How to Read Rhythm Slashes in Guitar Notation

Although you don’t need to read music to play the guitar, you need to learn how to read rhythm slashes. Rhythm slashes are slash marks (/) that tell you how to play rhythmically but not what to play. The chord diagram tells you what you play.

We promise that you don’t need to read music to play the guitar. With the help of the chord diagrams, rhythm slashes, and tablature, you can pick up on everything that you need to understand and play the guitar.

Musicians use a variety of shorthand tricks to indicate certain musical directions. This shorthand enables them to convey musical concepts that would be complicated and cumbersome in traditional musical notation. So they use a “cheat sheet” or a “road map” that gets the point across yet avoids the issue of reading (or writing) music. Rhythm slashes are part of that shorthand.

One measure of an E chord.
One measure of an E chord.

Take a look at the music in the previous figure. Notice the chord symbol with the four slashes. This notation means that you finger an E chord and strike it four times. What you don’t see, however, is a number of differently pitched notes clinging to various lines of a music staff, including several hole-in-the-center half notes and a slew of solid quarter notes — in short, any of that junk that you needed to memorize in grade school just to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the recorder. All you need to remember when you see this particular diagram is to “play an E chord four times.” Simple, isn’t it?

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