Episode 46 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast gives you a simple exercise you can use to improve and expand your rhythm skills.
This is a great exercise for guitarists who play a lot of chord-based songs, but every guitarist will benefit from spending time working on this exercise.
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Here are some useful guides mentioned in this episode:
- How to Read Music
- Ultimate Guide to Guitar Picks
- Easy Chord Based Songs and Strumming Patterns
- How to Practice Guitar Chords
- Episode 29: How to Get Better at Rhythm Skills on Guitar
Podcast Episode 46 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 46 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.
In this episode, I’ll share a simple exercise you can use to work on your rhythm skills. This exercise is great for guitarists who play a lot of strumming-based songs, but it’s still an important skill to work on even if you never strum a chord in your life.
As you develop your guitar skills, you slowly start developing your own style of playing. You may or may not have noticed it yet, but you’re constantly carving out your own style of playing that sets you apart from other guitarists.
One of the ways this happens is with your sense of rhythm. If you ask ten guitarists to come up with a strumming pattern using the chords C, Em, Am, G, you’ll hear ten very different versions of that simple chord progression.
Some guitarists will play a basic down-up-down-up eighth note strumming pattern and repeat the same strumming for each chords. Other guitarists will come up with complex strumming patterns for each chord. You might hear one guitarist play with a more rock feel, while other guitarists might lean more towards a reggae, funk, or jazzy feel to the chords.
The point is that even something as simple as coming up with a strumming pattern for a simple chord progression gives you plenty of room to express yourself on guitar. That’s one of the great things about guitar, while we have a limited number of chords and notes you can play, there are so many ways you can use those chords and notes.
If you’re near your guitar right now, pause this episode and pick up your guitar. Try and come up with your own strumming pattern for a progression using the chords C, Em, Am, G.
Once you do this, write down the strumming pattern if you know how. If you don’t know how, check out the lessons on my site to learn how to write out rhythms.
Take a closer look at the strumming pattern you came up with. How did you split the rhythm up?
Did you use quarter notes, eighth notes, or something more complex? How did you decide which direction to strum the strings?
Did you follow a strict down up down up pattern?
Did you match your down-strokes to the down-beat and up-strokes to the up-beats?
Can you even figure out what system you used or does it all look random?
Most guitarists just play by feel and don’t think about any of this beforehand, but take a closer look at the way you strummed the progression. The way you strum each chord can tell you a lot about how you think about rhythm.
If you do this a few times and try to come up with different rhythms each time, you’ll start to notice patterns in the way you strum chords.
Even if you try to mix up your strumming so each progression sounds as different as possible, there will still be similarities between each strumming pattern you come up with.
If you’re a beginner, all of your strumming patterns might sound more or less the same and you may have trouble coming up with something completely different. If you’re an advanced guitarist, you can probably come up with a wide variety of styles and rhythms. But even advanced guitarists tend to lean towards a certain way of playing.
You might have noticed that your favorite guitarist has a distinctive way of playing and they tend to write songs in a certain way. This is something that affects every guitarist.
It’s great to develop your own style of playing, but it can become a problem when you start to sit in your comfort zone and never try anything different.
If you ever feel like you’re playing the same things over and over when you try to jam and make something up, this might be a reason why.
Let’s say you always start your strumming patterns with a down-stroke followed by another down-stroke on the next beat. It’s only after the second beat that you start coming up with different rhythm patterns.
If you always start your strumming patterns the same way, it makes it hard to mix things up and come up with completely fresh ideas.
What if you start your rhythm with an up-stroke instead? Or start on an up-stroke on the first up-beat?
Once you figure out what your go-to style is, try to mix things up and play something completely different. If it feels awkward or you start making mistakes, that’s great. That means you’re on to something. If it feels easy, it might mean you’re not pushing yourself far enough into unfamiliar territory.
Try to figure out what types of rhythms trip you up and feel awkward to play. If you can do that, you’ll be able to master those awkward rhythms and become far more confident in your rhythm abilities.
So let’s look at a simple exercise you can use to help push yourself into unfamiliar territory and expand the different types of rhythms you can play.
For this exercise, you need eight guitar picks. Grab eight picks and line them up in a row on a table, with the pointed ends all pointing down the same direction.
Imagine these eight picks as a bar of music split up into eighth notes. So if we were to count the rhythm out using the picks, it would be 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Each pick represents a beat or an upbeat. A pick pointing down represents a down-stroke.
If you were to strum this, you would simply strum the strings with a down-stroke eight times. Pretty simple.
Now spin every second pick around so they point up. So now you have a pick pointing down, followed by a pick pointing up, an so on.
If you were to strum this pattern, you would strum down up down up down up down up.
I have photos on the page for this episode explaining every step in this exercise, so if it’s hard to visualize what I’m talking about, check out the website at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-46.
Now, choose a few of the picks at random and slide them down so they’re below the main row of picks. Don’t move them away completely, just slide them down a bit. Each of these lower picks represents either a rest or a held chord.
So if you were to slide the second pick down, you would strum the first chord with a down-stroke, followed by an eighth note rest, then continuing on following the direction of the picks.
Hopefully you get the basic idea behind this exercise. The idea here is to come up with different rhythm combinations using a row of picks as a way to push yourself into different patterns you may have never tried on your own.
When you spin a few picks around in a random order and slide some picks down to add in some rests, you end up with a pattern you need to figure out how to play on guitar. This feels completely different from coming up with rhythm patterns just by strumming your guitar.
Some of the patterns you come up with will feel easy and natural to play, while others won’t. When you come up with something that feels awkward to play, that’s great. Focus on practicing it until it feels natural. The exercises that feel easy to play aren’t going to push your skills forward. The exercises that challenge you are the ones that help you improve.
You can practice these patterns along with a metronome if you want, but the main point is that you keep trying different patterns by spinning the picks around to change your strumming direction and moving them up or down to add in or remove rests.
It’s an incredibly simple way to practice your rhythm skills and it can have a big impact on the way you think about and feel out rhythms.
If you really want to push yourself into complex patterns, you could line up 16 picks to work on sixteenth-note rhythms, but eight picks is plenty for now.
You can practice this with one chord, multiple chords, or you can mute the strings with your fretting hand and just focus on your strumming. I have a lesson on strumming on the website that talks about this in more detail, so check it out for more advice.
Keep moving the picks around to come up with random rhythms and you’ll quickly see how powerful this exercise is.
The great thing about this simple exercise is that it’s not just for strumming chords. You can use it to come up with rhythm patterns for anything you want. You can use it to add rhythm patterns to lead licks or scale runs or create variations on a riff using different patterns.
Or if you’re working on writing a song, you can play around with this exercise to tweak your strumming or riff rhythms and come up with fresh ideas.
If you don’t already have at least eight picks, buy a pack and try this exercise out. Sometimes spinning a pick around to change from a down-stroke to an up-stroke can be all that it takes for a rhythm to go from awkward to comfortable. Being able to experiment with rhythms in a visual way like this is worth spending time on.
Check out the photo examples as well as links to relevant lessons at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-46
If you try this exercise out, let me know how you go with it. It can be a lot of fun, so give it a go and I’ll talk to you next time.