Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

Rhythm Guitar – Part 1

After trying to teach guitar players rhythm for many years, I have decided that it is one of the toughest subjects to tackle. Truthfully, one of the best ways to learn rhythm is to actually play rhythms and learn to feel them naturally; however, no matter how much you learn organically, you can always stretch yourself and learn different rhythms you might not have ever learned otherwise. I have compiled a multi-part series to help guitar players have an increased understanding of rhythm in order to be more creative. Today we are gonna touch on three things:

Feeling the 16th

I have found that one of the best ways to start getting an aspiring rhythm guitar player going in the right direction is to learn to subdivide 16th notes. First, start trying to feel each individual syllable of the 16th notes in each beat: 1, e, + , and a. Simply, mute/rest every other beat other then one you are working on. For example, if you are working on e, mute or rest 1, +, and a. Always tap your foot on the quarter note and count out loud. If you are having trouble understanding this exercise, talk to your music instructor. Practicing this way will internalize these subdivisions.

Mixing it up

This is where you can start getting creative. Now, you can pick and choose which beats you accent in each measure. For Example, you may pick 1 and + in the first beat, and e and + in the 2nd beat, etc. With 16 choices to combine in various ways, it’s amazing the rhythms you can come up with. A lot of musicians are creative with chords, melodies, and lyrics, but very few guitar players actually take the time to venture out to new territory with their rhythms. This is such an important layer of creativity and is often overlooked. Trying various rhythms is such a healthy exercise for any musician. You will feel friction and it will be very tough at first. Just remember, the friction you feel is good and necessary to make you a better rhythm player.


Once you can mix up various rhythms, try working on “holding beats over” or having longer rests and “passing the strings.” Passing the strings is an important technique as a rhythm guitar player. It helps keep your hand in a continuous rhythm and makes your playing more groovy. Generating more space in your rhythms is good practice, as guitarists’ rhythms often can be too busy.

These three ideas will get you started. Check out Rhythm Guitar Part 2 where we will discuss more ideas for improving and stretching yourself as a rhythm player. Happy strumming!

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