How To Write Rhythm GuitarPosted by Mike Schuck
When it comes down to it, rhythm guitar is just writing set songs that play as fast or slow as you want them to. There are very few rules when writing music, but one of the biggest things is establishing a pattern or groove for your song.
This article will go into more depth about how to write rhythmic songs by breaking down some basic concepts like beats and notes. Then we’ll apply this theory to some easy examples before moving onto more advanced applications.
Beginner lesson: The basics of music
Music is really just organized sound waves which have been codified through instruments and their tonalities.
Instruments such as guitars, pianos, drums, etc., each produce a tone at a certain speed called a note.
By combining multiple notes simultaneously, we create chords or patterns that make up other melodies and riffs. These are what makes up most of our music listening experiences!
It’s not too difficult to pick up the art of playing an instrument, but it does take practice.
Identify the different rhythm patterns
The first thing you need to do is identify all of the common rhythmic pattern types and how to play them! There are five main rhythm pattern types that every guitar player should know: shuffle, meter, alternating bass line, tritone substitution, and alternation.
By knowing these rhythms, your song writing can become much more organized and structured. You will be able to create many great riffs by mixing and matching various patterns in logical ways.
The shuffle rhythm is one of the most basic rhythm styles. It goes without saying that this pattern can be repeated indefinitely until either someone or something interrupts it! This makes it very versatile for use in songs.
To play a short note as part of the shuffle, drop one beat then pick up two beats later. For example, let’s say you want to play an A as a rest after each verse of a song. Drop one beat, and then pick up two later- a A rest!
You get those nice long rests in the middle of a piece where there isn’t anything else happening. That’s what makes the rhythm valuable! If you wanted to add some syncopation (an accentuated offbeat) to the rest, you could mingle the downbeats with the normal ones.
This article will go into greater detail about how to play the shuffle rhythm in another section, but for now just remember that it’s basically repeating things slowly.
Practice identifying different rhythm patterns
The next important thing to do as you learn how to write guitar riffs is to practice being able to identify various rhythmic patterns that make up music.
There are many types of rhythms in music, some more complex than others. As you begin to develop your skills as a guitarist, learning how to play simple rhythms will help you start writing your own songs!
You’ll also want to know what type of meter (or timing) each pattern has before deciding if it fits into one category or not. For instance, an eighth-note rhythm with a half note and a whole note underneath is called a triplet. A duple metric feels like there are two beats per measure, so it’s sometimes referred to as a dimeter. An eight-bar looping riff that goes back and forth between meters is usually considered a motif.
The easiest way to learn about basic rhythmic structure is by doing, which means practicing playing short pieces using different styles of rhythms.
Use a notepad and pen
Most guitarists start by practicing their picking patterns, then moving onto rhythm techniques like hammer-ons and pull-offs or syncopation.
Once these basics are mastered, you can move onto playing more complex riffs or songs. But before you get too excited, there’s one thing that will make or break your progress as a guitarist – rhythm!
Rhythm is the steady pulse of music, which most people are familiar with. Your feet keep time in a song like they do when walking down the street, or if you're dancing around to the beat.
But how does someone learn how to play a steady rhythmic pattern? By learning the basics first, of course!
I have gathered some helpful tips here for you to try out.
Record your practice sessions
After you have learned how to play some chords, next is rhythm guitar! Rhythmic playing comes after basic stick manipulation and chord structure.
Rhythm can be thought of as making patterns or repetitions with sound. These patterns are usually set by a metric unit (think meter) that dictates what note gets repeated in what amount of time.
The most common metrics for music include:
Quarter notes – one whole note + rest of the quarter note = half note
Semi-notes – two halves of a whole note = one full note
Andes — three quarters plus one fifth equals one and one and a half notes
Triplets – three semis equal one whole note
These units can be mixed together and matched at any speed, which makes them very flexible!
To test yourself, take a look at our article on how to learn guitar quickly. You will probably start off practicing using semi-quavers (two semis make a quaver). To really test yourself, try mixing up the rhythms and matching the same pattern twice!”
Practice writing out these patterns as slowly or fast as you like, and use different starting points to see how well you do.
After you are able to recognize the timing of each pattern, write down your practices.
Learn to read music
The second part of writing guitar riffs is learning how to interpret what note goes with which one. This is called reading music!
Reading music is definitely not easy, nor does it come easily to most people. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, then you can learn how to read music quickly and effectively.
There are many ways to approach reading music, but the easiest way is by using notes. As you may have noticed, notes go very well together in songs.
So instead of thinking about the rhythm directly, we can also think about the notes themselves to see how they fit into the song.
This article will talk more about this method for reading music. Once you understand this concept, creating your own guitar riffs becomes much easier.
Write down the notes and chords that make up each rhythm pattern
In writing guitar riffs, you will often start with an internal or external bass note (or both) as your root, then add chord structures around it. These can be simple triples of strings with the third being a higher pitched string, or more complex melodic runs.
When starting to write guitar riffs, try experimenting with different patterns you can use these roots in! For example, if your root is the first fret of the fifth string, you could do the following riff using those notes and chords:
This song would go: Freh – Bb – D – G – Am – F#m – Csus4– A – E7- V/V – x8 – rest
The first two bars are known as an intro, and typically have no lead-in nor break. This means there is only one note per bar, making them one long chunk of music. The second bar has a rising sequence of three notes followed by a falling tone.
Learn to play along with the recording
In fact, one of the most important things you can do as a guitarist is learn how to write your own guitar licks or riffs. A lick is defined as a short sequence of notes that repeat in some way (usually rhythmically) and are usually done very quickly.
A well-known genre of music that features many great licks is called blues. Some famous examples of blues licks include the classic “I Need You” by B.B King and the beginning part of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Angry Young Man.”
Both of these songs contain three chords, but their lyrics add extra flavor to them. The lyrics for both tunes go something like: I need you, I want you, me without you / So let's see what we can do about that!
That kind of rhyme scheme and meter makes it easy to create your own rhymes for the song. By learning how to write your own licks, you will be enhancing your skills as a musician.
And while there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to writing melodies and rhythms, there are several strategies that work best in almost every situation.
As with any new genre of music, writing your own guitar songs requires you to challenge yourself. What modes do you know? What timing is there? What notes go where?
Music theory can be daunting at times, but not when it’s for fun! You don’t need to know how many sharps or flats there are, what major/minor means, or which mode every song in the world is in.
All of those things are great studies that will help you write more fluidly, though! And once you get the basics down, then you can start experimenting.
But first, let’s look at some basic rhythm patterns so you can begin writing your own melodies and riffs.
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