12 October 2011

Guitar Rhythm Picking Exercises

A little while ago I wrote about working to improve my blues guitar soloing skills. During this work I noticed that one problem with my solos was my tendency to play too many eighth notes. This led to solos that were rhythmically boring.


When I thought about how to solve this problem, I realized that I had fallen into the eighth note trap.


The Eighth Note Trap

Eighth notes are the basic up and down picks on each beat. When we play guitar we often strum or pick up and down in this rhythm. If we’re not careful then it becomes such a habit that we have a hard time picking other rhythms.


It’s not surprising, because if we spend a lot of time picking eighth notes then it’s what our finger memory automatically plays when we’re busy concentrating on other things. The solution to avoid this trap is to develop your finger memory so it's comfortable playing other rhythms too. To do this I use some rhythm exercises I made up in my practice routine.


In this post I'm sharing a few of the rhythm patterns I've used to practice and develop my finger memory for different rhythms. I'll also describe why I chose those patterns and how you can adapt and extend them to make up more of your own.


One String Rhythm Exercises

The first exercises to work on use only one string and one note. This allows you to focus on picking the rhythm without other complications to think about.


Here are a couple of examples of the kind of rhythm patterns I use. There are some practice notes below the diagrams.



Practice Notes

Here are a few notes on practice with these patterns…


1. The rhythm patterns are short, one bar each. This gives a focused exercise that’s easy to measure so you can see how well you did (record yourself playing to check this).


2. To avoid falling into the trap of repeating one or two patterns the secret is to create a library of different patterns. Try to come up with at least ten different rhythm patterns.

3. Write down your rhythm patterns. That way you don’t forget them from day to day.


4. As you get more proficient you can string together patterns from your library to create two, four, eight bar patterns.


5. When you’ve mastered the pattern with one note, increase the difficulty by using two or three notes on the same string.


6. These exercises are not something to practice for hours on end. You can easily play through a pattern or two in only a minute or two during your practice session.


One way to proceed is to pick one pattern to start with. Work on it at a comfortable tempo each day at the start of your guitar practice. When you can play it with no mistakes at your chosen tempo, pick another pattern and add it. Over the next days play the first pattern again a couple of times and then move on to the next pattern.


You can continue in this way adding patterns in the days and weeks that follow. As you add more patterns, drop the older ones so you don’t end up practicing lots of patterns for hours on end.


String Skipping Rhythm Patterns

Playing the right rhythm on one string is a good start. But most of the time a solo or lick involves several strings.
Therefore, the next logical step to develop your rhythm picking skills is to work on more than one string.


In this lesson I'm only going to show a couple of two-string rhythm pattern examples, below, but once you're done with two-strings you should move on to three, four, five, and finally six strings.


In Summary…

  • Rhythm picking is just like any other guitar skill. It needs to be practiced.
  • Rhythm exercises like the ones in this lesson are a great way to focus on your rhythm picking skills without other distractions.
  • Start with something simple, a rhythm on just one string, and gradually work up.
  • Don't spend more than a few minutes each day on the exercises. Time and repetition will burn them into your finger memory.
  • As you get familiar with one pattern move on to add another to your routine. After adding several new patterns, drop the older ones so you don't end up doing nothing but playing rhythm patterns.

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