Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

Rhythm Guitar – Part 3

In Rhythm Guitar – Part 1, we discussed subdivision, mixing it up, and passing. Then, we followed up with the concepts of adding techniques, resting, and changing notes in the chord in Rhythm Guitar – Part 2. Today, I am focusing on one concept that I call “busting up the chord block”. I think this is so important I have dedicated one blog for this concept.

The Block

First of all, I want to touch on what I call “the block.” A lot of rhythm guitar players strum guitar chords like they are simply one big block. I am constantly challenging my students to bend away from that thought process. If you are strumming a chord using all six strings on the guitar, then you have six total voices to your access. This can create a lot of options for you to choose from. The first step is getting away from the idea of a chord being one block.

String Sets

A string set is simply a set of strings you choose to play on the guitar. For example, play just the A, D, and G strings together._
Try to break the chord in half at first. Take an E-form bar chord and divide it into two halves. Look at one as “bass half” and the other as a “treble half.” Then, take a rhythm and strum it on one half or the other. Try changing between the two halves at different points throughout the rhythm. Once you’ve mastered halves, divide the chord down into thirds and repeat the same process. After a while, you can try other string set combinations. You can do various combinations of 2,3,4, and 5 strings. You can even skip strings. For example, play the A and G string only. You will have to mute the D string, but that is very possible. All of a sudden, the chord becomes alive, and the voices stand out more. Your creativity and ability to write riffs will expand tremendously.

Single Notes

I made single notes its own category because the technique involved can be different and challenging. This is the smallest possible breakdown of a chord. A lot of guitar players don’t even consider single notes when writing a rhythm, but they can create really awesome riffs. One of the challenges is trying to strum while playing one note. This is a technique foreign to a lot of beginner guitar students. I’ve found the best way to approach it is to mute the strings, then push the note you want. Try strumming all the strings while keeping the one note ringing. It’s tough, but it sounds awesome! Try learning some riffs like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Pride and Joy” to help you master this technique.

If you’ve been reading this blog on rhythm, I hope that see there is a giant world to explore with rhythm guitar. Just imagine the possibilities of combining subdivision, passing, rests, techniques, and various string sets. Have fun experimenting with these techniques, and look for our next blog, “Rhythm Guitar – Part 4,” where we will discuss accenting. Happy strumming!

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