How to Play Rhythm Guitar & Keep Time

Written by michael black
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How to Play Rhythm Guitar & Keep Time
Keeping time is the centrepiece of rhythm guitar. (Playing guitar image by TekinT from

The single most important part of playing rhythm guitar is keeping time. A rhythm guitarist can know a thousand chords and understand complex rhythmic patterns, but if he can't keep steady time while playing, he will have trouble playing with other musicians. Learning to play rhythm guitar and keep time takes a great deal of focused practice using correct methods. If you practice properly, you will start to see results in a few short weeks.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Metronome

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  1. 1

    Set your metronome to play crotchets at 60 beats per minute.

  2. 2

    Count along with the metronome vocally and by tapping your feet.

  3. 3

    Strum a simple chord on every beat while counting. Hit each chord exactly on each beat, while focusing on staying on time with the metronome. Once you can keep perfect time with the metronome, strum a chord on every eighth note. Keep your foot tapping on every beat, but count each chord strum out loud---"one and two and three and four and." Strum sixteenth-note chords when counting and playing eighth-note chords becomes second nature. Count by saying "one-e-and-a two-e-and-a three-e-and-a four-e-and-a."

  4. 4

    Speed up the metronome 15 beats per minute. Continue to focus on counting along as you begin playing faster. Continue to focus on playing whole notes, eighth notes and sixteenth notes at this tempo. Repeat the increase in tempo when you can keep perfect time.

  5. 5

    Learn slightly more complex rhythmical patterns while continuing to focus on counting. If you can accurately count in your head, you can stop counting out loud. Start mixing whole, eighth and sixteen notes, and learning how to play triplets (counted "one-and-a two-and-a three-and-a four-and-a"). Slow down the metronome if you can't keep up with learning new rhythms.

  6. 6

    Learn to play one of your favourite songs, but pay special attention to the rhythms. While learning to play the song, make sure you continue to tap your foot and count along with the rhythm guitar. Play along with a recording of the song once you can count the entire song. Focus on playing every chord and note exactly on time.

  7. 7

    Explore different time signatures. Common time signatures include 3/4 and 6/8. Many metronomes can be programmed to count these time signatures, and if yours can, be sure to use it.

  8. 8

    Play with a good drummer if at all possible. Playing with other musicians will help you more than anything else in your path to becoming a solid rhythm guitarist. Remember to count along as you play with others. Ask the drummer about any rhythmically difficult passage to see how she counts it.

Tips and warnings

  • As you progress through timekeeping exercises, start learning and using new chords. The ability to play a wide range of chords is extremely important for a rhythm guitarist.
  • Always practice with a metronome. This will eventually force you to learn to keep time, even if you are having trouble at first.

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