Much Ado About Rhythm: Part 1 [Beginner & Intermediate/All Styles/Technique]

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Much Ado About Rhythm: Part 1

This lesson is a branch from Area 3 from the Playbook for Beginners and Beyond main lesson. Visit the main lesson to see my philosophy on the five different areas of learning to play.

This lessons is aimed at the beginner, but contains information valuable to the beyonds. If you're an intermediate player, or a player somewhere past the beginner stage, you'll find the information in this lesson invaluable.

Basic Moves

We're going to talk first briefly about about basic counting and then how that applies to strumming. Then we'll move forward to Pick and Hand Control. Then we'll move into the different types of strumming patterns that you'll most likely see and so you can practice these different rhythms and be ready to impress those people around you.

This looks like a long lesson, but it's really not. There are just plenty of examples. Here's the layout of the lesson:

  • Part 1: counting, pick and hand control
  • Part 2: rhythm pattern examples
  • Part 3: homework, conclusions and references

Alright, Let's Get Down To It...

Here's the very basics about rhythm and strumming. In western music, the most basic of metered units is called a measure. And the most basic of measures contain four beats of equal value. So, each of these main beats is given a value and a name of a 'quarter note', literally meaning that it is one fourth of an entire measure. If you can count, '1, 2, 3, 4', then you've just counted through your first measure by using quarter notes.

If you play twice as many notes as are currently there, then you'd be playing eighth notes. Makes sense, huh? So, if you can count '1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and', then you've just counted through your first measure by using eighth notes (eight notes per measure). The same doubling would give you 16ths: '1 e and a 2 e and a 3 e and a 4 e and a'.

This is about all you need to know to play a song in 4/4 time. This is the only time signature we're concentrating on in this lesson. If you're interested in understanding more about notation and time signatures, check out Fretsource's very excellent and thorough lesson here at GfB&B called Standard Music Notation.

What's Next? The Basic Moves?

I thought you might ask that.

Keep these basic timing schemes in the forefront of your mind because you'll be using them for the rest of your life. Now let's move on to how this applies to strumming. So, pick up your guitar now and select just one chord and we'll move forward.

With that one chord now formed, and using all downstrokes, just start counting each stroke as you play. '1, 2, 3, 4' and repeat several times.

Next, using the same or different chord, use downstrokes for the 'numbers' and upstrokes on the 'and's while playing eighths. Count each stroke as you play. '1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and'. Repeat this several times until you get a feel for doing this.

We're not going to be using the 16th notes in this example. I will use them when I describe other rhythms in other lessons here at GfB&B. But you now have the idea of how it's done, and I encourage you to move forward and find material on how to use 16th note beats. But only when you're ready! Not before. Remember that you have to learn to crawl before you walk. Don't try and start at third base without touching first and second.

Pick and Hand Control

Here are some tips to you on holding a pick. Put your index finger and thumb together naturally (by that I don't mean tip to tip. For me, my thumb will reach so that it rests slightly on the top side [or left side, if I rotated my hand to take a look at the back of it] of the tip of my index finger). With your other hand, place the pick between these two so the tip of the pick is pointing directly at the 9 o'clock position (or 3 o'clock if you're playing left handed). Perhaps the 8:30 (3:30) position. I think you'll need to find that perfect spot for you, and that this may vary from person to person.


Now, if you'll make sure of a couple things. First, while you're looking at the tip of the pick, you don't have much more than a quarter of an inch of it exposed. Much more than this and you'll generate pick noise. You'll find the 'sweet spot' for you on this. And second, now rotate your hand slightly, slightly counter-clockwise so that as the tip of the pick strikes the strings, it will do so at an angle which is not perpendicular to the strings. In other words, the bottom side of the tip is what will strike the string first. This will greatly reduce pick noise, and is a future recipe for your success in learning how to play more smoothly and faster on scales or individual notes.

Also, there's another lesson I created here at GfB&B called Pick Control Challenge. If you're a beginner I don't think this exercise is necessary for you at this point. But I want to encourage you to remember it when you begin dropping your pick all the time (and you will!).

Check out Part 2 in this series. We get to the heart of the matter: strumming patterns.

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