As a beginner player of the guitar, your first aim should be to master the 2 foundational techniques of guitar playing, namely, strumming and fingerpicking, or simply picking. The best online guitar lessons stress building up these techniques as your personal style will depend on your understanding of them. Guitar practice requires:
- Consistency: Most pro guitarists believe in achieving progress by playing for at least one hour every day than playing for an entire afternoon once a week. The focus of your practice may vary throughout your development as a musician.
- Commitment: As a beginner, it is very easy to feel frustrated and give up when progress doesn’t seem to happen fast enough. The key is to be patient and commit to practicing regularly.
- Creativity: No matter which guitar technique or strumming patterns you are practicing or training yourself to transition between chords seamlessly, getting creative with your guitar practice can make it more fun and take your ability to new heights.
- Collaboration: In a real-world scenario, a guitar is often paired with other musical instruments. Keep this in mind while practicing and start collaborating with other musicians in your practice. This way, you’ll learn how to approach guitar music with a band.
Guitar techniques are developed over time through repetition and muscle memory. Practicing guitar involves both the understanding and practice of technique — training your fingers to do what you want them to do and learning where your fingers can go and why. And, in all this, rhythm is the backbone that holds all the elements of a guitar piece together.
Guide to Strumming and Rhythm
Here are some basic tips on how to improve rhythm on guitar.
Play Super Slowly
It is imperative that each pluck lands in perfect time with each click. This may sound like a really simple exercise but could prove difficult to master. It takes concentration and practice but two minutes a day doing this can really sort out your basic timing issues.
The best thing is that anyone can practice it, at any level of guitar-playing because it doesn’t require a lot of notes or doing anything physically difficult. Once you get good at one repeated note, try a couple of notes from a scale and then a whole scale.
The overall aim of this exercise is to be able to tap your foot to the beat for everything you can play. Foot-tapping will help you play to a steady pulse. However, once you get to an intermediate level and you start mixing up rhythms with your strumming or fingerpicking, then having a steady foot tap will act as a guiding light to keep you in time.
Different Strum Patterns
Learn a variety of set strum patterns to develop both your rhythm and strumming. Beginners should learn 3 strum patterns, intermediates 5, and more advanced players 8 or more. Doing so will help you internalize a variety of useful rhythms which you can use on a variety of occasions.
Practice to a Drumbeat
Put on a drumbeat – it can be a recorded beat or a beat from YouTube. Start by “locking in” to the groove by repeatedly playing one chord or note over and over and getting it in time with the beat. Then, little by little, change the rhythm of one pluck or strum while still keeping the groove tight and in time.
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Popular Strumming Patterns for Songs
When you pick up a guitar, you probably want to also strum to your favorite songs. Here are 3 common strumming patterns for songs that you can use in a generic way across different genres.
The first rhythm is simple but could be deceptive. Work at the straight 8th note downstroke to keep it nice and groovy with super-tight timing. This pattern comes up a lot in rock and punk music and can be thought of as "1-&-2-&-3-&-4-&" in terms of timing -- two downstrokes for every beat in 4/4 time. Practicing this rhythm with a metronome or drum loop will ensure that you're properly locking into the groove.
For the second rhythm, you will need to understand what a shuffle is. Stick with the 8th note downstroke, but this time shift the "&'s" of each beat, introducing a syncopated feel. This gives the pattern that "swagger" that you hear in blues music and will become very apparent if you use it to play the 12-bar blues form.
The third guitar rhythm pattern is probably the most common, and that's the up/downstroke. This pattern also makes use of a syncopated 8th note rhythm, but introduces upstrokes and downstrokes and also leaves a bit of space in between some strums. Once you've mastered this pattern, you can feel comfortable jamming with anyone!
Develop Timing on Guitar
To put it in a straightforward way, timing can make or break your guitar playing. While many guitarists struggle with it, the problem really arises when guitarists are not even aware that it is a problem. The reason why playing your guitar in time can be a struggle is because, most often, guitarists tend to focus on what notes to play, and not when to play these notes.
Guitar Timing Practice Exercises
Simple guitar timing exercises will help you to achieve accuracy and consistency as you practice transitioning between note values seamlessly and accurately.
Divide the quarter note into four equal sixteenth (semiquavers) notes. The tempo of the exercise is significantly low since a sixteenth note is four times as fast as a quarter note. Once you can play these exercises perfectly on time at a slow tempo, you will improve your timing on the guitar even further if you start increasing the tempo.
Developing a correct sense of timing on the guitar requires not only playing the notes on time but also playing nothing when silence is expected from you. These silences in music are called rests and there is a rest for every note duration. Explore the quarter note, the eighth note, and the sixteenth note rest. To execute the rest, lift your left-hand finger from pressing the note, but keep it touching the string, so that it makes no sound at all.
In this exercise, put some of the rhythms in a more musical context by applying them to the A minor natural scale using a three-note per string pattern. You don't need to use rests in this exercise. However, applying rhythmic patterns involving rests to a scale also makes a good exercise for improving your timing. The last note in this exercise is a full note, also called a semibreve. It is the equivalent of four quarter (crotchet) notes and fills a full bar in 4/4 time.
Essential Guitar Strumming Patterns for Beginners
The key to playing a variety of songs and becoming an expert acoustic guitar player is to know how to play a wide variety of rhythms and strumming patterns.
The Southern Rock style combines downstrokes and upstrokes, with the downs striking on beats 1, 2, and 4 and the upstrokes happening on the ‘and’ after beat 2 as well as the ‘and’ following 3.
The light rock sequence introduces muting which is achieved by flattening your fretting hand across the strings without pushing down onto the fretboard and then hitting all the strings as usual. This is easiest to achieve when you use barre chords or power chords, as your first finger is already in the position to cover all the strings.
The Country Waltz is in 3/4 timing and introduces root note bass picking. When you see ‘R’ on a diagram presented in your online guitar class, it means to simply play the root note of the chord, which will be whatever the first note is that your pick strikes.
The Diving Quarters are a little more advanced in the world of strumming and can take some time to truly nail. Despite the name, the ‘Driving Quarters’ sequence introduces sixteenth notes and hybrid picking. Hybrid picking is when you use your fingers to pluck the strings, at the same time as holding your pick.
In this strum pattern, there are only strums and mutes, but they move around in an interesting way which makes it exciting to listen to and fun to play.
The Gypsy rock formation is a bit simpler as it’s entirely made of eighth notes. It starts with a root note, then does two normal eighth note strums followed by two muted strums. To finish, there’s one more normal strum, then a mute. Again, your online guitar lesson will have a diagram to explain this!
The funky R&B combo combines root notes, sixteenth notes, and rests. It’s quite simple to play, but with the right chords, it can be extremely effective.
The funky Latin number is two bars long, and it’s likely to take a bit of practice. It uses eighth and sixteenth notes, strummed barre chords, and mutes.
This progression combines folk and hip hop. Although it’s only one bar in length, it is arguably the most complex pattern you will learn as a beginner.
Reggae rhythm is all about accenting beats 2 and 4, rather than 1 and 3. This one uses eighth notes, with the first two muted, the second two strummed. The third pair is also muted, whilst 4 has a strum followed by a rest.
The rhythm guitar is one of those things that you won't notice until something goes wrong. In other words, you might find it difficult to appreciate the skills of a rhythm guitarist because when they’re doing their job well you probably don’t pay too much attention to them.
A good rhythm guitarist is a glue that holds every element together in a band. Rhythm guitarists play an essential role in driving forward the song. If there’s something wrong with the rhythm, the whole music piece is going to sound bad.
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