Guitar Rhythm Styles
Here, you will tackle some song-length guitar exercises that illustrate many of the characteristics, both chordal and rhythmic, of standard grooves or feels in rock music. Rhythm section players often talk to each other in terms of feel, and standard terms have developed to describe some of the more common rhythmic accompaniment styles.
Here is a list of different feels by their popular name, what time signature they’re in, what their characteristics are, and some classic tunes that illustrate that feel.
|Straight-four||4/4||Easy, laid-back feel||Tom Petty: “Won’t Back Down,” Eagles: “New
Kid in Town,” The Beatles: “Hard Day’s
|Heavy back-beat||4/4||Like straight-four, but with a heavier back-beat (accent on
beats 2 and 4)
|Bachman Turner Overdrive: “Taking Care of Business,”
Bob Seger: “Old Time Rock and Roll,” Spencer Davis/Blues
Brothers: “Gimme Some Lovin’”
|Two-beat||2/2, or 2/4||jumping boom-chick||Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Bad Moon Rising,” The
Beatles: “I Feel Fine,” Pure Prairie League:
|16-feel||4/4||Funky or busy accompaniment||James Brown: “I Feel Good,” Sam and Dave/Blues
Brothers: “Soul Man,” Aerosmith: “Walk This
|Metal gallop||4/4||Driving sixteenth-note sound like a horse’s gallop||Metallica: “Blackened,” Led Zeppelin: “The
|Shuffle||4/4||Limping lilting eighth notes; swing feel||Fleetwod Mac: “Don’t Stop,” ZZ Top: “La
Grange” and “Tush,” The Beatles: “Can’t
Buy Me Love” and “Revolution”
|Three-feel||3/4, 6/8, 12/8||Meter felt in groups of three||The Eagles: “Take It to the Limit,” The Beatles:
“Norwegian Wood” (6/8) and “You’ve Got to Hide
Your Love Away” (6/8)
|Reggae/ska||4/4||Laid-back with syncopation||Eric Clapton: “I Shot the Sheriff,” Bob Marley:
“No Woman, No Cry,” Johnny Nash: “Stir It
Here is an easy, laid-back, straight-eighth-note groove in 4/4. It’s perfect for songs in the style of The Eagles, Tom Petty, and soft-rock ballads or medium-tempo songs. When you get the rhythm down, try varying the speed of your strum by making the quarter-note strums a little slower and more drawn out than the eighth-note strums. This will give your strings a nice k-e-r-r-r-a-n-g sound.
This is in a cut-time, or two-beat, feel using a boom-chick or pick-strum pattern. Cut time refers to the time signature, where a vertical line “cuts” the C, the shorthand symbol for 4/4, in half.
A two-beat feel features a heavy bass on the first and third beats, and chord fills on beats two and four. Bass runs (single bass notes that connect chords together) are thrown in for some extra left-hand movement.
The “16” in the title refers to sixteenth notes. In a 16-feel groove, the unit of subdivision is the sixteenth note, and its spirited activity here creates a funky feel. You can play many songs in a 16-feel with the pick-strum approach, where individual bass notes are pitted against chordal figures in a low-high dialog.
Heavy metal gallop
Heavy metal is an entire subculture in rock music, but it can claim as its own one unique accompaniment figure: the gallop, which is composed of an eighth note followed by two sixteenths, repeated over and over. This example shows a two-bar gallop figure using up- and downstrokes. The palm mutes and accents make this passage sound almost ominous — a desired quality in heavy metal rhythm playing.
Reggae is a wonderfully laid-back rhythm style that features sparse chordal jabs from the guitar delivered on the offbeat. Reggae can exist either in a straight-eighth or shuffle feel. This is in a medium-slow shuffle. Pay particular attention to the upstroke indications — several of them occur in a row, resulting from the successive offbeat strums.
A song in a three feel is pretty easy to spot — it’s counted in groups of three (not the usual two and four), and you can do the waltz to it. If you played hooky from ballroom dancing lessons as a kid and don’t know how to waltz, you can usually hear a strong beat one, followed by the weaker beats two and three.
The Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” is in 3/4, and the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” is in 6/8. Technically, a song in 6/8 is felt in two, because it’s separated into two halves each receiving three eighth notes.
But in the unfussy world of rock rhythm, anytime a guitarist has to strum in three — whether it’s in 3/4 or whether it’s in 6/8 or 12/8 (as in some doo-wop-type songs) — he just calls it a “three feel.”
So “Norwegian Wood” and “House of the Rising Sun,” which are in 6/8, and “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Nights in White Satin,” which are in 12/8, can be described as “three feel” songs. Strum in groups of three or go boom-chick-chick, depending on the tempo (it’s sometimes easier on faster tempos to go boom-chick-chick).
This is written in 3/4, and features a descending bass line, which is fairly common in songs in three.