Guitar Rhythm and Techniques For Dummies
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As you practice playing eighth-note rhythms on the guitar, it’s a good time to work out a few examples that are not so much pattern based but more a combination of eighth notes and rests. Here, you see a resting rhythm that requires you to cut off the strings during moments of rest, specifically on beats two and three.

In situations like this, you need to employ damping with one hand, the other, or both. Something similar is done in the song “Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Resting rhythm 1.
Resting rhythm 1.

Here is a second resting rhythm that has even more space in it. Because the rests cause so much downtime, and because you may be damping with the palm of your picking hand, this may be a case where you don’t maintain a strumming motion. You may even play on the downbeat and upbeat with downstrokes both times.

That said, you can certainly still keep up the strumming motion using downstrokes and upstrokes if it helps you stay on track.

Resting rhythm 2.
Resting rhythm 2.

Counting this out, you play on beat one, rest on the “and” of one through to beat two, play on the “and” of two, and rest on beats three and four. This is when tapping your foot becomes a necessity.

Keep track of the pulse and tap hard on all the downbeats: one, two, three, and four. Then strike the strings on beat one and the “and” of two (as your foot comes up). Everything else is silent. Because you strike the strings on an offbeat, this is an example of syncopation. “Don’t Do Me Like That” by Tom Petty features a nearly identical rhythm guitar part.

Below is another example of a syncopated resting rhythm, this time with eighth notes played on the first two downbeats followed by the last two upbeats. It’s a good idea to tap your foot here as well so you can keep track of the downbeats, especially in the second half of the measure so that you time the upbeat strokes properly. Be sure to cut off the strings during rests.

Don’t let beats one and two ring for more than an eighth note. That means that they should be cut off when your foot comes up. Likewise, you cut off the strings as your foot goes down in the second half of the measure. Every other measure has four full beats of rest.

You can maintain your strumming motion, which puts two strikes on downstrokes and two strikes on upstrokes, or use the stop-and-start method (or rather, the damp-and-strum method), striking the strings with downstrokes on both the downbeats and upbeats. Check out both of these resting rhythms. You can use plain A-minor and D-major chord forms if it’s easier for you. Santana’s “Oye Como Va” is based on the same chord changes and a similar rhythm.

Resting rhythm 3.
Resting rhythm 3.

The resting and syncopation continues below, this time with a simple rhythm that is repeated but displaced so that the hits land on downbeats the first time and on upbeats the second time. You strum on three downbeats in a row (one, two, and three), rest on beat 4, and then strum on three upbeats in a row (the “and” of four, the “and” of one, and the “and” of two).

As you look at the notation, it’s helpful to imagine each eighth note and rest as a regular pair of eighth notes connected by a beam; then take notice of whether to play on the first or second half of the pair. Every strike is sustained only the duration of an eighth note, and all space in between is silent. Notice the quarter-note rests on beats three and four of the second measure.

As you count this out, it’s “1, 2, 3, (4), and, and, and, (3, 4).” In addition to this tricky syncopation, you must change chords from F to E♭ó.

For this example, maintain your strumming motion, which puts three strikes on downstrokes and three strikes on upstrokes. You can see this resting rhythm played. “Tequila” by The Champs features the same chord changes and similar syncopation.

Resting rhythm 4.
Resting rhythm 4.

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Desi Serna has built a substantial online platform as an engaging and approachable guitar guru-a guitar player and teacher with more than 10,000 hours of experience providing private guitar lessons and classes. Serna is hailed as a "music-theory expert" by Rolling Stone magazine.

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