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Which Rhythms Should Guitarist Know?

By Yann, published on 01/01/2019 We Love Prof > Music > Guitar > Rhythms Every Guitarist Should Know

“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” – Martin Luther

According to a study by Fender, 50% of new guitarists in 2018 were women. That said, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman, you have to work on your rhythm.

Rhythm is essential when it comes to playing the guitar. In fact, you could argue that it’s half of the work.

However, it’s a part of guitar playing that far too many guitarists ignore. They think it isn’t necessary, takes too long to perfect, or it’s too complicated.

  • Rhythm is an essential part of guitar playing.
  • Learning it can take some time but it will allow you to learn much more quickly.
  • It’s no more complicated than learning a pentatonic scale, arpeggio, or harmonic.

Here are some rhythms that you should learn on the guitar and some exercises to help you practise them.

Master a Lever Motion on the Guitar

The first thing you need to learn when playing the guitar is how to position your hands on the body and neck of your acoustic, electric, or electro-acoustic guitar.

How do you play guitar rhythms? Rhythm theory can be applied to all instruments. (Source: egonkling)

In order to play a rhythm, it’s recommended that you hold the plectrum between your thumb and index finger. You need to hold it firmly, almost perpendicular to the strings you’re going to strike with it.

If you prefer playing with your fingers, you need to place your thumb against your index finger and use the nail on your index finger for downstrokes and the nail on your thumb for upstrokes. But really you should use a plectrum. You’ll see that it’s far less tiring than using your fingers.

Then, to get the most out of your rhythm exercises, you need to train your hand to do a regular lever motion. This is an up and down motion that you need to be able to do constantly and consistently. By practising this action, you’ll help render your wrist and your elbow more supple.

Once you’re comfortable making this motion of away from the strings, try muting the strings with your left hand and bring your right hand closer to them. The result will be a scraping sound. Of course, for a more consistent motion, practice with the help of a metronome.

Find out why you should study rhythm.

Three Basic Rhythm Exercises for the Guitar

It doesn’t matter what style of music you’re playing (jazz fusion, Bossanova, blues, rock, etc.), you’ll need to master rhythm. The same is true for any other musical instrument, be it the saxophone, violin, cello, accordion, flute, double bass, trombone, etc.

For each rhythm exercise, you have to follow the steps. Read carefully what you have to do. Practise the rhythm without playing any chords so that’s you’ve got the rhythmic pattern down.

You can follow the beat by tapping your foot or moving your head. This will help your body to synchronise with the rhythm, making it more natural. Don’t forget the play along with a metronome and take your time.

Start slowly and then increase the tempo progressively by 10 bpm at a time. This will give your brain the necessary time to assimilate the pattern so there you don’t have to think about it later. Finally, play a chord progression with the rhythm you’ve learnt.

Rhythm 1

Playing each beat using the lever motion as follows:

  • 1: down
  • And: up
  • 2: down
  • And: up
  • 3: down
  • And: up
  • 4: down
  • And: up

Places to single chord and don’t try to do a chord progression. Choose a chord you’re good at playing and stick with it.

The goal of the exercises to improve your rhythm and not improve any other technique.

Find out more about rhythms on guitar.

Rhythm 2

Now we’re only going to play the downstrokes on each beat but not the upstrokes on the offbeats:

  • 1: down
  • And: nothing
  • 2: down
  • And: nothing
  • 3: down
  • And: nothing
  • 4: down
  • And: nothing

Remember the lever motion. Even when you’re not hitting the strings, you should be doing it.

Rhythm 3

This time, only play the upward motion on the offbeats:

  • 1: nothing
  • And: up
  • 2: nothing
  • And: up
  • 3: nothing
  • And: up
  • 4: nothing
  • And: up

This movement is more difficult because it’s not as natural playing offbeats and only using upstrokes.

You can increase the tempo in increments but don’t skip any of the steps.

Check out even more guitar rhythms.

Campfire Music for the Guitar

The rhythm of campfire music was designed for the guitar. While it’s usually for an acoustic guitar, you can also play it on electric guitars.

What is a campfire rhythm? Guitars and campfires go well together. (Source: 12019)

You’ll recognise it as the rhythm used in Nirvana’s About a Girl.

It’s a simple rhythm, but it can be used at different tempos and developed upon. It’s played in standard time and includes a crotchet followed by a quaver, a crotchet, and three quavers.

  • 1: down
  • And: nothing
  • 2: down
  • And: up
  • 3: nothing
  • And: up
  • 4: down
  • And: up

There’s a good rhythm to improvise over and is one of the first rhythms that anyone learning the guitar should consider practising.

Pop Rhythm on the Guitar

You can play this rhythm as follows:

  • 1: down
  • And: nothing
  • 2: down
  • And: up
  • 3: nothing
  • And: up
  • 4: down
  • And: up

Keep in mind that how you stress certain beats and offbeats can drastically change how it sounds.

Whether you’re left handed or right handed, you’ll see that mastering rhythm isn’t that complicated. If you feel like you need more help with rhythm, you should suggest it to your guitar tutor.

The Ballad Rhythm on the Guitar

This is a very useful rhythm if you want to compose sweet melodies for your beloved.

Here is how you play the ballad of rhythm on the guitar:

  • 1: down
  • And: up
  • 2: down
  • And: up
  • 3: down
  • And: up
  • 4: down

To help you, try playing this rhythm with the following chords: G, Em, C and D

The Waltz Rhythm on the Guitar

While all the rhythms we previously explained were binary rhythms, the waltz is a ternary rhythm.

What is a waltz rhythm? A waltz rhythm is the same one as used in its namesake genre. (Source: MeineMaennerwelt)

This is how you play it:

  • 1: down
  • And: up
  • 2: down
  • And: up
  • 3: down
  • And: up

Ternary rhythms are also commonly used in jazz and blues, especially with a bit of swing and a lot of triplets.

The Pop Country Rhythm on the Guitar

This is another binary rhythm commonly used in pop country:

  • 1: down (accented)
  • And: nothing
  • 2: down
  • And: nothing
  • 3: down
  • And: up
  • 4: down
  • And: up

Make sure you accent the very first beat without letting it ring out.

The Bolero/Rumba rhythm on the guitar

Why not vary the different styles?

With a clean guitar, this rhythm can add a Hispanic touch to your playing.

Here’s how you play it:

  • 1: down (accented)
  • And: nothing
  • 2: down
  • And: up
  • 3: nothing
  • And: up
  • 4: down
  • And: up

Playing the guitar is more than just Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones.

The Quaver Rhythm on the Guitar

Any self-respecting guitarist should be able to play quavers in a measure.

  • 1: down
  • And: nothing
  • 2: down
  • And: up
  • 3: down
  • And: up
  • 4: down
  • And: nothing

It doesn’t matter which string you play these rhythms on, just start off simple. Don’t try to play these rhythms with barre chords or while playing a guitar solo.

Two Bonus Rhythms for the Guitar

Here are two extra rhythms for guitar, which may be difficult to master for beginners.

How often should you practise guitar rhythm? Make sure you regularly practise rhythms. (Source: congerdesign)

The country rhythm

This rhythm is obviously used a lot in country music but also can be found in other genres:

  • 1: down (accented)
  • And: nothing
  • 2: down
  • And: up
  • 3: down (accented)
  • And: nothing
  • 4: down
  • And: up

The Reggae Rhythm

This rhythm is essential for modern reggae music:

  • 1: down
  • And: nothing
  • 2: down
  • And: up
  • 3: down
  • And: nothing
  • 4: down
  • And: nothing

Whether it’s in online guitar classes, while teaching yourself, or with a guitar teacher, don’t forget to work on your rhythm in order to become a better guitarist. Don’t get discouraged. You can do it!

If you’re still finding strumming patterns and chord progressions difficult, consider getting guitar lessons from another guitarist or guitar teacher. They can help you with more than just rhythm.

If you’ve set your sights on becoming the next great guitar player, they can teach you about music theory and how to read sheet music and tablature.

Whether you’re looking for guitar lessons for beginners, intermediates, or experts, you can learn how to play guitar better and master everything from fingerstyle to rhythm guitar with a guitar tutor from Superprof.

You just need to search for guitar tutors where you live and find the tutor offering the guitar course or lessons that best suit your needs.

If you can’t find the ideal tutor near you, don’t forget that there are also online guitar tutorials available over webcam.

The choice is yours!

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