Understand the basic rhythmic components of music and figure out guitar strumming patterns on your own.
In this lesson, rather than give you a few common guitar strumming patterns to play, of which you can find many on the Internet, I’ll be showing you the basic rhythmic components of a strumming pattern, so that apart from playing them, you will also be able to create your own at will.
First, we’ll go through some definitions and explanations so that you’ll get the basics of rhythm in music, then we’ll start getting creative with rhythmic patterns to strum on the guitar.
Did you ever notice that at the start of every piece of music, there are two numbers over each other?
That’s called a time signature and it tells us two things:
- The number at the bottom tells us which note takes the beat.
- The number at the top tells us how many beats there are in each bar.
For the purposes of the lesson, we’ll be working with time signatures that have 4 as the bottom number, which are the most common in music.
This means that the crotchet note takes the beat. (If you don’t know what a crotchet is, don’t worry, it will be explained in the next point)
The number above will be either 2, 3 or 4, that is 2, 3 or 4 crotchet beats in a bar respectively. Other numbers on the top are possible but we’ll limit ourselves to these three because they will create an irregular meter, a subject for more intermediate and advanced guitar students.
Where the note is placed on the music staff, tells us how high, or low, that note is in pitch.
The shape of the note, tells us for how long it should be held which is what we’re interested in here since those different note durations together form the rhythm of the strumming pattern being played.
Below, find the most common note durations. The example is in 4/4 time, which means that the total number of beats in each bar is 4 and that each beat is a crotchet, no matter how many notes there are in the bar.
Note: Each of these note durations can be given two different names (ex. Crotchet or quarter note). Both are used and this depends on the country you’re learning this aspect of music theory in. In the examples I’m giving you both names, so that when you encounter you know that they mean the same thing.
Listen to the click (each click is one beat, the duration of a crotchet since we’re playing in 4/4) behind the notes to hear the relationship between the notes and the beat.
The crotchets are in the third bar, which is why it’s the only bar that has four notes. The first two bars include notes of longer duration than the crotchet, while the last two bars are made of subdivision of the crotchet note.
Tempo doesn’t change the pattern you’re strumming on guitar but determines the speed the whole piece of music is going.
You should learn how to strum new rhythmic patterns at a slow tempo, and increase it to the required speed once you get it right.
Each of the note durations in the example above, has it’s equivalent in silence.
A crotchet rest is thus the duration of one beat of complete silence coming out from your guitar.
Adding rests to your strumming patterns, can make them more interesting, as we’ll see below.
Below are the symbols of the rest to each note duration in the example above.
Needless to say, there is no accompanying audio with this example since what you would have would be four bars, with four beats each, of silence.
A combination of these different note durations is what creates the rhythms that you strum.
What we’ll do now, is use some of these different combinations to create our own rhythms.
Note: For all these guitar strumming patterns, we’ll be strumming the chord of C major, so we don’t have to worry about the choice of chords or about changing from one chord to another. Read this article to learn more about chord progressions – that is, a series of two or more chords after each other.
Guitar strumming pattern 1:
The first rhythmic pattern is very simple and uses only crotchets and quavers.
The next step after learning this easy strumming pattern is to start creating your own.
This is very easy in this case since all you have to do is to play some chords that are of a crotchet duration as two quavers, or the other way round.
As in this example. I have changed the rhythm but introduced nothing new, still playing around with crotchets and quavers.
Try a few different combinations, write them down, and strum them on your guitar.
Guitar strumming pattern 2
For the next pattern, I have reduced the tempo since we’re going to introduce semiquavers – the shortest chord duration we’ll be using here.
Notes of shorter duration like the demisemiquaver do exist, but you won’t be using them at this point in your rhythm guitar playing.
Now, as you did in the previous exercise, start mixing and matching beats with either a crotchet (one chord strummed per beat), a quaver (two chords per beat) or a semiquaver (four chords per beat).
The following is an example rhythm made from these same components but in a different order.
Once again, create your own guitar strumming patterns, this time using semiquavers too – which gives you a lot more options than when you were restricted to crotchets and quavers.
Guitar strumming pattern 3
Have you got the drift of mixing and matching these different rhythmic components to create strumming patterns?
Let’s add rests into the mix, as in the next example.
The following one bar strumming pattern is made effective by the use of the crotchet rest.
One thing you can do to improve your guitar playing is to repeat this bar using a different chord each time.
Note: Try to get creative in your practicing. This is very important and helps develop an ideal guitar practicing mindset where the things you learn are applied in different ways.
This will make practicing more fun, and you will actually improve faster since you’re internalizing what you learn.
Guitar strumming pattern 4
If we use rests of shorter duration our rhythmic patterns can become even more interesting.
For the purposes of this lesson, I’m restricting myself to the quaver rest since rhythms involving the semiquaver rest are more complex to play and this lesson is more geared towards beginners and early intermediate students.
When you find a rest, mute the chord with your right hand. Note that this is different from applying palm muting technique where the note or chord is not silenced completely but given a more muffled and percussive sound.
Once again, you can place the quaver rest in different places to get different rhythmic patterns, as in the example below:
Once you understand the basics of rhythm, it will be easy to understand on your own the strumming patterns of the songs you’re learning, and they’re also something you’ll find very useful when writing your own songs.
There are other components of rhythm, not covered in this lesson, such as ties, dots, triplets and duplets, as well as time signatures where the bottom number is not 4 and a note other than the crotchet takes the beat.
I will write about these other components, which add more options and variety to your rhythms in the future but with the above, you have a workable knowledge to understanding the most common rhythms you will find in songs, as well as a taster of creating your own strumming patterns to play on guitar.
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