Guitar Rhythm Techniques

Posted by Mike Schuck

Having rhythm is an important part of playing guitar. You will use this technique to learn how to play music in time! This article will go into detail about some easy ways to improve your timing by learning the basics of rhythm.

You can also read our article on bass lessons here for more tips.

This article contains no difficult concepts, but if you want to truly master the art of timing you must work through them. So let’s get started!

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There are three main components to understanding rhythm. They are measure, pulse, and foot. Let’s look at each one separately before moving onto the next concept.

Measure

A measure is any amount of time that makes up a song or piece. A typical bar would be four beats long, which is a very common length for songs.

When musicians talk about having a steady beat they mean there is a constant measurement of time every few seconds. For example, a musician might say they wanted their song to have a “steady drumbeat.” Or maybe they wanted it to have a “lively swing feel.”

By adding pulses (see below) and feet to a measure, we create different types of rhythms. And it all comes down to timing! The timing of these additions make the difference between a slow, steady rhythm and something faster.

Pulse

A pulse is anything that happens consistently throughout a measure.

Dynamic marking

guitar rhythm techniques

A very common guitar rhythm technique is called dynamic marking. This can be done at any time during a song, or even off-the-cuff! What it does is add interest to the music by changing how many notes of each beat you have.

For example, say your drummer wants to play a one-two pattern every other measure. The first half of the drum cycle would be one double bass hit followed immediately by a two light swing set hits. Then the second half of the cycle would be two heavy swings followed by a one light kick step.

To make this work, you need to know what meter the band is in and when there are an odd number of beats per measure, like in a quarter note or half note, then we must insert a third element (or filler) into the bar. In this case, the bar will be a single line containing only a quater note.

The trick is knowing whether to use a solid fill, a dotted fill, or no mark at all. For our purposes here, let’s just focus on keeping things steady. If you notice that none of the above mentioned methods match up with the natural timing of the rest between the drums, choose the one that looks most logical to you.

Slow motion

guitar rhythm techniques

A very popular way to learn guitar is by learning how to play some chords quickly! This is definitely a worthy goal, but it can get a little boring if you’re not sure what to do with this information.

Luckily, you don’t need to simply memorize your favorite chord patterns rapidly – there are much more interesting ways to use this knowledge. One of these is slow motion or lagging bass.

The lag bass technique teaches you how to add an extra element to your music that people often talk about when mentioning the bass part of a song. The concept is simple, but executing it takes a bit practice.

When performing a rhythm exercise like the one below, instead of playing only the notes in the sequence as normal, also drop the tone down at the end. This creates a lower-frequency note that lingers for a few seconds after the main note has finished.

The effect of this additional element is twofold. First, it gives weight to the rest of the notes in the sequence, making them feel heavier and stronger. Second, it adds harmonic content to the sound, which makes the piece richer.

In this article we will be looking at three different variations of the lag bass pattern, along with some theory and tips on how to perform each one correctly.

Subtleties of rhythm

guitar rhythm techniques

There are many types of rhythmic patterns you can use to play guitar. Some are more complex than others, but they all have one thing in common – they tell a story!

Using different rhythms helps bring structure to your songs. They give shape and direction to your melodies and riffs, and help tell the tale of the song.

In this article, we will go through some easy ways to learn how to do this on the guitar. We will also look at some tricky rhythms that may take practice to fully grasp. Let’s get started!

Easy trick number 1: Using the quarter note as a base

The easiest way to think about timing is by using the quarter note as your base. A quarter note is equal to 250 milliseconds (a millisecond being one thousandth of a second).

A typical bar would be two notes per string, each lasting 500 ms, for a total time of 1000 ms (one full bar) — or one beat.

By thinking in terms of quarters instead of beats, it becomes easier to add timing onto your songs. For example, if there was a bass line with a strong pulse then adding lyrics could easily create a short break every four bars, creating a nice steady drop-in -drop-out effect.

This is called an accented verse and is very commonly used in music. It creates a sense of flow and balance to the song, which is why people use it so much.

Tempo in music

guitar rhythm techniques

Now that you have learned some basic guitar chords, it is time to learn how to play some songs! However, before we get into any song lyrics, let’s take a minute to talk about one of the most important parts of playing music: tempo.

Tempo refers to the speed at which you play an instrument. For instance, if I were to sing a verse of my favorite song very slowly, then what would happen is the notes would drag out for too long—it would feel like I was taking forever to say something simple.

Conversely, if I sang the same verse really quickly then the notes wouldn't be extended enough- they would sound short and flat. So, how do we achieve this perfect balance? That is where tempo comes in!

The average tempo for just about anything is around 80 beats per minutes (abbreviated as bpm). This means that a whole note takes 1/2 beat, a half note 2/4 of a beat, and so forth until a full measure has been completed - making a total of 4 beats in length.

At a normal walking pace, people usually breathe every other word or “refrain” as musicians call it, which makes sense because our lungs need air to function properly. When thinking about rhythm, breathing can help regulate the timing of your pieces.

Now, let's apply this knowledge to singing a few lines from a familiar tune.

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