How to Disrupt Your Guitar Sound with Syncopated Strumming

After you develop a feel for strumming your guitar in different combinations of quarters, eighths, and sixteenths, you can increase the rhythmic variation to these various groupings by applying syncopation. Syncopation is the disruption or alteration of the expected sounding of notes. In rock and roll right-hand rhythm playing, you do that by staggering your strum and mixing up your up- and downstrokes to strike different parts of the beats.

By doing so, you let the vehicles of syncopation — dots and ties — steer your rhythmic strumming to a more driving and interesting course.

Syncopated notation: Dots and ties

A dot attached to a note increases its rhythmic value by half its original value. For example, a dot attached to a half note (two beats) makes it three beats long. A dotted quarter note is one and a half beats long, or, a quarter note plus an eighth note.

A tie is a curved line that connects two notes of the same pitch. The value of the note is the combined values of the two notes together, and only the first note is sounded.

The top part of the table deals with dots and shows note values, their new value with a dot and the equivalent expressed in ties, and a typical figure using a dot with that note value. The bottom part deals with ties and shows note values, their new value when tied to another note, and a typical figure using a tie with that note value.

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Playing syncopated figures

So much for the music theory behind syncopation. How do you actually play syncopated figures? Try jumping in and playing two progressions, one using eighth notes and one using sixteenth notes, that employ common syncopation patterns found in rock.

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Because the normal flow of down- and upstrokes is interrupted in syncopation, it’s important to remember which stroke direction to play a note to avoid getting your strums out of sync.

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If you’re having trouble playing the figures exactly, or you can’t quite anticipate where the next strike comes after the dot or tie, try simply saying the rhythm of the figure on the syllable dah while tapping your foot or snapping your fingers. The best way to learn a figure is to internalize it and then — and only then — worry about getting your hands to execute what’s in your head.

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