard or even percussion instruments, or simply the human voice, in the sense of playing steadily throughout the piece, whereas lead instruments and singers switch between carrying the main or counter melody and falling silent. In big band music, the guitarist is considered part of the rhythm section, alongside bass and drums.
In some musical situations, such as a solo singer-guitarist, the guitar accompaniment provides all the rhythmic drive; in large ensembles it may be only a small part (perhaps one element in a polyrhythm). Likewise, rhythm guitar can supply all of the harmonic input to a singer-guitarist or small band, but in ensembles that have other harmony instruments (such as keyboards) or vocal harmonists, its harmonic input will be less important.
In the most commercially available and consumed genres, electric guitars tend to dominate their acoustic cousins in both the recording studio and the live venue. However the acoustic guitar remains a popular choice in country, western and especially bluegrass music, and almost exclusively in folk music.
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