Leading Worship with 2 Acoustic Guitars

A band with two acoustic guitars can sound amazing if you do it will.

I played in a band for several years with this kind arrangements. Below I've outlined roles for each guitar and examples of how they work together.

Rhythm Guitar

One of the biggest mistakes guitarists make when they don’t have a band around them is to play like they do. If you’ve ever tried to sing in a group without a clear rhythm pattern, you know how difficult it is. To lead effectively, the rhythm guitar has to become both the bass and the drums. This can be accomplished rather easily by using mutes to emphasize where a snare would hit and strumming in the lower range of the chords to emphasize the root notes like a bass would. This may actually mean simplifying your playing but that’s your role. Don’t worry, though, your lead guitarist is there to back you up.

Lead Guitar

When you’ve only got two instruments, the lead guitar can be a lot busier than it would in a full band situation. With the rhythm guitar holding down the bass and drums, this guitar has a lot of freedom to fill in the space. Still you want to make sure that you play parts and not just noodle around. One approach is to capo higher on the neck and simply fill out the chords with strumming. This works great on higher intensity songs where you want to emphasize the rhythm.

Another technique is to arpeggiate differently voiced chords to add texture. You could also lose the capo and take more of a rhythmic riffing approach either creating your own riffs, playing the recorded lead guitar parts or combining the two. If you do copy the exact riff from the song, you may need to add a little more percussiveness to it to make if feel like it’s meant to play on an acoustic.  

In the video below, I’ve take the chords for the chorus of This Is Amazing Grace by Phil Wickham and played them as I would with a rhythm guitar and then provided examples of the techniques listed above so you can hear how they interact together.

Just because there are only two of you doesn't mean you have to abandon dynamics. In fact, you should accentuate them. Make your lows lower and your highs higher. Listen to each other and lock in. There are few sounds worse than two guitars playing out of sync with each other. Stay together and you’ll do just fine. 

 

Jason Houtsma is the co-founder and guitar teacher at Worship Artistry, where he is helping musicians of every level answer the call to worship with passion and confidence. Jason has been leading worship and writing music since he was 15 years old and currently serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA. He is husband to Alli and father to Bjorn and Asher.

Leading Worship with 2 Acoustic Guitars

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Comments

Bigger sound out of Limited Numbers

Love the ideas Jason! One thing I like to do that (I think) also helps really "expand" the sound is to use open chord forms.

Something I'm trying to figure out that goes right along the lines of what you're talking about...We've all heard how full two six string guitars playing the same thing sound - two in tune six string guitars, that is! Without electronics, it's such a cool and unique sound...it just cannot be replicated. In WWII, allied photo reconnaissance was done by airplanes using two cameras mounted within feet of each other on the underside of an aircraft. Then interpreters would offset these two pictures by 60 degrees yielding a perfect 3D image. I've looked, unsuccessfully, for the audio equivalent. It must be there...does anyone know (I mean short of electronics)?

Brian

Nice

This was what I was looking for. Something to kind of set the two guitars apart. While both playing the same chords and strum patterns sounds ok by capo-ing up higher or playing some arpeggios it really adds another layer. Thanks.

Glad it was the right vein.

This was one of my favorite posts to write. Keep the suggestions coming. I'm always looking for ideas.

6 string + 12 string

Brian's comment made me think about this:

combine a 6 string and a 12 string in same formation (i.e. same capo or chord structure). That add's a whole new element. Or having the person on 12 string play rhythm and the person on lead play 6. It really makes it sound more like 3 guitars.

Figuring out the lead on acoustic guitar

I play acoustic guitar and in our youth group there is another acoustic guitar player and we are going to be doing an all acoustic set this week. But I am not sure of how to figure out the lead like you do for the songs on acoustic guitar. You give the lessons for lead on electric guitar and do i just play that on acoustic guitar and have that as my lead part? I am confused about all of it can you help me out and tell me how I figure out the lead on acoustic guitar please? Thank you!

Yes

You would simply play the electric parts on the acoustic. You may have to make some adjustments in terms of how hard you pick or you may want to get a little more "strummy" with a lead part but they should work great. Trust your ear.

Thank you

Thank you I will try that!
Also the other acoustic guitarist that I play with isn't too great on rhythm or lead parts and I don't know how to break it to him politely or how to do an acoustic set when that happens... Any ideas? The worship leader doesn't seem to notice any of that so I am stuck of what to do. Thank you again for all that you do on this website is has helped me a lot!

Send him here!

Ha. Actually rather than trying to break it to him I always suggest positive things they can do. That way I'm keeping them in their skill set while coaching them up.

If I may . . .

... share another technique for "This is Amazing Grace". We usually have 3 acoustics and a lead playing. On "This is Amazing Grace", since the other guys are playing in open C, I capo on 5 and play from a G shape. On the verses I keep a simple but strong drone going of 1 &3, 1 &3, straight downbeats, letting the chords ring through the rests. Just something I worked out while noodling around.

You may always

And that's a great tip

What about a 12 string?

Hey Jason,

Kind of coming late to the party here. When I know that it's just going to be a two guitar set I like to play rhythm on a 12 string. It brings a lot of body to the mix and when you want or need to get big you can. Yes they are a pain to tune but they have a unique sound and for those mandolin tremolo picking parts that you don't have a mandolin for they are perfect because you get that two string effect that is VERY similar to ta mandolin.

Joe

intimate worship

I find having just two acoustics is so intimate. at my church we only had myself and the Pastor on acoustics, however over the last 6 months have had an explosion of musicians come to our church. This is great and gives us so much more scope. However I do sometimes find myself missing how intimate the two acoustics are.

Great tips!

I also find that you can still simulate the bass & drums part of the music when everything picks up by focusing or accenting your strums on the lower end (bass) strings where the kick drum and other rhythmic stuff would usually be, followed by a full strum where you hit the higher end strings where the snare would be. When a song picks up, this gives you something different to do in addition to the full mutes in the verses.

Great stuff! I'm glad I found this site!

Great tips, Brad!

Glad you found us too :)