How to Play Syncopated Figures for Rock Guitar

After you develop a feel for strumming in different combinations of eighths, quarters, and 16ths, you can increase the rhythmic variation to these various groupings by applying syncopation. To play syncopated figures for rock guitar, stagger your strum and mix up your up- and downstrokes to strike different parts of the beats.

Once you have some understanding of dots and ties used to indicate syncopation in guitar notation, try jumping in and playing two progressions, one using eighth notes and one using 16th notes, that employ common syncopation patterns found in rock.

The following figure shows a useful syncopation scheme for an easy 4/4 rhythm at a moderate tempo. Pay close attention to the downstroke and upstroke indications. 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 synch.

A common rock figure using eighth-note syncopation.
A common rock figure using eighth-note syncopation.

The following figure, which uses eighth- as well as 16th-note syncopation, is not particularly difficult to play after you can hear the sound in your head.

A common rock figure using eighth- and 16th-note syncopation.
A common rock figure using eighth- and 16th-note syncopation.

If you’re having trouble playing syncopated figures exactly, or you can’t quite anticipate where the next strike comes after the dot or tie, try 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 worry about getting your hands to execute what’s in your head.

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