Skip to main content

Fender PlayThe #1 guitar learning platformTRY FOR FREE


Easy Tips for Playing Rhythm Guitar

Develop your rhythm skills with these easy tips for when you're holding a guitar and when you're not!

Being a good guitarist isn't all about dive-bombs and searing solos. The ability to competently play rhythm guitar parts is essential to any band.

After all, rhythm guitar lays the foundation for the other featured instruments in many popular songs.

When thinking about rhythm guitar, legendary names like Malcolm Young, Tony Iommi, Andy Summers and Nile Rodgers come to mind as experts at this.

But while it would surely take a lot of practice to consider yourself alongside legendary players of that ilk, there are a lot of things you can do to improve on this critical skill, sometimes whithout even holding an instrument.

As such, take note of the following to develop killer rhythm:

Find the Pulse

Make it a habit to find the beat. Most music we hear will have a steady pulse to it. It can be tough to find but just like finding the pulse on your wrist, once you feel it, it is clear. This pulse will usually be ongoing and continue throughout the song.

1 2 3 4 …

Once you find the pulse, do you notice a recurring pattern? A majority of popular music has four beats before the pattern begins again. If you listen closely you can hear a repeating group of beats. If you can’t, try another song. Think of this count as your down beats and down picks when strumming.

Embedded content:

Divide the Beat

Once you find the beat, see if you divide it by two and feel this division. The second of these divisions is called your upbeats and are your upstrokes when finding your strumming pattern.


Try to picture yourself strumming the down and up beats while the song is playing. Listen to the consistency of the great players and let them be your teachers. Pick from the best and examine your favorite musician’s sense of groove. Listening critically and carefully gives you all the information you need to develop killer timing for yourself.

Put Into Practice with Alternate Strumming

Now that you've created a nice little mental base for rhythm playing, pick up a guitar and try alternate stumming. This wildely used technique is simply putting the beats you divided in the tip above and putting it into practice by alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes with your strumming hand. This tutorial offers an excellent visual example for you to work on alternate strumming by simply playing the D chord in a simple pattern.

Power Up with Power Chords

Most chords have at least three or four notes, but a power chord only has two notes. Because power chords are easy to learn and have a That doesn't mean they are not a key component of your rhythm toolbox. Because power chords are pretty easy to learnSee how to play some basic power chords here.

Incorporate Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs

While hammer-ons and pull-offs are a challenge to master and used often with leads, they are also effective in spicing up strumming patterns and chords. To hammer-on, you need to pick a fretted note or open string and then press down on a higher fretted note to sound the pitch. To pull-off, strum a note with your picking hand, and then pull your fretting finger off in a plucking manner (a downward motion "pull down") to a lower note or open string. Watch this video to see hammer-ons and pull-offs in action.

There are many more ways to improve on your rhythm playing, but these are all a good start.

You can learn more about playing rhyhtm guitar in these video lessons. And if you're not a member of Fender Play yet, click here for a free trial.