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Rhythm Guitar Basics 1

The Beginner's Course

It's all about rhythm! It's the most important aspect of learning music - think about it a second... rhythm has been with our species since we we were making tools out of stones, dancing to sticks hitting together, but our harmony has been around a couple of hundred years. Rhythm is inside every one of us, you just need to learn how to unlock it!

The very basics of rhythm to start you getting in a groove... starting what I call Really Useful Strumming Patterns (RUST).


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Really Useful Strumming Patterns (RUST)

R.U.S.T. stands for ‘Really Useful Strumming Techniques'. As part of this beginner's course I will be showing you some patterns to get you started on rhythm guitar.

If you want to check out more rhythm lessons in greater detail you might want to check out my Really Useful Strumming Techniques DVD which goes through a bunch of different patterns - a really useful addition to the Beginner's Course if you feel you need extra help with your rhythm playing.

If you use it while doing the Beginners Course then you'll need to add 5 minutes extra to your practice routine, or wait until the end of the course and use it to help consolidate your chord changes. It depends on how you are feeling about your rhythm... if you are struggling then it might really help to use it with the beginners course!!


This is as basic as it gets, but it is very important that you learn to do this pattern well, because pretty much all rhythm patterns are based on this simple pattern! In lesson BC-116 we looked at this strumming pattern:



The next concept that I want to introduce is that of an ‘and'. Now, we previously mentioned that in a bar we have four beats. So we count “one, two, three, four”, and these four are all down-strums.

Now, this is the big secret for rhythm guitar: you have to keep your hand moving evenly all of the time. As your hand is moving down on the beat every time, it means that your hand will be moving up in between every beat. So what we are going to introduce now is adding one up-strum to our regular rhythm. If we want to add something in between those beats this is where we introduce a thing called the ‘and'. So normal counting music you would have “one and two and three and four and”, the ‘ands' falling exactly half way through between the numbers, or beats.

The aim here is to repeat this pattern until it becomes instinctive. You should aim to be able to put the up-strum in the right place without thinking about it at all. To do that you just need to practise it over and over again! It is very important to do this repetition as much as you can. We will be developing these patterns more in coming stages, but it's better to be able to play a few strumming patterns very well, than playing lots of patterns badly!

The key thing here is to make sure that those four down-strums stay even. Play with a metronome; the up-strum will fall between the metronome clicks. Try setting your metronome at between 60 and 100bpm. Some people find it harder to play very slow (60bpm) and others when it is faster (over 100bpm) so start with what is easy for you, and slowly work toward what you find hardest. In the end you want to be able to play this and every other pattern you know at a range of tempi.

Note as well that it's fine if the up-strum just hits the first three or four strings. You don't need to strum them all; in fact, it's better if you don't in this example. Once you are comfortable playing these patterns on one chord, have a go at using this pattern while using two chords that you find easy to change between:


YOU MUST NOT STOP THE STRUMMING. If you can't do your chord changes fast enough to keep strumming then don't try and apply this to a song yet. In the next stage I will help you out more by teaching you to 'force' the changes, but the big deal here is: DO NOT STOP STRUMMING. Don't expect it to be easy either. Changing chords while strumming is going to take some practice, so be prepared to dig in.

Probably the most important thing to learn about strumming is to just keep going. As soon as you stop, you are waving a big flag that tells everyone you just screwed up. Even non-musicians will know right away that something is wrong when the rhythm stops, but many people will never notice a wrong or slightly wrong chord.

The other very important factor is to RELAX. Make sure you keep your arm as relaxed as possible. Of course, it needs a little tension to move and hold the pick, but otherwise keep your whole body as relaxed as possible and try and learn to let the music flow, rather than forcing it. I know it can be hard to relax when you struggle with something, and it's ironic that sometimes the tension is causing the problem... so just do your best and try and stay as relaxed as possible.

I've noticed on the forum that a few people were worried about the exact angle of the strum over the strings. This is not important at this stage. It changes depending upon what you are doing, so beware of analysis paralysis! Don't think yourself into a mental block. At these early stages (especially if you follow my advice) you won't develop any bad habits that can't be fixed a little later.

If you still struggle at all, with anything, then SLOW DOWN.

It is the key thing for all guitar practice. When something is hard, slow down, get it right then speed up. I really can't emphasize that enough: slow makes good.

Beginner products you may like from
Justinguitar Beginner's Course DVD set
Justinguitar Beginners Songbook
Justinguitar Beginners Songbook
Beginners Course Book
Practical Music Theory

I have five great beginners products that will help you make the most of this course and you'll find them all at The Official JustinGuitar Store. If you want to really support the site then please buy direct from us. :)

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Lesson ID: BC-136