How To Play A Blues Rhythm On GuitarPosted by Mike Schuck
A blues rhythm is any pattern of notes that repeats either quickly or slowly depending on whether it’s being counted down (lengthened) or up (shortened). The most common type of blues rhythm in pop music is what guitarists call an eighth-note rhythm, which sounds like this: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
That sequence of eight notes happens pretty rapidly — each note only lasts for as long as 1/8 of a second! To make the rhythm sound smooth, you have to be able to play those notes smoothly without them overlapping or disappearing before the next one comes along.
Knowing how to play a blues rhythm takes some practice, but with the right resources, anyone can do it. And we’re going to give you several strategies here today!
Here are all the basics you need to know about playing a blues rhythm on your guitar. Read on to see everything from basic patterns to tools and techniques to master.
Practice counting up
The next stage of learning how to play blues rhythm guitar is to learn how to count up in the song. This article will talk you through this!
Blues songs typically use short patterns of music called bars. A bar is defined as any set amount of time, one note or more per second.
The most common way to identify a bar is by the number. For example, a standard bar would be two notes for each letter of the alphabet. (A being one note, B being two notes, and so on.)
So if your song had three letters, then it’s a third of a bar for every letter. That means there are three whole bars, a half-bar, and then another third-of-a-bar for each letter.
How many beats per bar are we talking about? There are usually four normal beats in a bar, making a total of eight beats per bar. Eight is considered an even number, which makes sense because we have a whole bar, a half bar, and then another full bar!
That’s why the term “normal” beat comes into play when talking about bass lines. A bass line that is not changing in length is said to have a normal beat.
Practice counting down
The next step in playing blues rhythm guitar is learning how to play a pattern called a descending fifth note cluster. This can be done by simply lowering one of the notes within the set group of notes. For instance, say you want to play an A-flat major chord using two strings. You would lower the second string (the B-string) by a half tone (this creates a slightly sharper sound).
The first position of this pattern goes like this: A–B–C#–D–E–F. To play it, start with the A-string as your top note, then drop the B-string by a half tone, then repeat.
Practice making this pattern slow, steady, and natural.
Use a metronome
A very common way to play rhythm is by using a device called a metronome. A metronome works by timing how quickly you hit a note.
Most people use a clock as a source for this timing, where it clicks once per beat of music. The person setting the timer can then control the speed at which the notes are played, so every time the song contains a one-two pattern (or any other simple sequence) the timing gets faster!
This technique can be used to learn any type of rhythm, not just blues. You can choose whether to use the fast timing or slow timing directly depending on what style of music you want to learn.
Listen to blues songs
There are many ways to learn how to play the rhythm guitar part of the blues. One way is to listen to lots of music!
Many people start playing the bass line first, then move up to the drums before adding the chord pattern that makes up the rhythm. Or you can choose to go in the other direction and learn the chords first, and only later add the lower tones.
Either way, once you have learned the chords, you must be able to connect each note with the next one in the sequence. This is what defines the rhythm of the song!
For example, say you want to learn the blues rhythm pattern for the song “You Make Me Want To Do Things” by The Beatles. The rhythm goes Dm7 – F/G – Csus2 – Gsus4 – Dsus4– A5.
Dm means a half-note down (one whole step) on the fourth string, F/G is an index tone (no middle note), a cusp or false break between the second and third strings, a suspended sixth interval (or octave drop) between the fifth and the second strings, and a major seventh interval between the fourth and third strings.
A 5 means a quarter-note pulse. The first beat is strong, the second weaker, and the third even weaker than the previous one — this creates a steady rhythmic feel.
Learn the chord structure
The first part of playing blues rhythm guitar is knowing how to play some chords. There are many easy ways to learn your main chord structures for the blues.
Many musicians start with the basic tri-chord structure, which uses an open position major chord (usually called the root), a second chord that moves down by one note (a minor third), and a third chord that moves up a whole tone (or half step). These are known as the dominant chord, submediant chord, and superimmediant chord respectively.
By adding extra notes to these chords, other players can add flavor to your music. For instance, if you were to use the aforementioned chords in a song, then someone could easily put their own spin on it by adding more bass or treble to the roots. This would make the song sound different but still be recognizable as the same genre!
There are several good places to begin learning about this chord structure. Some starting points include looking at beginner guitarist theory books or listening to blues songs and analyzing the chords used.
Learn to read chord symbols
The next step is learning how to interpret the chords that make up your blues rhythm. Chords are simply three or more notes that come together to form a scale.
The first note of any chord will be referred to as the root, and the other two notes will have something called an index value. The second index value goes after the root, and the third index value goes after the second one.
These three indices work in tandem to create the chord. For example, the first index is the root, the second index is the middle (or shoulder) tone, and the third index is the fifth (the highest pitched). This creates the A major chord.
To play these chords effectively, you must know what each index means! That way you can quickly run through all the chords and music patterns.
There are many great resources online and in books that teach you the different types of roots, middle tones, and/or 5ths.
Learn to sing along
The second way to play blues rhythm guitar is by singing it! This can be done quickly or slowly, depending on your speed. By breaking down the song into smaller chunks, you will be able to pick up the tempo more easily.
Another important part of this method is knowing what chord pattern each line in the verse goes directly over. These patterns usually contain an open position, a close position, and then one or two notes in between.
The first note of the open position is typically either the third scale degree (or pitch) of the chord that is playing as a root, for example A with no gap as the root of the G major chord. Then the next note is the corresponding natural minor, Bb. After that comes the third scale degree, which is also the root of the new chord that was formed. In this case, the A again!
This process keeps repeating until the line ends where there is a short break before the final note. To play these chords effectively, make sure they have enough tension-release so that when you press the string down, it glides off rather than snaps back.
Play along with backing tracks
A lot of people begin playing guitar by learning how to play simple songs that contain mostly rhythm patterns. These songs usually use stick-pattern rhythms, such as “One, two, one, two...” or "And then something like this" (aka a swing pattern).
By listening to lots of music, you will find yourself able to identify these rhythms easily. Plus, there are plenty of free resources available via YouTube and other sites! By simply copying what someone else is doing, you can quickly learn how to play some basic rhythm patterns.
But what if you want to expand your horizons? What if you wanted to experiment more? Or even start writing your own songs?
Thinking about song structure, it becomes clear that knowing how to play some basic rhythm patterns isn’t enough.
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