Barry Galbraith's Approach to Rhythm Guitar

By Mike Caruso – student and friend of Barry Galbraith <>
February 2011

Barry Galbraith was an incredible rhythm guitarist – admired by his peers.  For rhythm guitar, Barry usually employed three note chords (strings 6, 4, and 3).  He liked to mimic the bass player and create a walking bass line with his chord voicings.

Barry had a rhythm guitar chart from a George Russell recording date.  Each beat had a different chord.  If a guitarist tried to play every chord that was written, the chart would have been unplayable.  It was full of 13ths with flatted 5ths, and other exotic chords, and it moved along quickly. Barry showed me how to make the chart easy to play.  He ignored all the extra added extensions and just played the basic three note chords - letting the horns add the missing 9ths, 13ths, and other extensions.  Using this method, he was able to play the chord chart during the first run-through.  Barry would use extensions when required, but within the three note voicing.

Arrangers often feel they have to put every harmony in the guitar chords; every harmony played by the horns and saxophones show up in the guitar chart.  A good rhythm guitarist will ignore these chord extensions and just play the basic chords, such as a dominant 7th, instead of a 9th.   Creating a strong, steady rhythm guitar sound is more important than these extra notes.  Trying to play the extensions forces the guitarist to use awkward voicings, and this can weaken the power of the rhythm chords.  By using basic three note voicings, the guitarist can keep the same chord quality and power throughout the rhythm chart.  Arrangers will often write different chords on each beat in order to create a moving line. What is desired is for the guitarist to play a moving line that he is creating on the spot. Many guitarists will recognize the moving line the arranger is creating by the chords; in this case the guitarist may play the moving line in single notes, rather than chords.

Like Freddie Green, I have employed two note voicings when moving from chord to chord.  Freddie Green knew that only one note was needed; he was not overly concerned with playing all the notes in the harmony.  What he wanted was to add percussive rhythm while creating a moving melodic line.

Barry did not talk about the using single-note chords in his rhythm playing.  He employed three note chords and liked to cut off the chord after each strum.  He would sync with the ride cymbal of the drummer.

Barry had a Stromberg arch top guitar.  It was huge and he would joke that he could only play it at certain times of the year because the top would swell and the string action would be higher.   I had trouble playing it because the action was very high.  I estimate that action height was 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch, but not as high as the 1/2 inch action on Freddie Green's guitar. Barry's Stromberg had an incredible sound and I can understand why Freddie Green played a Stromberg.

Barry Galbraith was one of the finest studio musicians in the world.  He was a first call player for jazz recording dates, particularly dates that required lots of sight reading such as George Russell projects.  Barry was an exceptional sight reader.  When reading single lines, he always counted in two - not four, dividing the bar in two.  There was nothing that Barry could not play at sight. Listen to Barry's "Guitar and the Wind" album to hear a master at work.

Barry was also a master at comping, feeding chords to the soloist like a pianist.  He was especially good in small groups and in backing a singer.  When comping, he would use the higher extensions of the chord.  He wrote an exceptional book on guitar comping techniques, concepts, and ideas.

Barry admired the guitar style of Tal Farlow.  Tal often performed in a trio with piano and bass.  He created a rhythm guitar technique that sounded like a snare drum by muting the strings with his left hand, and strumming in a particular way with his right hand.

Thank you Barry, for the many hours of playing together through your guitar library, which contained the hardest guitar parts I have ever encountered.  I enjoyed playing with you, especially your arrangements of the Bach two-part inventions. I miss you, think of you often, and will remember and cherish our friendship for as long as I live.

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