Most of us admire guitar players who can effortlessly improvise a solo or who can move up and down the neck with blistering speed. However, the important skill of rhythm guitar is frequently overlooked. In this article, we'll show you 10 rhythm guitar exercises for every skill level.
Our Top 10 Rhythm Guitar Exercises
1. Strumming Up And Down
If you're a beginner guitarist, chances are that you start learning rhythm guitar before anything else. And most beginners start out with what's possibly the simplest strumming pattern -- four quarter notes per measure, and all downstrokes.
With this exercise, you'll practice playing a slightly more complex pattern. The example exercise has you playing eighth notes, but you can slow it down to quarter notes if need be.
Practice strumming down, up, down, up. To start developing your internal clock, do your best to keep the time between the notes exactly the same. It may help to count aloud -- say each beat as you play it. For example, try saying "one and two and three and four and," where the numbers are downward strums and the "and."
If this is the first rhythm exercise you've done, you may just be discovering rhythmic notation. On sheet music, each beat will be represented by a slash or a diamond depending on its length. However, many exercises for beginners use a simplified form of notation -- upward arrows represent upward strums, while downward arrows represent downward strums. If you'd like some guidance on how to strum up and down, check out this helpful video lesson.
2. The Chord Changes Exercise
If you've just started out in guitar lessons and mastered your first couple of chords, you might be ready to move on to changing chords. After all, before you do many guitar exercises, you'll need to be able to switch between chords.
But when you're just starting out on rhythm guitar, how do you get to the point of being able to seamlessly change chords? As these sample exercises show, the most important thing is to start simple and at a slow tempo.
In the first of these exercises, you'll simply perform downstrokes to play quarter notes with one chord. (If you want to work on speed, too, you can move up to eighth notes and sixteenth notes once you've mastered quarter notes.) In the next exercise, you'll switch chords halfway through. The example uses G and Cadd9, but you can switch between any two chords you like.
Remember to be patient with yourself as you're learning to change chords. It can take a good bit of time to be able to seamlessly switch. For some helpful advice on mastering chord changes, check out this great video lesson.
3. Strumming With The Metronome
Love them or hate them, metronomes are a valuable tool for guitar players. And practicing with one will help you develop the important skill of playing with your strums spaced evenly.
To do a fairly basic rhythm exercise, start with the metronome at a fairly slow tempo -- try around 60 beats per minute. Muting the strings with your left hand, play a rhythm pattern (either all downstrokes or alternate strumming, depending on your comfort level) in time with the metronome. In the beginning, tap your foot along with the metronome and count out loud at the same time. It may seem like overkill at first, but doing this will help you develop a better sense of rhythm and an accurate internal clock. As you progress, try this at different tempos.
You can then mix up your rhythm guitar playing a bit -- try strumming a chord on the first beat of the metronome and playing the rest with muted strings.
This video lesson shows you some additional variants you might want to dive into. If you don't like the sound of the metronome, you can play along with digital drums on Garage Band or another digital audio workstation. On most of these programs, you can select a drum beat and a tempo and play along -- it's more fun than simply using a metronome.
4. The Food Exercise
This exercise might seem overly silly, but if you're just learning about quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes for rhythm guitar, it can be surprisingly helpful. As you'll see on this page, you can associate different rhythmic phrases with types of food. For instance, two quarter notes side by side is "pop tarts."
This music education tool is ideal for the guitar player who struggles with rhythm skills, and it's also helpful for kids taking guitar lessons. For some additional guidance on developing a sense of rhythm while playing guitar, check out this helpful video.
5. Syncopating Your Rhythms
As you progress in playing rhythm guitar, you'll likely see several syncopated rhythms. A syncopated rhythm is one that emphasizes the off beats, or the space between beats. In the earlier rhythm exercises where you count "One AND two AND," each "and" is offbeat. More often than not, these off beats are upstrokes.
The set of syncopation exercises on this page starts with a simple warmup -- playing straight quarter notes followed by straight eighth notes. Once you're comfortable with strumming all the notes, you can gradually start learning each strumming pattern.
As you get more and more comfortable with rhythm guitar, you may find that you can play syncopated rhythms simply by listening to them. If you want to learn more about syncopated rhythms, eighth note triplets, and sixteenth note triplets, check out this helpful video.
6. Practice Rhythm In Different Time Signatures
Depending on your rhythm guitar playing goals, you may or may not need to learn to read sheet music. But regardless of whether you learn sheet music or not, practicing in different time signatures will help you develop as a guitar player. If you don't know a whole lot about time signatures, this video offers a helpful introduction.
Many blues songs and guitar exercises for beginners are in 4/4 time. And even if you aren't familiar with 3/4 time, you've heard its distinct three-beat cadence if you've ever listened to a waltz. This useful workbook introduces you to playing rhythm guitar in a variety of time signatures. Just like with rhythm patterns, you'll likely eventually be able to simply listen to music and tell what time signature it's in.
7. Master Different Strumming Patterns
If you already take guitar lessons, your instructor will probably introduce you to different rhythm patterns. For most new guitarists, the first exercise is all downstrokes. You'll probably start with quarter notes and then graduate to eighth notes.
Next, you'll probably move on to a strumming pattern that includes upstrokes -- many guitar teachers will ask you to simply alternate downstrokes and upstrokes. Adding in a palm mute can be a challenge, but learning to do it can make practicing your rhythms a lot more fun.
For a visual demonstration of a few useful rhythm patterns, take a look at this video. As with most of the guitar exercises on our list, feel free to use a metronome and try each pattern at a faster tempo.
8. The Gallop Rhythm
Many of the guitar exercises on our list are geared toward beginner guitarists. However, if you're an intermediate or even an advanced guitar player, you might enjoy playing what's known as the "gallop rhythm." This fast-paced, uneven rhythm is commonly found in metal music, although it can be found in other genres as well. There are two main types of gallop rhythm: two sixteenth notes followed by an eighth note, or an eighth note followed by two sixteenth notes. It gets its name from the fact that it sounds a bit like a galloping horse.
This useful resource offers a thorough introduction to the rhythm. Since the uneven beats can throw you off if you aren't careful, this rhythm takes a good bit of focus to get right. It also might be the best exercise for testing your internal clock.
And of course, like almost all guitar exercises, be sure to start this one slowly. If you can stay on beat and sound good, you can up your tempo a bit. To make sure you're getting the idea and are playing the exercise correctly, take a look at this instructional video.
The gallop rhythm is also a great exercise if you need to build stamina while playing guitar. You might think that it's physically easy to play through a set of guitar exercises. However, once you get to playing the gallop rhythm at very fast tempos, you'll likely find that it's tougher than you thought!
9. The 16th Note Displacement Exercise
The sixteenth note displacement exercise is one of the better guitar exercises for intermediate players and some advanced players. It gets its name because the chord you select will be shifted forward by the one-sixteenth note in each phase of the exercise. This page provides a cheat sheet as well as a more in-depth explanation. Basically, you're practicing quadruplets of sixteenth notes. The first time, you play a chord on the first beat with the next three sixteenth notes muted. On the next set, you play a muted strum, then the chord, and then two more muted strums, and so on.
This is a great exercise to practice daily, especially if you want to improve your sense of time while playing. And if you play each pattern continuously for a few minutes, it's also a good way to build your stamina. Some new guitarists become overwhelmed and stop if they find themselves falling off-beat. But if you falter, do your best to make your way back to the beat. This is a useful skill for performing or even just playing with other musicians. For some guidance on what these guitar exercises should sound like, take a look at this video lesson.
10. The Chord-Switching Workout
Chances are good that the guitarists you enjoy listening to are capable of lightning-fast chord switches when needed. However, this challenging rhythm guitar exercise is a little different from just changing chords as you work through a rhythm pattern. In this exercise, every single note is a different chord. Take a look at Figure 6 on this list of exercises.
As you can see, the music is in 4/4 time, so there are eight eighth notes per measure. In the first measure alone, you'll need to play B, F#, F, F#, C, G, F#, G in that order. If it's hard to switch every eighth note, start out by making each chord a quarter note strum. This is a valuable exercise to practice -- if you want, you can practice it with both the power chord and barre chord version of each chord.
It's possible to do this exercise while switching between the open chord versions of these chords. But as you'll probably discover, rapidly switching between open chords is often harder than switching between barre chords. If you're having trouble making your chord changes fast and smooth, this video offers some valuable advice.
Ready to Start Learning?
A good rhythm guitarist is the backbone of any song, and these exercises just might help you become that rhythm guitarist. However, plenty of players benefit from taking an online course or two to help fill in gaps in their knowledge and accelerate their progress. Whether you're brand new to rhythm guitar or are an advanced player trying to improve, a guided course can help!
One of the best ways to get better at rhythm guitar playing is to discover new rhythm patterns and get better at playing at faster tempos. And with these carefully chosen rhythm exercises, you can do both. Do you know of any rhythm exercises we left out? Please let us know in the comments, and don't forget to like and share if you found this article useful!