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Lesson #7: Rhythm and Strumming

by Tyler de Witt posted on 1999-10-17
Topic: For Beginners Subtopic: General
Level: Beginner Number of Readers: 73459

Rhythm and Strumming

Now that you've learned how to strum and how to change chords, you'll want to be able to strum in some kind of pattern.

'Rhythm' is music at it applies to time. Almost all music has an almost definite rhythm. If you've ever listened to a song and found yourself swinging or tapping to the 'beat' you can understand what I mean.

For those of you who don't understand what rhythm is, try this exercise. Clap your hands four times. In between each hand clap, the elapsed time should be the same. All the claps should be equally spaced. Now try this again, and make the first of the four claps louder than the rest. Now repeat this pattern over and over again. The pattern looks like this:

Loud clap
clap
clap
clap
Loud clap
clap
clap
clap
Loud clap...
etc.

Remember to make sure that the claps are equally spaced, this is very important. And try to feel the 'power' of the loud clap, feel how you get into the 'grove'. Try thinking of it as a marching band.

Also, think of each four claps as a 'group'. The first clap in each group is stressed, or make louder.

If you can do this exercise, you can now apply it to the guitar. Instead of hand claps, you will be strumming. For this lesson, you'll need to know two chords:

D Major		A Major
xxo---		xo---o
......		......
...1.2		..123.
....3.		......
......		......

Form the A chord shape on your guitar, and repeat this pattern(all downstrokes):

Stressed strum
strum
strum
strum
Stressed strum
strum
strum
strum...

Now I'm going to show you a way that I can communicate to you what we just did:

  A
4|d d d d |d d d d |d d d d |
4|        |        |        |

The 'A' indicates that you should be playing the A chord. Each 'd' indicates that you should perform a downstroke. Don't worry about the 4s for now, we'll talk about that later. It's enough to say that it's called the 'time signature'.

So you read this notation from left to right, just like writing. This one is actually pretty simple to read, all you have to do is keep on strumming the A chord.

An important thing to notice is the lines in-between each four downstrokes. Each group of four downstrokes is referred to as a 'bar'. We have the lines, which are called 'barlines' to separate these groups of four. In the example, we have 3 bars, each consisting of four downstrokes. Remember that the first downstroke in every group is made slightly louder than the rest, to emphasize that it is the beginning of a new bar.

Bars don't always have to contain 4 downstrokes. They can contain three. Consider this example:

  A
3|d d d |d d d |d d d |
4|      |      |      |

In this example, we have grouped the downstrokes in groups of three. Each bar contains three downstrokes. The first downstroke of each bar is still stressed, because we want to emphasize that it is the beginning of the bar.

Notice that the top number of the time signature is a three? That's right, that number indicates how many downstrokes or 'beats' are in each bar.

Now that you understand a bit about that, let's move on. We don't always have to use the same chord. Let's try this:

  A             D      A
3|d d d |d d d |d d d |d d d |
4|      |      |      |      |

We start out strumming the A chord, then at the third bar, we're going to switch to the D chord. At the fourth bar, we switch back to the A chord.

The tricky part about this switching chords without interrupting your rhythm. The rhythm shouldn't have to stop or slow down while you switch chords, you want to be able to switch chords quickly between strums, so that there will be no pause. That's why you should practice changing chords, which was the subject of the last lesson.

Now that you know how to arrange strumming and chords into some kind of pattern, and now that I am able to communicate these patterns to you, in the next lesson we'll be learning to play some songs. Finally, eh?

(I'm Canadian, for those who are wondering)

Things to remember from this lesson:

1. 'Rhythm' is the arrangement of music with regards to time.
2. We can divide equally spaced 'beats' into groups called 'bars'. In a single piece, there's is always the same number of beats in each bar, which is told to us by the 'time signature'.
3. In the notation I've given you, the chord names are written above each bar.
4. We can use this notation to communicate songs, which we'll look at in the next lesson.


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