Essentially, music has 3 aspects to it - harmony, melody, and rhythm. Harmony includes things such as chords and when more than 2 notes are being played at the same time. Melody includes riffs, lead ideas, and anything that you can hum. Rhythm is pretty self-explanatory.

Even the noisiest and most chaotic music is governed by rhythm and solid timing.

Good rhythm not only helps us in playing chords but having a great sense of rhythm helps us learn to express ourselves with confidence and play with fluidity. Regardless of whether you perform solo, with a band, or just in your basement – good rhythm is something you must have as a guitarist.

As a beginner, you must understand how guitar rhythms work.

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Learning How to Count

Rhythm is an essential part of learning how to play the guitar. As intimidating and difficult as it may look from the outside, learning how to play rhythm guitar is super easy and straightforward – all you have to do is count!

guitar fretboard close-up
Learning to play rhythm on guitar is as easy as learning to count. | Image credit: Pixabay

Try to keep the time between each chord as even and consistent as possible. Then, pick up speed and count ‘1-2-3-4’ out loud as you play. As you count out loud, you may notice your playing begins to even out a bit.

Foot tapping is another option, but you can physically keep time whichever way you are comfortable with. However, before we can keep time, we must learn to count time. You can add in some toe-tapping to keep the pulse of the rhythm.

In this regard, you can also try using the metronome. A metronome is one of the best ways to learn how to play rhythm guitar. It ticks at an even pace at a tempo of our choosing and helps us keep time.

Having a physical movement to guide us while we play really helps to keep us in good time. Different musicians have different ways of keeping time. For example, many rock and metal musicians will headbang, funk musicians will bob their heads, while Stevie Wonder sways from side to side when he plays.

Guide to Strumming and Rhythm for Beginners

You might have already signed up for online guitar lessons for beginners. But, are you doing enough to develop your sense of rhythm? Here is a list of the simplest exercises and tips you can keep in mind to become the next rhythm guitar sensation in town!

Play Super Slowly To a Click

Ensure that each pluck lands in perfect time with each click. This is actually a really simple exercise but maybe difficult to master. You will probably start off too fast, then go too slow, then you might get it for a bit before losing the beat.

It takes concentration and practice but two minutes a day doing this can really sort out your basic timing issues. Also, 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.

Check out this one-stop guide to learning guitar rhythms.

Foot Tapping Helps

This standard tip is definitely one that you need to keep at. With this exercise, the overall aim is to be able to tap your foot to the beat for everything you can play.

The easiest way to start developing a good sense of rhythm is to tap your foot.

On a basic level, foot-tapping will keep you playing 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.

metronome musical notes
Use a metronome or a drumbeat to improve rhythm accuracy while playing the guitar. | Image credit: Unsplash

Learn Different Strum Patterns

At a basic level, strum patterns are rhythms applied to the guitar. In strumming, there are lots of subtle things thrown on top of the rhythm too, such as accents, percussive hits, bass note strumming, embellishments.

A great way of developing both your rhythm and your strumming is to learn a variety of set strum patterns that you know inside out. 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 in a variety of occasions.

Don't Forget to Practice Sub-Divisions

Sub-divisions are the way we divide a beat into smaller chunks. For instance, a note that lasts one beat is called a quarter note. However, if we play two notes per beat, these are eighth notes. There are a variety of ways to divide beats up and the most important to learn at first are playing 1, 2, 3, and 4 notes per beat.

Sub-divisions are the building blocks of all music.

Learn and practice the basics of sub-divisions, while keeping in mind that it is these sub-divisions and how we mix and match them that give us all of our rhythms. The better you are at learning and playing these sub-divisions, and then later mixing and matching them, the better your rhythm will be.

These are the essential strumming patterns that every rhythm guitarist should know.

Count Out Loud

As guitarists, it is easy to lose the rhythm and where you are in the music if you do not count out loud. For example, if you take a really simple strum pattern of D U D U D U D U, you should count out loud “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and” with the downs being strummed on the numbers and the ups being strummed on the ‘and’.

Tap Out the Rhythm for Known Strum Patterns

This one may be a bit tricky but all the way worth it if you can make it stick. Once you have learned some strum patterns, simply tap out the rhythm for these strum patterns on your legs or a table. This ability to tap out the rhythm like this is a sure sign that you have the rhythm really solidified in your head.

Guitarists often need to hear the rhythm being played to a chord or melody or they get a bit lost. Playing it purely as a rhythm is a good thing and once you can tap out one rhythm like this, try tapping out two or three different rhythms and switching between them without much or any of a gap. Although it sounds difficult, this exercise is extra beneficial.

Jam 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.

Learning how to play rhythm guitar is nothing more than clapping different rhythms if you don’t have a wide array of chords to practice with.

You are then looking to play about with the rhythm, creating some exciting and fun grooves while keeping it all tight. Once tight, bring in more chords or notes and have fun. It certainly takes practice and patience but this is a skill that once developed will become a testament to your great sense of rhythm.

Check out this guitar class here on Superprof.

man strumming guitar
Learn the basic strumming patterns to help you practice and improve your guitar-playing skills. | Image credit: Unsplash

Learn how to develop great timing as a guitarist.

Keep Improving Your Rhythm

Irrespective of the genre of music you play, mastering a series of essential guitar strumming patterns is crucial to learning how to play rhythm guitar. Strumming patterns can be found everywhere and are usually pretty easy to pick up by ear. You can also use a combination of different note values to create some unique strumming patterns.

One of the important things to learn while strumming is how to avoid touching unwanted strings within the chords. If you want to learn more about how to play rhythm guitar through practice, there are a few easy things that you can do.

Try playing different note values along with the metronome. Look up and practice guitar rhythm exercises online. Practice playing along to your favourite song. Learn the chords well before starting to learn the rhythm, as it will help you master the song quicker.

Rhythm guitarists bridge the gap between the bass and drums and the other melody instruments. The rhythm guitar helps to hold down the song's chord progression that essentially forms the backbone of your melody.

Rhythm guitar gives you ample opportunities to grow and learn new techniques. As a beginner, the rhythm guitar is a great place to start. All you need are a few chords, a sense of timing, and a desire to improve!

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Shreyanjana

Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.