How To Play Rhythm Guitar ChordsPosted by Mike Schuck
Now that you have learned how to play some chords on the guitar, it is time to move onto another very important element of playing the guitar- rhythm!
Playing rhythm comes after practicing melodies, which we discussed in part one. Once you are able to play your own songs well, then you can start adding rhythm to them!
Rhythm is simply picking notes (layers) of music as quickly as possible without losing any sense or tone of what you are writing or singing.
For example, if your song contains a verse and a chorus, then typically there will be an introduction (or prelude) with no lyrics, followed by the verse, and then the chorus, all rhyming together. This creates a steady flow of music that people enjoy listening to.
The trick is being able to create this flow at a fast tempo while still keeping each piece connected to the next.
Practice making all the chords
A chord is simply three or more notes that go together to create an expression. The first note of a chord is usually called the root, and there are many roots in music!
The second note is the third (or highest) which is typically referred to as the major tone or sometimes just tonic. Then the other notes we call strings or degrees.
There’s your basic triangle! Now, some musicians add additional tones or even move around within this structure, but for now let’s focus on understanding the basics.
You can play any string as a root, but it really helps to know how to do this on the guitar. Plus having at least one minor chord under your belt will make things much easier.
So, let's learn how to play our first rhythm chord on the sixth string. First, pick whichever position you're most comfortable with... either index or middle finger.
Now press down on the 6th fret with your picking hand while lifting the string up with your thumb. This way, your ring/little fingers remain free to hit the next higher string. Your pinky should be able to touch the top of the string easily.
Once you have this position locked into memory, try repeating the same sequence several times. Only start pulling off the pressure once you've got the timing down.
After you're sure this goes fast enough on its own, switch over to using only your left hand.
Learn how to play rhythm with chords
A chord is simply three or more notes that go together in order to create an extended tone, or root. The easiest way to think of it is like making a ton of noise!
A chord has at least one note that goes up (or raises) as high as possible before dropping back down again. This raised tone is the root of the chord. In music, roots are very important because they help tell the story by changing depending on the song.
The second part of the chord is the other notes which slowly drop down after the root. These lower tones are called strings or intervals. There can be several strings for the same note, or you can mix and match as needed.
With rhythm guitar, learning your bass line chords is the first step towards playing your own set of songs! Here, we will learn some basic rhythms using quarter-notes and half-notes as our base.
Learn how to play using bar chords
The most fundamental type of chord for playing rhythm guitar is called a bar chord. A bar chord is just like any other chord, except it has an additional piece attached to it. This added piece is typically either a third or a fifth. So a bar chord would be two notes plus a third or five note sequence.
The classic example of a bar chord is the first fret bar chord you learned in our lesson on beginner guitar chords. The first position index finger goes onto the second string at the second fret then raises the pitch one whole step (or tone) to create a bar. In this case, the bar is a third.
You can apply this concept to almost every music genre! If you want to learn how to play funky bass lines, start with a G bar chord. To play something slow and haunting, use a C major bar chord.
Learn how to play using diagonals
A chord is considered first position if it contains at least one flattened or lowered third, a second position chord has either an added or omitted fifth, and a third position chord omits both the third and seventh degree notes.
The most common first position chords are major, minor, and sixth. The fourth position uses ninths and thirteenths as its chords. These last two use intervals that move up a whole step (augument) and down a half-step (diminished).
Using thirds in music can be making triads, moving trichords, parallel motion passages, or diagonally descending patterns.
Learn how to play using notes and dots
The first thing you should do is learn your chords! There are many ways to approach this, but one of the easiest is by learning chord shapes. A chord shape is just like any other chord except that it does not have notes in place of the bass line.
The second part of getting familiar with rhythm guitar is adding some syncopation. Syncopation means inserting short pauses or omissions between parts of a pattern. For example, say you want to play an E major chord. You could either play every note as an individual tone (no space in between) or you can omit two of the tones and still get the same result.
This technique can be used for harmony or for creating rhythmic patterns. It is very common in music genres such as funk, jazz, and rock. When practicing syncopation, choose simple songs that contain rhythms that use this method frequently.
You can now read more about these concepts in our article on how to play rhythm guitar chords.
Play using your own rhythm
The second key to playing guitar chords is choosing when to use them! Most people start by thinking about which chord shape they want to play, then find the right position for each note of that chord.
But what if we reword this question? What if we ask how to play a chord? More specifically, what if we asked how to play an A major chord?
Well, the first thing you should do is pick your starting string! In our case, it is the third fret of the fifth string (A). Now, choose the next string up —the fourth string (E), and press down with your index finger. Your middle finger will need to be hovering over the top edge of the third string (A) now, so make sure to take care of it properly.
Next, add your ring hand’s thumb in between the third and fourth strings at a slight upward angle. Finally, place your pinky just under the third string, making a small circle pattern. This creates a nice, smooth transition from one string to the other, and also helps ensure proper intonation.
And there you have it! You have played your first chord! You can try experimenting more quickly with these steps or apply them to another chord such as the ones mentioned above.
Once you get the hang of playing individual notes separately, moving onto simultaneous tones makes sense! It is exactly like having a conversation where two parties talk simultaneously.
Learn how to read chord charts
When you learn how to play rhythm guitar, one of your first things will be learning how to read chord diagrams or chart shapes. These are very popular tools used to learn music theory!
A chord diagram shows all of the chords in a song as well as their position in the song. For example, say you want to know what chord goes in place number three in a song. You would look at the chord diagram for that part of the song and find it has an E major chord with a B flat added onto it. That is the third chord in the song!
The same applies if you wanted to write a new song based off a pre-existing piece. You could take any chord from the existing song and add something new to it! Or you could start a new song by taking the opposite chord of the ending song and creating your own new melody over it.
Reading chord diagrams is just like reading sheet music. The only difference is that these are visual representations of music instead of written down notes and scales.
Identify the chord in each bar
The next step is identifying which chord you will be playing in every bar of a song. This is called establishing a meter!
In music, meters are used to tell time within a piece. There are many types of meters, but one of the most common is what is known as an even-meter or regular metric rhythm.
This means that there is a set number of beats in a given amount of time. For example, if a musician were to play a measure of four chords, then their beat would have four parts (or pulses).
These chords would all have the same root tone, making them easy to recognize. With this information, we can now create our own internal clock for the song!
By doing this, you get some more specific tips about how to play rhythm guitar chords. You learn how to play individual notes, whole steps, and half steps within a chord.
The Jam Addict team is a revolving door of writers who care about music, its effects on culture, and giving aspiring artists tools and knowledge to be inspired and keep on creating.
If you have any questions or concerns or just want to drop us a line, don't hesitate to contact us! We always appreciate the feedback.