Paul Gilbert is among the top guitar shredders of all time. But it’s not his speed alone that’s impressive. The Mr. Big guitarist’s licks and solos are both musical and rhythmically engaging, two qualities that you’ll find in the work of all the great players, whether it’s Django Reinhardt, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai.
Gilbert recorded a video for Guitar Center Sessions some years ago, in which he demonstrated a number of techniques. In one of the best segments, shown above, he demonstrates how he uses rhythm to generate new riffs and licks that sound fresh, yet familiar and engaging.
He starts by showing how he’ll take a well-known riff - Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” - and use its rhythm pattern to create a new riff that sounds unique to the source material. He does the same with Free’s excellent 1973 track “Wishing Well.” As the video continues, Gilbert and his drummer, Jeff Bowders, take the exercise to the next level as they trade guitar licks and drum fills based on each other’s rhythm patterns.
What emerges is a very useful and simple technique for creating your own riffs and licks from any rhythm pattern you find interesting. It’s also, as Gilbert says, a great way to get inspired when you feel like you’re stuck.
“If you ever get into a rut and you’re playing the same old licks over and over again,” he says, “this is the way out of the rut. Just learn some new rhythms and you’ll have a universe of music open up to you through rhythm.”
Of course, the same technique and principles can also be applied to playing rhythm guitar and soloing. Find a drum rhythm pattern you like and apply it to a rhythm guitar part, or use it as the basis for a solo.