How To Play Rhythm GuitarPosted by Mike Schuck
When you play rhythm guitar, what kind of music you are playing is dependent upon your ability to play time. You have to be abletoknow how much time something takes in order for it to make sense as a piece!
When someone sings a verse of a song, they usually stick pretty close to one simple pattern or meter. This is because most people can sing very well, and learning this basic element of singing helps them get through a lot of songs.
If you’re ever asked to accompany a singer with a familiar melody, then knowing some basics about meters will help you nail that down quickly.
But aside from being a great way to learn how to play by ear, timing is an important tool to master if you want to play other types of music.
For example, people who play blues use timing as a basis for their licks and riffs. Learning how to play using metric time will give you a head start!
There are many ways to learn how to play using metrics, but here we will go over three easy ones: natural tempo, quarter notes and half notes.
Focus on your hand position
The next thing you will need is some sort of surface upon which to place your hands when playing guitar. This can be done in two ways- either using a normal table or music stand, or holding the instrument up with your arm.
Both of these are totally fine! It just depends on how you like to learn and what kind of songs you want to play. There’s no wrong way to do it.
For now, we will stick with using a music stand as our rhythm guitar platform. Music stands can be expensive, so don’t spend too much money on one until you have proof that it works for you.
A cheap alternative is to use an empty bottle of water. Simply rest the handle of the guitar on this bottle and use it as a music stand. It must be tall enough so that your wrist is able to hang free without hitting the ground.
Practice holding the guitar correctly
When playing rhythm guitar, your hand can get kind of busy! You have to know how to prioritize which actions to do next. First, you should focus on having a strong grip with your index finger resting on the bass string as shown here.
Next, you must position your middle fingers along the treble strings in a way that is comfortable for you. Then move up the rest of your hands so that your thumb is positioned over the bar line (the imaginary centerline) of the chord.
At this stage you are mostly focusing on keeping time, making sure each note is long enough and short enough depending on the amount of notes in the chord. Your feet need to be able to keep time too!
Your feet can be sticking off the floor or walking around the room, but they should be stable and comfortable. Depending on what style of music you want to play, there are different types of positions for your legs.
Play along with music
The second way to learn how to play rhythm guitar is by playing along with a song. You can do this at your own speed, or you can quickly run through all of the parts as if you were learning the instrument for the first time!
By now, you have probably noticed that many musicians use some kind of pick when playing their instruments. A pick is like a fingernail attached to a stringed instrument where the player uses it to scrape off unwanted frequencies (or notes) before adding new ones in.
A good place to start practicing using a pick is trying to strike a balance between scratching the strings down too much and not enough. Scratching too much will result in no sound while rubbing away too much skin could hurt slightly more seriously.
Once you are able to produce a steady tone with the pick, add a third element-the index finger! By striking an edge of the pick against the top of your index finger, you create a smoother transition from one note to the next. Try experimenting with different shapes and sizes of picks to see what works best for you.
Learn different chords
The next thing you will need to do is learn your chord structure! This sounds super complicated, but it’s not quite like that.
Chords are just a good way to organize notes in music. For example, look at these two notes – one is an octave higher than the other. They both have the same letter (a note) under them, but they are one up from each other.
This makes them form a ladder pattern, or a succession of steps. In music, ladders are called sequences.
The first sequence here is A-G-A. That is, start with a, then go down a step by playing a, follow this by going up a step by writing g, and then repeat until you get back to A!
In guitar music, this is typically done as a power move rhythm pattern. It uses the bass line as its steady beat, and then adds additional beats on top of it. These extra beats become what we refer to as accented or stressed notes.
These are usually some kind of chord, and often times it goes up a whole tone or half tone. For instance, if you wanted to play a Bb major chord, you would use those new notes as G# and F.
Learn how to read chord symbols
The next step in playing rhythm guitar is learning how to interpret what each chord symbol means. There are two main types of chords that go along with music written in time, or as they’re also called, meter.
The first type is known as an accented beat or stressed-out chord. These occur at one place in the song where there is a short break before another part begins. For example, in the song “Happy Birthday!” there is a long crescendo leading up to when the singer says, “happy birthday.” This type of chord goes like this:
Chord name: Major Chord
Root note: G
Second degree: Bb
Third degree: D
Fourth degree: F
Fifth degree: E
Sixth degree: Ab
Seventh degree: A
Eighth degree: C
Ninth degree: G
Tenth degree: Return back to the root
This is a very common chord for songs due to its versatility. You can play it anywhere there is a rising tone (Bb, D, or Eb) and you have your choice of roots (G, A, or C). It gives you many different shapes and patterns to use sounds within!
Another way to look at it is just using the notes B, D, and F twice.
Learn how to use your fingers
The first thing you need to do when learning rhythm guitar is learn how to use your hands properly. You will also want to know what position your hand should be in for every note!
The index finger needs to be positioned one step away from the second knuckle of the picking string, while the middle finger needs to be positioned directly over the bar line (the imaginary division between two notes).
Your thumb can sit either next to the index finger or slightly under it, just make sure that it does not get pushed up into the space where the ring fingernail would go. This could cause trouble later when trying to pick the strings with enough force!
Remember, the harder you press down on the strings the higher the pitch, so take your time and apply gentle pressure.
Learn how to use your pick
The first way to play rhythm guitar is by using your pick! Most guitarist never even learn how to use their picks because they are too used to having them in their technique.
A pick is typically made of plastic or metal, and is usually thin and long. Technically speaking, a pick can be anything length-wise that you want it to be. Some people make theirs very short so that they can press down hard with no cushion at the end. This is not good for playing chords or melodies, however.
The best picks have a soft nose (or tip) that lies flat against the string when pressed down. The guitarist must be able to access this nose easily while picking, otherwise it will get in the way!
Some people also choose to sharpen their picks up and down the middle, creating a whistle effect which may help cover up some of the weaknesses of the pick.
Learn how to use your voice
The second way to play rhythm guitar is by using your voice or body as the source of the notes. This is typically referred to as singing with your guitar. You can do this easily by creating a steady, consistent tone either through your mouth or nose (depending on whether you're playing air guitar or not).
By adding some syncopation to your song, it becomes much more interesting. For instance, say your main chord in a song is Am. To sing an A note as your next note, start with the B note as your base then add an extra accentual rise (a shorter interval) as well as a longer accented third (A-B-C).
This creates a flatter sound than just sticking to the norm. It also adds color to the music since we are now changing chords and modes.
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.