Mastering Rhythm GuitarPosted by Mike Schuck
Learning how to play rhythm guitar is one of the most fundamental things you can do as a guitarist! It’s also an essential piece of music literacy, especially for those who want to truly appreciate the artistry of songs written by other musicians.
By now, many of you have picked up some basic chords and played around with them in simple melodies and riffs. But what comes next? How are you going to apply your knowledge to make it into something meaningful and interesting?
That’s where this lesson comes in! We will take all the pieces we have learned so far and organize them into a systematic approach that will help you achieve your goal of playing rock rhythms.
There are two main components to learning rhythmic skills: timing and patterns.
Timing refers to the amount of time each note or chord should last within a given meter (patterned structure) or sequence (rhythm pattern). For example, if the song has a verse-chorus form, then the chorus would be considered the rhythm part of the song.
The rhythm section of the band needs to know when to add the rest of the notes to create the effect wanted by the composer.
It is very difficult to tell if you are doing something right at first, which can be a frustrating experience. You might practice your rhythm guitar for an hour every day and get no progress whatsoever! This could hurt your motivation quickly.
It takes some time to see results from practicing anything – music or otherwise. Even professional musicians cannot necessarily tell how well they practiced until many years later.
But here’s what we CAN tell you about rhythm guitar practice. By investing in your musical skills regularly, you will eventually reach your goal.
And more than that, because of all the work you put into it, you will keep yourself coming back, which is one of the most important things a skill can have.
Create a practice schedule
Now that you have your song structure down, it’s time to work on how to play those songs! The first thing is to create a practice routine. You want to make sure that you are practicing consistently every day!
Most guitarists organize their practice into three main sections: technique, theory, and music.
Technique involves practicing any skill of the instrument such as string tuning, fingering, or position changes. These can be done quickly and easily without too much preparation.
Theory includes learning what chords, licks, and riffs exist in popular music. By knowing these pieces well, you can slowly add onto them and develop your own new ones!
Music covers anything beyond the basics- reading notes, scales, modes, and maybe even some basic rhythm.
You should allocate about an hour per section per day, with one being a sort of review for the past days’ lessons. Make sure to keep yourself organized and do not wait until the last minute!
After all, this is an expensive hobby! (I will say though, practice does get easier as you continue to put in more time.
Know your guitar posture
When playing rhythm guitar, your stance or position can make a big difference in how you play. You want to make sure that your hands are positioned close together so that you can easily reach all of the strings quickly!
Your index fingers should be parallel to each other with the middle finger between them, just like when singing a note. Your ring fingers should be perpendicular to the floor, just like when playing bass.
Your elbow should be at a ninety-degree angle while your torso is angled up towards the neck of the guitar. This helps keep your hand steady as well as creates more space behind the pick for faster picking strokes.
Practice this pose frequently until it feels natural to you.
Play with resistance
The next thing to do is play your guitar gently, but firmly! This can be tricky at first as you may need to get used to playing with some tension or resistance in your hands and arms.
When learning how to play rhythm chords on the guitar, try practicing without lukewarm intensity. Really push yourself to learn this lesson well – it will take repeat practiceings to achieve.
Why? Because music is built off of rhythm and patterns! If you don’t fully understand how to use rhythms correctly, then you won’t be able to read any songs properly!
Remember, if you are struggling to feel relaxed while playing, then work harder on relaxing your body before trying to add more intensity into your hand movement and arm position.
Learn to sing along
The next important thing to do as you learn rhythm guitar is to be able to actually sing what the musician is singing! This can seem like an impossible task at first, but it’s not!
Singers have made music for hundreds of years, so there are some basic rules that work for most people. I will go into more detail about these tips in the section called “Singing Mode”, but for now just know that your lungs play a very big part in how well you sing.
The more use your lungs make of air, the higher your pitch will be! So when you practice singing, spend time breathing and using your diaphragm (the muscle used to breathe) effectively.
Try practicing with a metronome or recording yourself to see how this works! Many apps and websites let you do this too.
Listen to music to learn from
It is very important to understand that you do not have to be trained in music theory or know any instruments to play rhythm guitar. You can simply pick up the strings anywhere and use your ear to determine what notes go with which others!
As long as you are listening to music, trying to figure out the rhythms, then you have already mastered this.
Music has many patterns and cycles that make up their rhythms. There are two main types of rhythmic patterns- regular and irregular. A pattern that comes close to anything else is its relative unit. For example, if there is a one two three four five six seven eight then it is an octave. An eighth note is one whole step away from the next higher tone (two steps for a half note, etc.).
A common type of rhythm is the pulse. This does not necessarily have to be a steady beat, but it must exist and someone must create it. The most basic way to think about a pulse is that there is a set amount of time where nothing happens, and everything else belongs to the pulse.
There are several ways to play a pulse using different styles of music. Some people may choose to stick to a standard length for the pulse while other musicians may add onto or take away from it. It all depends on how they want the song to sound and what style of music they like.
Become familiar with famous guitarists
There are many ways to learn how to play rhythm guitar. You can start by listening to music that contains riffs or patterns you want to know, and then use software such as Spotify to identify what element of the riff you like most and learn just those parts.
You can also take lessons at local music stores or studios, online courses or YouTube videos, or you could pick up a book about playing rhythm guitar. Whatever route you choose, have a goal in mind — maybe trying out your new skills for an upcoming song, practicing daily, or improving upon already-know techniques.
Learn to read chord charts
Chords are one of the most fundamental concepts in music. A chord is made up of at least two notes, usually separated by a space or gap. The length of the chord is determined by how many notes it has!
The chords you use in song writing determine what kind of sound you want your songs to have. For example, if the chord contains no other notes than an octave (the whole note degree) then it will be called a “power” chord. Powerful chords are often used for dramatic effects such as power ballads and heavy metal.
Knowing some basic rhythm guitar can help get you started playing with chords. This article will go into more detail about this and also include some easy to learn rhythm patterns that can be applied to any genre of music.
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.
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