Timing is everything in making music, and rhythm guitar is no exception. Mastering the art of rhythm, or vital, repeated movements and sounds is an essential building block in becoming a great player.
That’s especially true if you want to join a band, where your job is to help set the tempo, and the groove, for everyone else to follow. However, if you’re willing to work hard and learn these essential tips, you’ll get a little closer to stepping on stage.
Here’s How You Get Started
1. Break it all down.
Getting the right tempo down is one of the frustrating parts of playing guitar, especially if you’re learning a rock ‘n’ roll classic that everyone knows. Don’t expect to match the recorded version, step for step. Break down verses and choruses into smaller sections by playing them at slower tempos.
Pay incredibly close attention to your chord shapes and strumming patterns. Once you’ve got a particular section down, move on, and tackle the next one until it’s time to put it all together.
2. Develop a critical ear.
Becoming a good rhythm guitar player means listening to others and understanding how their parts fit into a song’s overall pattern. You won’t get a good feel for those qualities if you’re not a good listener. That means listening to artists and genres outside of those that appeal to you, as well as the studio and live versions of songs you enjoy.
When learning a song, don’t settle for the first online transcription or YouTube lesson you find. Listen and study several, to get a good feel for how to approach a particular song.
3. Focus on your practices.
Don’t just worry about how long you practice. Start every session with several goals, whether it’s a new technique you want to try or a song that you’re having trouble getting down properly.
Carve out specific times in your schedule, such as you first wake up or get home from work. Even five to 10 minutes a day of focused playing beats two hours of random, aimless strumming for its own sake.
4. Jam with a beat.
If you’re just starting out, you can work with a metronome, or a drum machine, that allows you to hear various beats and fills and find strumming patterns that lock in with them. You can also search for drum tracks on YouTube, but you’ll probably have to experiment to see which approach works best.
Newbies may find it difficult or tedious to hear a relentless “click, click, click” behind their playing. Drum machines, on the other hand, are equally unforgiving. If you miss a beat, you miss it, which leaves you feeling similarly frustrated at your progress.
5. Program your own beats.
If playing with a metronome doesn’t move you, or you don’t like the drum machine you’re using, try creating your own beats, instead, with a program like Cubase or Reaper.
You’ll get an appreciation for how to play different styles of music, and think more like a drummer, which is one of the keys to becoming a great rhythm guitarist.
6. Record everything you do.
Keep a handheld digital recorder around at all times. First, you’re more likely to capture those great ideas as they occur during practice sessions or soundchecks. Second, there’s no better way to evaluate your progress when tackling more complex rhythm patterns or different chords.
It’s a fresher way to check out how you’re doing, relatively the noise of a rehearsal. You may struggle to hear yourself if you’re playing with others or keeping your objectivity if you’re working out a song alone.
One More Thing To Consider
Unless you’re a totally solo artist, you’ll want to see how your skills mesh with other musicians. Playing along with jam tracks is sufficient for developing necessary skills, but there’s no substitute for learning on the bandstand.
Start by going to open mike nights, or seek out kindred spirits on social media sites, like Facebook, or websites that cater to finding musicians. If all else fails, you can ask your guitar teacher or post a music store flyer. Even if you don’t hit it off with someone, you’ll still get some playing time that will help you progress a little faster.
Like any real-world skill, learning the art of rhythm guitar carries good news and bad news. The bad news is, you won’t develop those skills overnight. With dedication and discipline, the good news is you’ll end up surprising yourself as you get more assured on your instrument.