To read and play rhythms on the guitar is easy!
Playing rhythms on the guitar is easy to understand. All you need to do is pair the rhythms with up and down strokes. As long as you do this you can always work out how to play any strumming pattern.
Before we dive into playing some beginner rhythmical exercises using easy to follow video lessons, let’s first ensure we understand the basics of notated rhythm.
These are the basic rules:
- All rhythms are named after being in the time signature of 4/4
- When a note lasts a whole bar of 4/4 is called a whole note as it lasts for all 4 beats.
- A note that lasts half a bar of 4/4, or two beats, it is called a half note.
- When a note lasts one beat it is called a quarter note since there are four of these in one bar of 4/4.
- A note that lasts half a beat is called an eight note since there are eight of these in a bar of 4/4.
We can use a rhythm tree to more clearly see the relationships between the different rhythms.
If you play in a different time signature than 4/4, the notes are still called the same.
A half note, for example, wouldn’t take up half a bar of 3/4, it would take up two beats.
The pendulum movement
If you play rhythms that contain whole notes, half notes, quarter notes and 8th notes then your strumming hand/arm need to work as a pendulum at 8th note pace.
No matter what length of notes you are playing, as long as the shortest is the 8th note, move your arm at an 8th note pace.
This pendulum action will keep you in time so make sure your right hand never stops moving like this:
Strumming pattern 1-5
These video lessons will teach you how to read rhythm. Simply compare with the audio example and think of rhythms as up and down strokes.
There are five exercises here, all very simple. Your aim is to play them whilst maintaining the pendulum movement.
Make sure you can see the connection between rhythmical symbol – place in the bar – up or down stroke.
Strumming pattern 6-10
Once you can play an example, start pushing the BPM! Not only will this keep you in time, it’ll make you play without fluctuating in tempo as well.
When you start seeing the connection between rhythmical symbols and up and down strokes you are learning how to read music.
Strumming pattern 11-15
The last five strumming patterns are slightly more difficult and should test your rhythm reading skills. Don’t rush ahead, ensure you can play every example perfectly.
Increase each individual exercise’s BPM slowly and steadily. When you feel really comfortable, start changing between different tempos. For example, play really slowly at 60 BPM, followed by 100 BPM.
Changing tempo drastically like this will make you much better, really quickly.
Practising guitar is a bit like going to a gym, you need to do several different things in short bursts to improve.
These rhythmical exercises, in combination with the chromatic exercises, will give you a very good rhythmical understanding.
Pair this with studying the exact strumming patterns of the acoustic songs and you will be well on your way to reading rhythm fluently.
You’ll learn more about strumming patterns, reading charts for all songs and how to get most out of practising when you take the beginner course.