Guitar Rhythm and Techniques For Dummies book cover

Guitar Rhythm and Techniques For Dummies

By: Desi Serna Published: 04-27-2015

Improve your guitar-playing rhythm, feel, and timing

If you want to improve your timing, sharpen your technique, or get inspired by new ideas, Guitar Rhythm & Technique For Dummies breaks down the basics of reading, counting, strumming, and picking rhythms on guitar to make you an ace on the axe in no time. With the help of this friendly guide, you'll learn to play examples of eighth and sixteenth note rhythms—including common strum patterns heard in popular music—to improve your guitar rhythm, feel, and timing. Plus, access to audio downloads and online video lessons complement the coverage presented in the book, giving you the option of supplementing your reading with additional visual and audio learning.

There's no denying that guitar is one of the coolest musical instruments on the planet. Okay, perhaps undeniably the coolest. Whether you bow at the feet of Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, the Edge, or Eddie Van Halen, they all have one thing in common: they make it look incredibly, naturally easy! However, anyone who's actually picked up a guitar knows that mastering rhythm and technique is something that takes a lot of practice—not to mention good coaching. Luckily, Guitar Rhythm & Technique For Dummies makes your aspirations to play guitar like the pros attainable with loads of helpful step-by-step instruction on everything from mastering hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides to perfecting your picking—and beyond.

  • Covers strum patterns, articulations, picking techniques, and more
  • Showcases musical styles such as pop, rock, blues, folk, and funk
  • Includes techniques for playing with both your right and left hand
  • Provides access to online audio tracks and video instruction so you can master the concepts and techniques presented in the book

Whether you're new to guitar or an advanced player looking to improve your musical timing and skills, Guitar Rhythm & Technique For Dummies quickly gets you in the groove before the rhythm gets you.

Articles From Guitar Rhythm and Techniques For Dummies

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42 results
Guitar Rhythm & Technique For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-15-2022

This Cheat Sheet has some handy tips that you can keep in your practice area for quick reference. Use these techniques to review your basic rhythms and warm up your hands at the beginning of a playing session. Before you begin, trim and file the nails on your fretting hand so that nothing comes between your fingertips and the strings. Also, you may need a warm up before your warm up. Make sure your shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers are loose and warm. Stretch and massage yourself to get the blood flowing if need be.

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10 Steps to Singing and Playing Guitar at the Same Time

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

For many guitarists, coordinating their playing with singing proves to be a big challenge. They can devote their attention to one activity or the other, but not both. As soon as the singing begins, the guitar parts fall apart, and vice versa. Although playing guitar and singing is a skill in itself that not everyone is equally suited for, there are some things you can do to make improvements: Learn from pianists. To an untrained observer, piano players seem to use two hands independently, but the reality is that the left-hand parts and right-hand parts are learned together. In the same way, learn how your guitar playing and singing work together, instead of thinking of them as separate and disconnected. Learn from drummers. You may have the impression that drummers use their limbs independently, but in reality, they learn how the different parts work together, too. Drummers know when a hi-hat and kick drum are played at the same time, or opposite one another. In the same way, you should know when a word is sung on a strum or opposite a strum. Keep it simple. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Begin with songs that have both simple guitar parts and simple singing. Use basic chords and easy strum patterns. Sing melodies that feature simple, predictable rhythms. Make sure you can perform the two parts separately before combining them. If you have any trouble playing a guitar part, adding vocals will just complicate things and cause you to stumble even more. The same goes for songs that you’re not able to sing correctly even when your hands are completely free. Commit both parts to memory and practice them individually until they become second nature; then start the process of combining them. When you get tripped up playing and singing, stop and figure out what you’re doing wrong. Did you miss a strum? On which beat does the word land? Did you mistakenly try to combine two parts that are really supposed to be played on separate beats? Does the chord come first, then the word, or vice versa? If necessary, work out how each syllable relates to each strum and chord change. Slow down! Back off on the tempo, cut the tempo in half, whatever it takes. Slowly work measure by measure, line by line, working to fit the pieces together. When everything is in place, gradually increase the tempo. With fingerpicking, choose songs that feature very simple patterns, ones that you can play without thinking. If the chord changes themselves are tripping you up, rework them in a different position, perhaps one in which you use a capo, so that the fingerings are made easier for you. For example, instead of playing in the key of Ab using barre chords, put a capo at the first fret and play as if you were in the key of G. Do it your way. Sometimes a song just won’t come together no matter how hard you try. When this is the case, change the feel to something that comes more naturally to you. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Guitarists who play and sing well didn’t develop their skills overnight. Don’t rush the process. A song may take hours, days, weeks, or months to master.

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Following a Lead Sheet

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

In most performance situations, guitarists aren’t given a score that includes all their parts note-for-note. Instead, they receive a lead sheet or chord chart, which is a condensed version of the music with all the basic information necessary for a band to play the song together. As you work with a lead sheet, pay attention to its most important details: The key: If you understand how to read key signatures, you can determine the key that way. Many guitarists simply glance at the chords and get an idea of the key. For example, if you see a chord progression like G–D–Em–C, you should immediately recognize it as I–V–vi–IV in the key of G. When oriented in the proper key, you comp with corresponding chords and scales. Be sure to work out a few scale patterns to use before starting the song. The chord progression: Most songs have sections that follow a repeated grouping of chords called a progression. Identify the song’s intro, verse, chorus, and bridge chord changes and rehearse them prior to the beginning so that each section is familiar to you when it comes up. The riff or melody: This is often where some basic sight-reading is useful. Some lead sheets notate important parts that should be played as written. If there is a particular hook that needs to be played on guitar, work it out ahead of time. When push comes to shove, take a brief moment during rehearsal to ask another instrumentalist, like a pianist, to read and play the part for you so that you can copy it by ear, if that’s how you learn best. The form: The form of a song is the order of its individual parts. The band needs to transition section to section perfectly in sync. There’s no time to look around and try to figure out where you’re at! This is the primary purpose of a lead sheet, to keep all band members on track as they progress through a song. Of utmost importance is following endings, repeats, and cues to skip to other sections, like codas. You should know where you are and where you’re going next at all times. Tap your foot, count through each measure, pay attention to the chord changes, and follow the form. If your chart also includes lyrics, use the words to stay on track. Rhythms: When it comes to rhythm, you want to identify on which beats the chords change. You may have the progression memorized, but if you didn’t bother to notice how long to play each chord, or at what point during a measure to change chords, you’re going to derail. Occasionally, there are moments when it’s critical to play a very specific rhythm, perhaps a point when the whole band rests or accents together. Sometimes the chord changes are accompanied with a sample rhythm that merely serves as a suggested example on how you should comp the chords, and other times it’s critical to play a rhythm exactly as notated. Know the difference! Dynamics and performance notes: Pay attention to any added information written in the lead sheet that indicates how and when you should play. For example, piano means soft and forte means loud. Guitar out is a good indication that you shouldn’t be playing! Crescendo (<) and diminuendo (>) symbols signify to get louder and softer. The words guitar solo signify to let ‘er rip! Some lead sheets even tell you whether a guitar part should feature distortion or a particular effect. Listening to the recording: Just because you’re handed a lead sheet doesn’t mean that you must rely solely on it. You may pick up on a song’s groove, parts, and form better by listening to it first. Recordings are also helpful for double-checking the lead sheet for errors and discovering any aspects of the performance not notated. When you notice differences, write them down on your lead sheet and discuss them with the band.

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Using a Capo on Your Guitar

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

A capo, which is short for capotasto, is a device that attaches to your guitar fretboard to raise the pitch of the open strings. A capo allows you to play in different positions and keys, but keep the same familiar chord fingerings you use at the end of the neck in the open position. Another reason guitarists use capos is to take advantage of favorable chord voicings that occur only as open forms. Transposing up to new keys with a capo is as easy as it gets. If you know how a song is played in the open position, add a capo at some other fret and duplicate the same fingerings ahead of it, as if the capo were the nut. Voilà! New key. Taking advantage of favorable chord voicings is easy, too. If you want a song in the key of A to use the chord voicings found in the key of G, then add a capo to the second fret. Now you play the key of A’s three main chords — A, D, and E — using the fingerings and voicings of G, C, and D. If you want to stay in the key of A, but you prefer the chord voicings found in the key of E, place the capo at the fifth fret, and using fingerings for E, A, and B. Getting back to transposing, if you want to move to a lower key, you have to work out the changes with different chord forms, as if you were playing in a different open-position key. For example, if you want to transpose down from the key of G, but still play in a key that utilizes open strings, the next key to play in is E, which is a change of three frets or one-and-a-half steps. If the key of E transposes the music too far down, add a capo to bring it up. At the first fret, an E chord becomes F. At the second fret, it becomes F#. If transposing down to E is not far enough, move backward from it to D. The key of D works well in the open position, and if it’s too low, you can always bring it up with a capo. The keys that work best in the open position are C, A, G, E, and D. These are the same chord forms that make up the so-called CAGED system. Their relative minor keys are included. Other keys can be partially played in the open position, like F and B, but require more use of barre chords and so are not typically considered for capo use. As you use a capo, you should know where the root is located in every open-position chord you play. Likewise, you should know the notes up the neck, a least on the strings where chord roots lie. For example, when you play G in the open position, you should know that the root, G, is under your finger at the third fret of the sixth string. When you use the same fingering two frets higher with a capo, you should know that the root, which is now at the fifth fret of the sixth string, has changed to A. Positioning a G-chord fingering at the seventh fret is B, eighth fret is C, and so on. Likewise, you should know that the root of an open-position C chord is under your third finger on the fifth string, and know the notes on the fifth string all the way up the neck. Transposing a D-chord fingering is a bit trickier because its root lies on the fourth string, which is a string that guitarists don’t learn the notes on as well as strings six and five; however, you can easily use octaves to trace any note on the fourth string to the sixth string. Whenever a capo and familiar open-position chord fingerings are in use, always look at the roots in each chord shape to determine their actual notes. For example, if you use the fingerings for G, C, D, and Em with a capo at the second fret, you should know that you’re actually playing the chords: A (root on sixth string, fifth fret) D (root on fifth string, fifth fret) E (root on fourth string, second fret ) F#m (root on sixth string, second fret). If it helps, first play the chord roots without a capo in their actual locations; then add the capo and rehearse the real notes again before playing the chords. Finally, play the familiar open-position fingerings and keep in mind the actual chords. Capos are also great for avoiding unnecessary barre chords that result in flat and sharp keys. If a piece of music is in Ab, a key with no open-position chords, rather than play it using barre chords, arrange to play it with a capo using open-position fingerings. Remember from the previous example that placing a capo at the second fret and using chord fingerings from the key of G actually produces the key of A. Move the capo down one fret and this key of A becomes Ab. Move it up and it becomes A#, or Bb, and so on. Refer to the following handy chart to get to know your options when using a capo to play the three main chords in the key of C. The chord names in parentheses reference the forms that you use in each position, but the actual chords remain C, F, and G throughout. Playing in the Key of C Using a Capo Chord Fingerings Capo Placement C fingerings (C F G) No capo A fingerings (A D E) Capo 3 G fingerings (G C D) Capo 5 E fingerings (E A B) Capo 8 D fingerings (D G A) Capo 10 Notice that the fingerings from position to position follow the order of the CAGED system. All keys connect positions in this order C, A, G, E, D, C, A, G, and so on — they just start at different points in the loop. In other words, if you start off in the key of A, the next position is based on G-chord fingerings, then E, D, and C as you move up the neck with the capo. If you start out in the key of E, the next position is based on D, and so on. You know your capo is in the right position when the chord root notes match the chords you’re intending to play.

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Looking at The Edge’s Guitar-Pick Sound

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

David Evans, who is better known by his stage name, “The Edge,” is the primary composer and guitarist for the band U2, which owes much of its sound and success to him. A master of using effects, The Edge has no interest in trying to match chops with blues/rock virtuosos. Instead, his aim is to craft unique and interesting guitar parts that serve his band’s innovative style of music. Most listeners quickly pick up on how his use of delay and reverb add depth and dimension, but his pick-type preference and how it produces his chimey guitar sound is often overlooked. The Edge uses a very specific make and model of pick. It’s a blue, German-made Herdim standard nylon guitar pick. This pick has raised dimples at one end to aid your grip. Instead of holding the pick in a conventional manner, The Edge turns it upside down and grates the dimpled side of the pick against the strings as he plucks. Together with the clean tones of a Vox AC30 and use of effects, the Herdim pick completes The Edge’s signature sound. Listen to “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Bad (Live)” for good examples. If you’ve never tried playing with a Herdim pick upside down, order one now and hear for yourself how much of a difference it makes. If you’ve been searching for the U2 sound, you’ll be delighted! Stevie Ray Vaughan also played with the round edge of the pick, though he favored a regular, smooth-sided Fender medium. No doubt his upside-down grip affected his attack and tone. Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny uses Fender’s thin picks, holding them backward with the round edge pointing toward the strings. He also bends the edge a little between his thumb and two fingers to make the pick more rigid. Not only can you try different pick weights, materials, shapes, and sizes, but you can also experiment with your grip and rubbing parts of the pick against the strings during a pickstroke.

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Using Half and Double Time When Playing Guitar

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

When musicians, whether they're guitarists or drummers, alter the rhythmic feel of a piece of music so that the tempo feels like it has been either cut in half or doubled, but in actuality the pulse and pace of the chords remain the same, it’s called half time and double time. Half and double time are most apparent when done on a drum kit. Imagine a drummer playing eighth notes on a hi-hat along with the kick on beats one and three, and the snare of beats two and four. That’s common time. Now, imagine the kick only on beat one, and the snare only on beat three, both still with eighth notes on the hi-hat. That’s half time, and it gives you the illusion that the tempo has been halved, even though the tempo hasn’t changed. (The steady eighth notes on the hi-hat keep the music connected to the underlying pulse.) In half time, drummers may play around with various hi-hat, kick, and snare patterns, but the overall feel is that of half fast. The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” begins with a half-time feel. When the song reaches the chorus at 0:58, you get the impression that the rate of the music has increased, but really the half-time section makes way for regular common time. The half time resumes at the next verse. “Wrapped around Your Finger” by The Police does something similar. Listen to the chorus at 1:40, which is played in half time, and compare it to the chorus played at 3:34, which is played in regular common time. Other songs by The Police that include half-time sections include “Driven to Tears,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” and “Walking on the Moon.” Claiming to be heavily influence by The Police, Rush made the half-time feel a regular staple in their music, as heard in “Digital Man,” “New World Man,” “Distant Early Warning,” “Manhattan Project,” “War Paint,” and “Ghost of a Chance.” Double time is just the opposite of half time. It makes the music feel as though the rate has doubled, but again, the underlying pulse remains the same. Imagine, again, a drummer playing eighth notes on a hi-hat along with the kick on beats one and three, and the snare of beats two and four. Now imagine the kick on beats one, two, three, and four, with the snare in between each beat, producing a 2/4 feel. This change of feel is best heard in “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash. Around the 1:08 mark, the music sounds as if the tempo increases, but it really just changes to a double-time feel, and the underlying pulse remains the same. As a guitarist, notice that the chord progression, including the duration of each chord, doesn’t change — only the rate at which you strum. Metallica’s “Whiplash” features regular common time at 2:40, then double time at 2:53, and even a convenient “Here we go!” prompt to cue the change. Metallica’s “Battery” switches back and forth between regular and double time, too. Some songs feature a double-time feel throughout, like “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. A common technique used in improvised jazz solos is to switch from eighth-note-based lines to sixteenth notes, but without changing the pace of the chord progressions, giving the listener the impression that the music has sped up. When the accompaniment also follows this double time, the impression is made even stronger.

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Practicing Guitar Using Accompaniment and Tracks

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

There’s only so much you can accomplish as a guitarist sitting at home alone and playing unaccompanied. Without a point of reference to keep you on pace, your time and tempo are likely to fluctuate, probably without your even realizing it. Without chord changes and song structures, you’re like to wander aimlessly during your practice sessions. The need for accompaniment is especially apparent when you’re learning to play styles of music that depend on interplay between band members. Playing with other musicians is your ultimate goal, but you probably need to develop your skills on your own before you’re ready for a jam session. Plus, playing in a group setting isn’t always an available option, so you need an alternative at times. To get the most enjoyment and benefit out of your practice time, and to best prepare you to play with others, make playing along with accompaniment a regular exercise. Playing along with accompaniment serves three main purposes: You don’t have to play alone when no one is available to join you. You’re forced to play in time and up to tempo. You can book performances when a full lineup of musicians is not available or practical. Accompaniment for use in practice can be any of the following: A regular song recording A specially recorded backing track A self-made recording Various electronic devices and software programs Before you’re ready to ride the bike without training wheels, so to speak, practice songs by playing along with the actual song recordings themselves. If you can’t play along with song recordings, you need to work toward that end, or choose different songs that are better suited to your ability. If you can follow along with a recording, you’re ready to play over a track where your part has been removed. Play-along tracks, backing tracks, jam tracks, band tracks, minus-one tracks, whatever you call them, are recorded music tracks that feature instrumentation for you to use as accompaniment. Tracks for guitarists to use usually feature drums, bass, keys, and sometimes, if the track is to be used primarily for lead-guitar playing, rhythm guitars. You can find generic tracks featuring typical chord progressions and grooves common to rock, blues, country, funk, and jazz, and tracks based on specific songs like Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight,” and B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” Some tracks are professionally recorded using real instruments, and others are programmed using software. Some tracks are put on CD and paired with an instructional book that features tab and other details useful for playing along. Many MP3 and MIDI tracks are posted for free and shared online. Many apps for cellphones and portable devices are made for practicing with accompaniment. Search for tracks, purchase and/or download ones in styles that you’re capable of playing, and load them onto some type of playback device that you can keep on hand for regular practice. In order for the accompaniment to be heard over the sound of your guitar, you may need to have a stereo system or amplifier with an audio input. Depending on the size and amount of power, some portable device MP3 speaker systems work. Of course, you can always plug into a PA system if you have one. Connecting your guitar and tracks to a small audio mixer and then monitoring both with a pair of headphones is another option. At the very least, put in some ear buds to listen to your tracks, and then play along with either an acoustic guitar or an amplified electric. Creating your own tracks is another option. You can create full band tracks, either by playing and recording separate instruments yourself or by enlisting the help of other musicians. Many music-recording programs allow you to cut and paste together prerecorded segments of instrumentation. If none of these options is available to you, you can at the very least record yourself using your computer, phone, or some type of recording device. Put together tracks of you strumming the chord changes to songs, and then play it back as you practice playing another part. When practicing, you can rehearse other parts from the song, compose your own parts, or improvise. If you want to get really creative and have lots of fun, layer multiple parts over one another. You can accomplish this by using a multi-track app, software, or recording device, or a guitar effects pedal that is designed for looping, like a BOSS RC-3.

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Warming Up with Alternate Picking

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The following figure is good for working on alternate guitar picking and getting to know the placement of the strings under your picking hand. Set your metronome to a comfortable tempo and rehearse the figure for a minute or two. Aside from moving across the strings in the two directions shown, you can use random movement and skip strings. To sound more musical, hold down a chord shape with your fretting hand. For more of a challenge, the same exercise can be played using sixteenth notes.

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Playing a Rhythm Pyramid

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

A rhythm pyramid like the one below is the most basic way in which a measure of music is subdivided. For practice, you can strum the different note values on open strings, chord shapes, or muted strings. Set your metronome to 80 beats per minute (BPM), give or take, and spend a few minutes alternating between quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes. It’s a good idea to count out loud, like this: “1 2 3 4, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and, 1 e and a, 2 e and a, 3 e and a, 4 e and a,” and so on. The following figure shows you the rest equivalents to the notes in the previous figure. As you practice strumming rhythms, place rests into your playing as well.

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Playing a Chromatic-Scale Pattern

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Playing a chromatic-scale pattern is great way to exercise all four fingers on your fretting hand. In the following figure, you see two examples. The numbers indicate which fingers to use. Use alternate picking as you play up and down each chromatic pattern in order to improve the synchronization of both hands. To challenge your fretting hand more, use hammer-ons as you ascend the pattern and pull-offs as you descend, picking only the first note on each string. You can practice at your own pace, or confine your playing to eighth or sixteenth notes while following a metronome. These chromatic patterns can be moved around the neck and started at any fret.

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