[Series] Guitar for Beginners > Lesson 20: How to Play Rhythm Guitar (& the Most Useful Rhythm to Learn)
Today I’m going to show you a guitar rhythm that I regularly use and abuse. Why do I use it so often? Because it’s so damn useful and fun to play.
It’s a syncopated rhythm, which means that it starts on the “and” count rather than on the numerical count.
Watch the video for the full tutorial.
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What Is Rhythm Guitar?
It’s easy to focus only on lead guitarists, but what’s going on in the background with the rhythm guitar is crucial to any good guitar-heavy song.
Whether you play alone, in a band, or mess around with some friends, rhythm guitar will benefit you in countless ways.
But what exactly is rhythm guitar?
Rhythm guitar combines notes, chords, and guitar techniques to create a steady beat that holds the whole song together. It’s usually strumming or fingerpicking that determines the song’s rhythm.
Kurt Cobain is one of my favorite examples of someone who played both lead guitar and rhythm guitar, but you can find countless other rhythm guitars across many different genres.
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The Best Way to Learn Rhythm Guitar
Learning how to play rhythm guitar is actually not that difficult.
There are multiple rhythms and strumming patterns that you can learn spanning a wide spectrum of difficulties.
We’re going to get started by looking at an easy rhythm, or pattern, and breaking down its core components.
The pattern we’ll take as a use case is as follows: down, down, up, down, up, down, down, up, down, up.
The numerical count of the measures is as follows: 1, 2, and 4 and 1, 2, and 4 and.
The two directions for picking are up and down, also called an upstroke and a downstroke.
So following the diagram above, play a downstroke for “down” and an upstroke for “up.”
With this pattern in mind, we’ll take a look at playing it over a number of different chords.
Next, let’s look at how the above pattern works when playing various chords.
We’ll start with the C chord.
The first note of the sequence will be a single bass note, in this case, the A string. This will count for the first “down.”
This will be followed by a full downstroke, for two beats. This is the second “down.”
Next, we have the “and 4 and,” or the “up, down, up” part of the above pattern. We’ll play this with a full upstroke, full downstroke, and full upstroke.
Now put it all together and play the whole pattern with the C chord.
Next, let’s do the same thing but with the F chord.
This time, our single bass note will be on the D string. So we strike that solo string first.
Then, as above, we have a downstroke, followed by our up, down, up.
Once again, put it all together and see how it sounds as a whole.
And finally, we’ll apply the same pattern to the G chord with the low E string as our single bass note.
Repeat the pattern over the G chord.
Now, try to play all the chords together and transition smoothly from one to the next.
If your chord transitions are feeling a bit rusty or you’d just like to learn more about them, check out my beginner’s guide on transitions.
Beginner Tips for Rhythm Guitar
Now that you’ve got an easy pattern down, here’s a selection of some of my top tips for really nailing rhythm guitar.
Count the Rhythm
One of the most important things to learn before playing rhythm guitar is how to count rhythm.
If you listen closely to any piece of music you can hear the rhythm, or the recurring beats.
To count the rhythm, I recommend counting along out loud or tapping along with the beats you hear.
Think of every beat you hear as the downstroke on the guitar.
If you want to take it up a level, you can also use a metronome for added precision in determining a song’s beat.
Divide the Beat
Now that you’ve found the beat of a song, let’s discuss how to divide that beat.
Dividing the beat allows you to figure out the beats where you should do an upstroke on the guitar.
For a bar of 4 beats, you will now count 8 beats. Every first beat you count will be a downstroke, but every alternating beat will be an upstroke.
Visualize the Sequence
One of the best ways to practice playing rhythm guitar for beginners is to try to visualize the beats and the upward or downward strumming while you’re listening along to a song.
Better yet, watch videos of some of the greats playing, analyze their movements, and listen closely to how it sounds.
Finally – practice sequences slowly. If you’re struggling at a higher speed, slow it down. If you’re struggling at that speed, slow it down further until you find a pace that’s manageable for you.
Once you’re comfortable playing at that speed, increase the speed slightly until it becomes challenging but not unmanageable – that’s the sweet spot where progress is made.
Do this with a metronome until you get the hang of it and then increasing the tempo slightly will give you even more control of this process.
What’s Next After Rhythm?
Now that you’ve mastered some basic rhythm guitar, you might be wondering how to keep making steady progress.
If that’s the case then check out my guitar workshop – Tony’s Acoustic Challenge.
I developed it to get you excited to practice every day. It will teach you a number of essential guitar techniques and contains a ton of helpful practice tips for guitar players at any level.
Watch this FREE guitar class for three secrets to learning guitar faster in just 10 minutes a day.