Wanna be a solid rhythm guitar player! Constant motion in your strumming hand equals amazing rhythm guitar playing! It equally applies to your soloing chops as well. Holding a guitar pick with a relaxed grip and keeping the pick parallel with the strings, tip of the pick sweeping across the strings. Using a thin or medium gauge pick with some flex is great to start out with. This will all factor into you developing solid rhythmic guitar chops.
Your strumming hand is a built in metronome. Constant down-up motion…never stopping, even when the pick doesn’t have to connect to the strings on that particular part of a rhythmic pattern. I’ve found this to be the downfall and shortcomings of some guitarists, when they do not allow that constant flow. Starting and stopping, hesitating. This will inevitably throw your timing off. A very vicious cycle any player can fall into.
Conditioning your strumming hand to be steady and constant is essential. You’ve got to start with the basics and be realistic about doing this at a reasonable tempo. I encourage you to tap your foot, as well, when you practice. Every time your foot hits the floor, that’s the beginning of the beat, the downbeat. Every time your foot comes up off the floor, that’s the offbeat.
Start with down strums while fretting a basic chord. This is a quarter note rhythmic pattern. Quarter notes are one beat each. Count in 4/4 time. Four beats per measure. On each count, 1, 2, 3, 4, strum a down strum. Down, down, down, down. Now, think about it. Your strumming hand has to come up before it can strum down again, even though it doesn’t make contact to the strings currently on the upstroke. Seems basic, right! Even and steady strokes, only connecting on each down stroke or on the beat, foot connecting to the floor, when tapping. Do this at a slow tempo, then gradually increase your speed, maintaining the constant motion, without hesitating.
Ok, let’s continue in 4/4 time and try an eighth note rhythmic pattern! Eighth notes are a half of a beat each. Strumming a down strum on counts 1, 2, 3, 4 and an up strum in between on what’s called the offbeat or the “and” of the count, when your foot is coming up off the floor, as its tapping out the beat. Counting, “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &”. Constant motion, starting at a slow tempo, gradually increasing your speed as you become comfortable in doing this. Basic stuff, but, it’s so important.
I see it all the time. Players hesitating, putting their brakes on! This throws their timing off and makes it difficult; next to near impossible to execute more advanced rhythmic patterns. If you can condition your strumming hand to maintain that constant motion, I assure you, any and all rhythmic patterns you encounter down the road in your learning process will come more naturally to you. The stopping and hesitating when strumming, is a vicious cycle you want to avoid, if at all possible.
Let’s look at another rhythm in 4/4 time. Now, dealing with an eighth rest on the beginning of each beat. Missing on your down motion, when your foot is hitting the floor, while tapping out the beats. When encountering a rest in music, you have silence. So, an eighth rest is a half of a beat of silence in value. We’re going to strum and connect on the offbeat; the “and” of the count, connecting on an up strum, while your foot is coming up off the floor. So, your rhythm will be, rest, up, rest, up rest, up, rest, up. Counting, “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &”. Missing on the down strum, connecting on the up strum. Constant motion established. Note that your fretting hand will have to assist by relaxing its fingering, leaning slightly over to mute strings on the beginning of the beat, where the eighth rest takes place. This is a great example of a basic reggae rhythm. Remember, start slow and gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable with the rhythm.
Onward, to sixteenth notes incorporated in rhythmic patterns. A single sixteenth note is a fourth of a beat. It takes four sixteenth notes to fill in one beat or to be equal to the value of one quarter note. Strumming, down up down up, down up down up, down up down up, down up down up, to fill in a measure of four beats with sixteenth notes. Counting, “1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a”. Establish a slow tempo, tapping your foot. When your foot hits the floor, you’re strumming down up. When your foot is lifted off the floor, you’re strumming down up. Practice slowly, maintaining that constant down up motion and counting, being aware of how you’re fractioning out each beat and filling in each measure.
Here’s an extra exercise you could try as you’re settling into quarter, eighth and sixteenth note rhythms. With your fretting hand resting lightly on the fretboard across the strings, strum a constant down up motion. Now, attack with more force with your strumming on certain strokes. Do you hear the unique rhythm you are establishing? Now, grab a basic chord and on the part of the pattern you are adding more emphasis on, make sure your fretting hand is pressing down. On the parts you’re strumming normally, relax your fretting hand and let your fingers lean just a little bit to muffle the sound. After doing that for a bit, then try the same pattern. But, this time, no muffling, just more attack in the same places of the rhythm where you initially applied it. It’s endless, the possibilities! You’ll have a blast experimenting with this, the more you explore it! We’re just getting started! There’s so much more to come!
Establishing this constant motion, will make for an excellent foundation for your rhythm guitar playing. The possibilities are endless, what you are able to play on the guitar. Remember, this will equally be a benefit to your lead guitar playing, soloing capability as well. These are some very basic examples I’ve shared with you. Practice these and this will prepare you for more slicing and dicing of the beats, incorporating quarter, half, whole, eighth, sixteenth notes and rests, plus tied notes combinations and dynamics! You’ll actually have a lot of fun with this, after you’ve gotten over that initial hump of establishing what your strumming hand needs to be doing! Constant Flow! Pick up your guitar and play!