How To Develop Solid Rhythm, Part 1- A Steady Arm

This site gives you lots of new rhythms so you can add to your collection of strums., It also teaches you the fundamentals of rhythm. But what if you understand rhythm, and don't really need new rhythms? What if you're struggling with the rhythms you already know, or just can't get a smooth consistent rhythm- especially when changing between rhythms? This series of lessons will be geared towards solidifying rhythm, to help your rhythm become as tight as a good drummer.

First we're going to assume you've already worked on getting good right hand technique, and you're comfortable holding the pick. The very first thing to work on is consistency with your stroke. You want to always (well maybe 99.9% of the time) use the same direction of stroke when every time you play a certain part of a beat. In other words, you don't want to play beat 3 with a downstroke one time, and the next time play it with an upstroke. When playing patterns with 16th notes, the downbeat (1,2,3,4) and the 'and's get the downstrokes and the e's and a's get the upstroke.

This is the basic building block for EVERY rhythm in four/four time. If you change the pattern you keep your arm moving in the direction it would have played, you simply intentionally miss hitting the strings.. Lets take a look at two very similar patterns for an example,using strum patterns35 and 36. In pattern 36, take a look at the last 4 strokes, which are all part of beat 4 (4 e + a_). Notice that these two patterns are identical except 36 has the 'e' of 4 and 35 doesn't.

Strum Pattern Number 036

Other rhythm patterns with these features :
4/4 | No Beat 3

Strum Pattern Number 035

Other rhythm patterns with these features :
4/4 | No Beat 3

Take a notice how the 4 and the '+' in both patterns use a downstroke and the 'a' in both patterns uses an upstroke. Both patterns would have an upstroke on the 'e' but you only strike the strings with that stroke in pattern 36. This way, you are moving your arm constantly up and down like a clock (or the dreaded metronome), keeping perfect time. You are just striking the notes you want and avoiding the ones you don't. I put a faint red up arrow above the 'e' as a reminder that you move your arm in the direction but just don't hit the string. What some people do is instead of moving their arm in a silence, they just let it remain wherever it ended from the previous stroke. The problem with this is you have a much harder time gauging the passage of time just in your head. Your body, however, intuitively understands rhythm. Just think about the way you walk, breathe, and heart beats in rhythm with little effort. Not only this, but if you repeat a pattern, this will often cause the direction of your strokes to be different on each repetition. This will make things imprecise in your head, and therefore in your sound.


Here's pattern 35 again, this time with all the missing strokes filled in with red reminder arrows. Notice that if you count the red arrows as well as the black ones you still have all 16 alternating strokes like the first pattern above:

strum pattern 35 with place holder arrows.

Here's one more pattern with the red arrows added so you can see how the arm moves as you allow certain notes to ring out.

Strum Pattern Number 014

Other rhythm patterns with these features :
4/4 | No Beat 3

For this lesson we used patterns in 4/4. However, you do the same thing in other time signatures as well. In 3/4 you have 3 beats and we divide each of those into 4 parts which will give you 12 strokes. In 2/4, or what I call half-measure patterns, you use 8 strokes per measure (2 beats each divided into 4 equal parts).


One last note of encouragement: Many people find it more difficult at first to concentrate and make sure they are being consistent with their strokes. It's easy to just let your arm do whatever it wants, but this laziness just breeds sloppiness. Think of pro basketball players. They've been playing for countless years, and yet they still drill free throws day in and day out. This is the fundamental practice of rhythm for guitar.

In the next tutorial we'll take a look at 2 exercises you can practice that will help you tighten up your rhythm even more.