In my formative years, my guitar teacher Jean-Marc Guenette gave me a set of strumming exercises to work on. These exercises had me counting a series of 16th notes, strumming on some, not on others, all while keeping a constant down-up motion with my right hand.
It was different from other exercises I worked on and helped to build up my rhythm chops and sense of pulse. My timing got really solid and I didn’t have to think about what direction my picking hand had to go
The logic behind this exercise was simple; teach a guitar player as you would a drummer.
Rudiments for rhythm guitar
Hang around drummers long enough and you’ll likely hear about rudiments. Rudiments are like scales for drummers. They are a series of exercises in rhythm and sticking patterns, using different combinations of left-hand and right-hand strokes. Drumeo has a great resource on rudiments should you wish to check them out.
For the guitar player, we don’t have the left and right hand, but we do have the up and down strokes with our picking hand (either right or left, depending on what hand you hold your pick with).
When we play a series of down-strokes and up-strokes with the pick, it’s easier to think of these in terms of 8th notes and 16th notes for our purposes. For those new to these terms, every bar in the example below has four beats, called quarter notes (one note per beat). We can subdivide these into 8th notes (two notes per beat), and further subdivide that into 16th notes (four notes per beat).
This is all important because as we play different rhythms, we want strong mechanics in our picking hand, as well as a strong sense of time. We want our playing to be as smooth as possible and sound as natural as possible. These rhythm guitar rudiments are a first step towards developing that.
And now, some exercises!
Take note! It is important that while practicing these guitar rudiments, you count out loud and play with a metronome. Steady time is very important here. Also, be fully aware of what direction the pick should be going! The easiest way to keep track is to keep your arm moving either up or down even if you’re not supposed to strum. Keep that beat!
You’ll be moving your arm to a combination of notes and rests (symbols that indicate a silence where a note would normally be). Examples of 8th and 16th rests can be seen below.
Even if they’re silent, they maintain the same value of time as their noisy brethren. It’s also important to keep the down-up (“D” for down and “U” for up in the exercises) motion of your picking hand going, whether you’re strumming a chord or not. Need to play a chord because of a note? Strum! Have a rest? Move your arm in the proper direction but don’t hit the strings.
Let’s start with some simple 8th-note patterns:
Now, how about some 16th-note patterns:
Take your time and work through these exercises. You want to have a solid sense of time while playing through these (counting helps, a metronome or drum machine is better - here’s a link to my favourite free online drum machine). You’ll also want to make sure that your picking hand is going in the right direction at all times.
Do this properly and you’ll start seeing a significant difference in your rhythm playing! Soon, you’ll be a rhythm guitar machine ready for the next part in this grand series of rhythm rudiments! Good luck!
By Kevin Daoust - instagram.com/kevindaoust.gtr
Kevin Daoust is a guitarist, guitar educator and writer based in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. When not tracking guitars for artists around the world, or writing music-related articles around the internet, he can be seen on stage with Accordion-Funk legends Hey, Wow, the acoustic duo Chanté et Kev, as well as a hired gun guitarist around Quebec and Ontario. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.