"Brain Numbing Strumming: The Ultimate Beginners Guide To Rhythm"

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Jordan Warford here, Editorial Manager for Guitar Tips.

It's hard to believe how fast the end of August seems to be coming. Before we know it, September will be here and it will be time to get back into our normal routines. Before all of that happens, I thought now would be a good time to give you a mini encyclopedia on rhythm to help you over come some of the challenges you are facing.

I warn you, this the longest lesson we've ever put out in any our newsletters. We wanted to give you something that you could call upon when you get stuck. It's designed with the beginner in mind but has a little something for everyone. We hope you enjoy.

In this edition:

Learn how to incorporate your lead guitar techniques with rhythm to give you the sound you've been dreaming of. Get past the days of the boring down and up strumming patterns and learn how to make the simple sound complex, without breaking a sweat!

We have brand new items to review in our "Severe Gear Premiere" that will spark interest in players of all skill levels. Learn a little bit about the history on the product and how to stands up against the rest.

Check out our feedback booth to see what your fellow subscribers are saying. This week we have plenty of comments on the new implementation of video, as well as some questions that I will answer.

To top off all of this, we have details to share with you on our next newsletter, where you will get to read about becoming a pro and how to get there. We've landing an exclusive interview with Jimmy Bruno who will share some of his feelings on the industry.

With all that in mind, get to it!

Setting The Record Straight

Why it seems so hard...

When you pick up the guitar to play a song, one of the most frustrating problems you may face is strumming. Rhythm isn't easy, I won't lie. For some people it comes very naturally and others just have to work that extra little bit to get where they want to be.

Rhythm can also be a hindrance to your self-esteem. I remember plenty of instances when I started out where I lost the rhythm in the middle of playing a song with musicians who were much better than I. It didn't exactly feel like I had won the lottery. However, it doesn't have to be this way.

There are neat little tricks and solutions to the problems that you face. Some of them are so small that it's hard to imagine them even making the slightest impact on your sound. These are the cunning edge techniques that will launch you into the spotlight.

Getting the tools you can use.

When we think rhythm, we normally think strumming. That's half the battle and one that we'll deal with more in depth further on. First things first, take a look at your setup. The settings you have on your guitar and amp, as well as the pick you are using will affect the tone and sound you produce.

You don't want that sharp, ear rattling lead guitar sound when playing rhythm. The reason for this is because it overloads the amp and in turn produces a muddy, indistinguishable sound. The goal with rhythm is to get a sound that blends each of the notes you play equally to produce a clear tone. You want to hear blended notes!

Not unlike scales or chords, there are many different settings for rhythm that can be used for many different styles of music. Using your tone knobs and pickup selector switch, not to mention the settings on your amplifier, you can create a unique tone that is perfect for playing the perfect rhythm.

Picks are equally important. It takes trial and error to find the picks that fit your style. Rarely will I use just one particular pick but rather a mixture of different gauges and manufacturers. Personally, I do not believe in the old adage "Thinner picks are for strumming and heavier are for lead." I use to teach that method until I came to realize that I could get a way better sound for my style using heavier gauge picks.

Picks are measured in millimeters and that's how we identify how thick or "heavy" it is. Surface area also plays a role. Picks can have different surface areas but normally follow the same shape, although that too is changing over time.

Jim Dunlop is the leader is pick manufacturing and has a pick for every style and every tone you could imagine. I highly suggest that you go to your local music store and check some of them out! Lets run through the most popular picks and see which one best suites you.

The finger pick: The finger pick is usually used for folk music and is best utilized with an acoustic guitar. Over the last week I have been play testing one to give you a review and found that it was almost impossible to use on my electric without scratching it up.

However, it was great on the acoustic and really gave me a chance to learn how to use my other fingers. Naturally this isn't my strong point so it took some practice but the end result was pretty cool. Now I understand why country guitarists' tend to use this style of pick... You can really pick up the speed (no pun intended!)

The "Stubby": This is my personal favorite. Many of the recordings you hear on this site that are done by me include the stubby. It's an extremely thick pick at 3.00mm but it adds a very controlled feeling to any piece of music that you are playing, not to mention the leads.

Although many experts would recommend against using this pick for rhythm, I have had amazing results. When playing I feel ultimate control which gives me a better rhythm and a more percussive "snap" to the music I'm playing. You do, however, need to hold it at a slight angle to avoid breaking strings. I have never broken a single string because of a stubby, so I encourage you to give them a try.

If you don't like the tiny size, they come with a larger surface area as well.

The steel pick: If you're looking for a metallic sound, your not going to get much closer than this. Made of pure steel (or copper, depending on where you get them) these picks are truly unique. I personally wouldn't use them on a regular basis but they were a lot of fun to try out. They may be for you if you like the tone but it will take a little getting used to.

You'll find that they produce more of a scratchy sound when used on the coiled strings, which can be a bad thing or a good thing depending on what style you are playing.

The strumming pick: These picks are usually thinner and the gauge will probably be under 60mm. You can't beat them if you're looking to blend chords together and produce a soothing rhythm. I also like them for rock because they make smooth transitions between odd chords a snap. Many of you are probably using this pick right now, which is perfect for this lesson.

You can effectively recreate many different styles and produce a great sound with these picks.

Jazz series picks' : These picks have a rounded tip, instead of a sharper edge. This makes the music you play sound deep and silky. Very nice for the more mellow tunes you may want to play. I use it all of the time for some of the older jazz standards. Jim Dunlop offers different series of these picks and some do have a sharper edge, so if you're looking for the smoother edge, make sure that's what you pick up.

Your thumb and index finger: Try pinching your string, pulling it and letting it go. You get a really cool "pop" that resembles a bass guitar. You can get amazing effects using your fingers for any style of music. From blazing tapping, to finger style country, your fingers are the cheapest and can be the most effective tool that you have.

There are also a lot of other new picks coming out that break the stereotype of size and shape. Some are hit and miss but it's worth giving them a shot.

The techniques you need to know.

Playing rhythm guitar leaves the player with literally hundreds of directions to go in. There's an infinite array of different rhythms and strumming patterns out there but how do you get that desired sound? The answer involves using a few different techniques at once.

Strumming: Strumming is the foundation to becoming a great rhythm player but it also tends to hold players up and limit creativity. Don't let this be a daunting task for you! Pick up your guitar right now and lets dive into this step by step. Points to remember before starting:

  • When looking at strumming patterns, the notation directing you to strum up looks like "^" and the notation directing you to strum down looks like an everyday table.
  • If you are playing an acoustic, remember to strum directly over the sound hole. Strumming in different places will give you different sounds but we'll cover that later on. For now, keep it simple and stick to one location and this will give you the best projection. The same applies to electric players at this point.
  • Take note of what your strumming hand is doing. Make sure you are using your wrists to strum and not your entire arm. This conserves a lot of energy and helps you do more intricate things. Keep your wrists relatively firm.
  • Strumming really, really hard isn't going to do much for your tone or ears. Try to keep it at a medium level. You don't want to sound too wimpy but sounding to loud can lead to undesirable buzzing sounds. Striking a good medium will give you a nice starting point.

So now take a basic chord progression, lets say G, D, and A minor. If you don't know these chords, click here to look them up. Strum each chord four times starting on an upstroke and ending on a down stroke. So the pattern for each chord would be up, down, up, down.

Here's the notation:

Here's how it looks and sounds:

Now that we have that under control, try to mix it up a little bit. Instead of going up, down, up, down... try the reverse and do down, up, down, up. Here's how it looks and sounds:

Getting the rhythms that set you apart isn't as difficult as you may think. Now that we have our chord progression and a basic strumming pattern, we can manipulate the strumming pattern to give us a song that we have heard many times before.

Take the down, up pattern and double the up strums so it looks and sounds something like this:

Note: This is only my interpretation of the song.

...There you have it, you have just performed "Knocking On Heavens Door." Congratulations! It wasn't that bad was it? If you want to try something different, then reverse the strum pattern and double the down strums. You could also include some pauses and other subtle things.

Another helpful tip is to pretend that your arm is the arm of a metronome. Consistently strum down and up at a steady speed. From there you have a doorway to hundreds of strumming patterns.

Another huge problem that tends to be reoccurring amongst many beginners is transitioning between chords. Some of you may have heard of the "Ghost chord," which basically is a cheat where you do a quick open strum while you try to find your next chord.

That's fine if you're just getting started but try to lean away from that as quickly as possible. Another reason for its popularity is because it makes strumming easier. For the above strumming patterns you may have noticed how seamless it sounded but you're sitting there thinking, "What on earth is he doing to get that, mine sounds so chopped up."

All I'm doing is adding in a quick strum, roughly the length of a second. It's so short but covers up the gap as I switch the chords. Strum up or down (depending on the piece) right before you switch the chord. Then when you land on the new chord, you repeat the previous strumming pattern all over again. This way you eliminate the need to play a ghost chord. It takes a little practice but you can achieve that in no time.

Try these alternative strumming patterns for all kinds of different styles of music. You will notice that I don't play it exactly like the music is written. There's plenty of room for making it your own, these are just starting points. Make them your own and add in your personal rhythmic style.


Mostly consist of up strums.





Accenting: You may notice how some of the above examples have certain strums that sound louder and more powerful than others. This is called targeting or "Accenting" the strum. When you are strumming and playing in time, you can make a down or up strum sound louder by hitting it harder. When playing along side of drums, it helps keep the tempo moving in the music and sounds far better than just the normal strumming pattern.

To perform this, take a strumming pattern and play it repeatedly. Then pick a certain strum out of that pattern that you plan on accenting and hit it harder. If you're playing in a band setting, the accent should be in time with the bass drum or the snare drum.

Move your fingers to the beat: If you are playing a song that has a more complex rhythm and you don't want it to sound like mud, this is a tiny trick that many people use without even knowing it. Strum whatever strumming pattern you choose (you can accent if you wish.)

For every up strum and for every down strum, slightly move your fingers off of the chord you are holding. Don't disconnect your fingers, rather temporarily mute them. It happens so quickly that you don't hear the mute but you do hear more clear and distinguishable rhythm. This is very helpful when trying to nail a rhythm that needs more spunk.

It's normally used in conjunction with palm mutes so you can get quick rests in your music, or make the notes shorter (staccato.)

Palm Mutes: If you recall our last lesson, we covered how to play palm mutes for lead guitar. Now we're going to transfer those skills over to rhythm and chords.

Take an everyday chord like E Major and make the chord shape. Then place your palm on the bridge and ensure that it's lying over the strings you wish you mute, which in this particular case would be all of them.

Then you simply run your pick over the strings. That's one application of a palm mute but honestly, I don't see it as practical considering the amount of times you will actually palm mute an entire open chord. That application is great for picking out a rhythm or for power chords.

What I prefer to use is the full six string style mute technique for it isn't strumming but rather the opposite... "Choking" the note. This effect stops the ringing of the chord immediately and will give your music a very percussive feel. Basically, in it's simplest form it just makes for a simple rest but it can really add a lot to your music.

Here is a sample of how it looks, along with some video:


You can also palm mute power chords with awesome results! Another fun application of this technique is to palm mute half of a chord, then pick out the rest.

Hammer On's: Hammer on's are not just for lead guitar. In fact, I can honestly say they sound just as good used in chords. It adds a new flavor to your playing that makes your music sound more intricate and technically advanced. You can incorporate hammer on's by actually hammering on the entire chord or individual notes. If you're not sure how to perform a normal hammer on, then click here to get up to speed.

When playing chords, there's normally a "box" around that chord where you can place a free finger to change the chord slightly to add in something extra. One very famous song that utilizes that is "Dust In The Wind" by Kansas. They take everyday mundane chords and add on certain notes with their rhythm.

You can do this too. Lets take your average D chord and D7. Both of these chords are practically identical except for the E string, where the F# changes to a G to form that D7 chord. This is the perfect distance for an effortless hammer on. Take this video clip as an example:


Here are some chords that take little to no effort to hammer on a note to change the chord and add that touch:

Am to A

C to C7

E to E7

F6 to Dm

Picking the notes: Using your fingers or your pick to individually pluck out the notes can result in a piece of music that is truly beautiful and speaks to your audience. Using hammer on's and pull off's in this situation also adds to the music and is normally where I use them the most.

There are many different picking patterns out there. Making your own can be quite simple! It doesn't have to be a virtuoso picking pattern to sound good. Often, I will just pick the strings out one at a time in a very simple rhythm and when coupled with the right chord, it can sound extremely eloquent.

Here's how it looks and sounds:


Take your previous knowledge and use it:

Everyday now and then I'll come across someone who asks "How do you do that trick, I have no clue." The funny thing is, they do. For example, we took hammer on's from lead guitar and applied them beautifully to rhythm. What's to stop us from taking harmonics and placing them in our music? Perhaps you think out of the box, develop your own technique!

I give you my word that you can apply just about every technique from lead guitar into rhythm. No, it won't sound the same simply because you are using them for a different purpose but the end result will be impressive nonetheless.

Here is a video I put together to illustrate that for you. Hope you enjoy.



Putting It All Together...

Throughout this lesson we have been using relatively simple chords to show you how to perform these techniques correctly. Now it's time to put this into action. For this edition I decided to take things a little mellow and show you how some simple picking and strumming patterns can make all of the difference.

"Some Kind of Love Song"



Severe Gear Premiere

Now it's time for us to get into some gear! This week we have quite a lineup that is sure to get you thinking. Guitar Trader has sent along some products with blow out prices for you to check out and for us to review. So lets get started.

BOSS GT-6 Multi Effects Proc. w/ 30 Amp Models

Chances are, when you think of effects pedals, you think of one legendary company by the name of Boss. This company has a standard that is set extremely high with a record that proves they don't make faulty equipment. They have been around for 25 years and are known as the company with the indestructible stomp boxes and the great sound.

Not only do they make great effect pedals but they also know their way around a recording studio. Click here to check out their site and learn more.

The GT-6 is any guitarists' dream. It has numerous inputs and outputs for the recording studio, live sound and private jam sessions as well as having a multitude of different amp settings and customizable effects. I regularly play the big brother of the GT-6, the GT-8.

While the options for sound are amazing and the applications incredible, there is one warning that comes with this rig and that is the learning curve. The GT-6 has a better reputation than its big brother for this but there's still a lot to be learned. The best way to do it is sit down with the manual and learn the basic functions then head out on your own and try a bunch of different options. If you can't find a sound that's right for you, there's something seriously wrong.

If your guitar is naturally hot (meaning pickups but if it looks that good, that's cool too) then this pedal can compensate with a few quick adjustments, which is a really nice option to have. The truth is, if you master the GT-6, you won't need any other pedals. It has built in wah, a great volume pedal that's always turned on, built in tuner, midi processing, 340 effects which include all of boss's original pedals and more.

Personally, I think this is the most economical and sensible route for many guitarists to take. It's professional quality and Boss didn't skimp on anything with this piece of equipment. However, having gigged with this piece of gear, I personally prefer not to use them. I'm addicted to the classic sounds of the individual stompbox and I don't care what anyone says... you just can't beat that. Plus, I love to step on them.

That's not putting down the GT-6, it's just not for people like myself. No one piece of gear will tickle everyone's fancy but my opinion is that this one appeals to most.

Click here to check this product out.

BC RICH Metal Master Guitar Pack In Red


If you want a guitar for playing metal, chances are you have taken a look at what BC Rich has to offer you. This guitar is definitely a metal guitar and I can personally attest to that. When played clean, this guitar has a natural growl to it that comes through the amp and adds that signature attitude.

One of the things this company should be noted for is it's consideration for those who are on a budget. They make high end guitars as well but have recently targeted the lower spectrum and beefed up their quality. This starter pack is ideal for anyone who wants to give the guitar a try and wants a heavier sound and looks that could kill.

You will eventually out grow it and find yourself looking for a guitar with better tone woods and pickups but for starting off and getting the fundamentals down, this guitar could be the end of your search.

As with any starter pack, you need to be on the look out for lemons. Every company has them and it's a real let down if you end up with one. Ask to have it taken out and get one of the professionals in the store to play it for you, so you can truly hear what it sounds like. Get their opinion before heading to the checkout.

I also enjoyed this guitar's thinner neck. It felt nice in my hands and was easy to navigate to the higher range, where notes can be choked off on other guitars. Other than the normal warnings that come with packages, this guitar is worth taking a look at.

Click here to check this product out.

FENDER Ultimate Chorus Dsp 2x65w 2x12

When I saw this little beauty on my list of things to review, I automatically knew it was a winner. Fender has one of the most interesting histories of any guitar company in existence. Leo Fender started out this company by developing the broadcaster, which was then renamed the Telecastor and was the first solid body Spanish style guitar to be put into mass production (source: www.fender.com.)

Leo Fender knew what he was doing and fine tuned the process to produce some of the most acclaimed instruments of today's society. Not only can you trust this company for a quality product and awesome sound but you can look to them for many of your guitarist's needs. They offer a full line of products for their guitars and amplifiers.

With the Fender chorus, you have many different tone options to shape your sound and give you that creamy warmth that every amplifier should. It's tight on the lower end but still fills the room. The effects are disputed as being mediocre and perhaps they are when compared to a Boss effect pedals but for the money you are paying, the quality is incredible.

The clean tones are absolutely beautiful and add color and vibrance to anything you play. It's a tone that is hard to match for a solid state amp. If you are a clean jazz player or are into the blues, this amp was made for you.

Rockers tend to have a hard time getting past the solid state aspect of the deal and find that the distortion is ok on the amp but really needs a pedal to get it where it should be. Keep in mind this is all personal preference. After hearing, playing and seeing what others have to say, this amp is worth the money simply for its clean tone.

Click here to check this product out.


Feedback Booth

Over the last two weeks we have had an overwhelming response to the new introduction of video into our lessons. We truly appreciate all of your feedback and inspirational comments. If you feel like you have something to say, send me an email and you might find yourself featured on our site. Good or bad, we like to know what you think of the site and how you're doing with your playing.

This week we're going to start off with a sample of the positive emails with regards to the introduction of video:

Keith Bennett was one of the first to email us with regards to the video:

"Wow! Fantastic new addition to the newsletter from the videos They really helped me understand the different techniques much better. Keep up the good work and thanks! Best wishes from UK Regards, Keith"

Jaymen Hand writes to us with this:

"Hello Guys, I just wanted to say that your video in the newsletter was a stroke of genius. Keep up the good work. Cheers, Jaymen"

Chris Deveruex emailed us with his thoughts:

"This weeks newsletter has been awesome! I hope you keep them rolling.They are just magical how they can help you learn and so fast. Thank you! P.S. The videos in the newsletters are a great idea keep it up."

Jim Johnson writes:

"Hey Jordan, Wow this is a good site, the video really helps. Don't change a thing, it's perfect! Thank you very much for sending me these newsletters. Take it easy, Jim"

Feanicso "Frank" Atanacio had this inspirational email to encourage me:

"Dear Jordan, I was amazed that a woman won the guitar tips promotion. Please extend my congratulations to her. You're truly amazing because you have a monumental patience and perseverance in handling whatever things assigned you want to do. Just keep going because you're making a lot of people happy in sharing guitar lessons worldwide."

MB Pometto writes to us with this:

"Hi, This newsletter is just perfect! I was really struggling with these concepts because I couldn't visualize what was meant, I had not been playing as much. Vacation time came around and I picked up the guitar again, but I still couldn't figure out how to get to the next level with these techniques. Your e-mail arrived a day or so later. I'll definitely be spending more time practicing the new "tricks". Thanks, MB"

Saad Ahmad has this very popular question:

"Thanks for the e-mail, but I'm confused a little. Is there any charge if I learn guitar off your mail or is this all free?"

Our newsletter is 100% free and you can opt out at anytime. Our memberships to get into the "Members only area" do require a onetime fee. However, you need to go to the link on our main page and follow the step by step instructions. We don't have your information unless you give it to us and anything you do give to us is used only for our purposes and is 100% confidential.

Daniel Kirk writes to us with this question:

"Thank you for passing me some good info about playing guitar. Even though I'm not paying for your membership, I say the lessons are great and I have no problem except one thing... Why are all the lessons now being redirected to your webpage? Is it just so that people buy the membership or what? I feel disappointed and used."

The reason why we do this isn't to get you onto our site, rather so we can offer you more. Our email system was swamped and broadband was being eaten up. There's no way we could get through the video, audio and pictures to you without crashing. Plus, it fills up your email inbox and uses up your space as well. Another point that was though of is that you couldn't go back on all of our previous articles as you would probably have deleted them.

Hope this answers all of your guys' questions!




Until next time, keep on rocking!


If you've always wanted to learn to play the guitar but never had the chance, give me 17 minutes a day for 90 days and I'll show you how to play virtually any song you want! Visit http://www.guitartips.com.au