All the samples will have the following features:


1. A video clip of the sample, in slow motion, playing only the muted strings of the guitar, while counting out loud.

2. A second video clip of the same sample, at normal tempo, in a typical chord progression.

3. A transcription of the sample in standard notation

This is example #1.           

The problem with so many books and internet transcriptions is the disregard of detailing rhythm parts. Rarely will you find rhythm detail, and if you do, it will almost always consist solely of strum direction.


Single line figures, lead parts etc. are in tab, but

no rhythm detail for the guitar!

 Help yourself to the basics right now.

The most common syncopated rhythm is known as backbeat. It is characterized by emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beats of every measure, and



 Again,  notated, it looks like this:

Here’s how to do it.

By striking only the bass notes of the chord on the first and third beats, the accents at 2 and 4 will emerge:

It sounds like this:

   Start with the bass notes.  For instance– when playing an a minor chord, play ONLY the 5th string (A) and the 4th string (D) on the first 2 eighth notes (as shown). Then play all 5 strongly (no 6th string on a minor). Return through the 5 strings with an upstroke. Do the same on the 2nd half of the measure, repeating the exact same pattern.


 Your success in playing this rhythm well is almost entirely dependent on creating contrast between the accented and unaccented notes!   


 Here is another common syncopated rhythm. Again, if you say it out loud first, it will more easily transfer to your fingers. 

Here it is, played:





A tie connects 2 notes together; the first note is held for the duration of both:

In this example, the half note is held for the duration of the half plus the quarter note. 

 When strumming the guitar, the right hand up and down strokes are affected to maintain symmetry. In the measure below, the 4th eighth note (&) is tied to the 5th one (3), so when counting the measure, we say “one and two and (pause) and four and”, not saying “three”, but pausing to fill the time created by the tie. This “silence” is, of course, is the first note of the tie being held through the count of “three”.  In the same way we do not say “three”, also DO NOT PLAY the corresponding downstroke, instead simply “swing and miss” as in baseball; that is, execute the stroke but do not contact the strings:



Here is another example. When counting aloud, the “4” is not said, and thus the corresponding downstroke is not played.



     Occasionally there are exceptions to these symmetry guidelines. Sometimes, for instance, it is preferable to use all downstrokes in a rhythm, to give a particular emphasis:


This effect is common in rock and blues rhythms, and when emulating certain piano parts, in which each stroke is intended to sound the same.





There can be confusion about the use of ties vs. rests. Remember that a rest creates silence between notes, while a tie joins 2 notes together.  The difference is sometimes subtle but always distinct:




     Samples 2 and 2A are the same. Sheet music will often give the following instruction for swing, or “shuffle” rhythm:

    This is a very common rhythm, but if you are not familiar with compound meter (6/8 time, etc.) or triplets, this instruction can be confusing. Instead, first consider these eighth note triplets:




 Then, count them this way:



There are other varieties of swing rhythm, but this is by far the most common. Beginners sometimes mistakenly play this rhythm in place of the straight backbeat (#1) , and it can become a bad habit. If there is any confusion, practice playing them alternately until you can hear the difference clearly!




  Many of these rhythms would be partially or entirely made of 16th notes, but I have written them as two measures. Thus, the following:



is written as this:

This is strictly for ease of reading. Here is another example:


As 2 measures it looks like this:


 Occasionally the stroke direction “rule” is changed to fit the rhythm. Note that the example above, when notated with 16ths, shows the first 2 eighth notes as downstrokes, even though consecutive eighths would normally be down-up.

    In the 2 measure example (no 16ths), note the 2nd quarter note downstoke, to bring out the backbeat emphasis.




 Note with a dot after it– a “dotted note”:

The dot adds HALF the value of the note.



   In this case, the dotted quarter note takes the first beat and first  half of the second beat, so the following eighth note is the second half of the second beat– and thus is an upstroke.  




I could have added many more rhythm samples to the list, including embellishments and variations on the ones already listed, using muting techniques. Muting is simply stopping one or more strings from sounding to create shorter notes and a distinctive percussive  effect. Instead, I have written a separate section on muting in the intermediate/advanced section. Refer to it for even more examples of  rhythmic variety.



      I strongly suggest taking this information in small bites. Patience and precision are rewarded very swiftly with this kind of work.


     Try to strike a balance between the mathematical logic of the notation and the feel that comes from getting into a groove. Use your ear! Play along with the samples when you can, listening to the sample and not yourself. This will help your tempo greatly.


      Mix various rhythms to enhance your playing. Obviously, there is much more that can be done beyond what is shown here. Scale tones, double stops, slurs, slides, bends, fingerpicking and more can be woven into these patterns. However, my experience is that most guitarists who use these elements proficiently already have great rhythmic skills. They also invariably have a well developed ear.


     See what challenges you. For those who do not sight-read, it is tempting to successfully imitate various samples and ignore the notation, but remember–if you can learn to read rhythms, you are halfway to being able to read anything, and if you later decide to play more complex music, this skill is invaluable.


    Always refer back to this page if necessary. Good luck and have fun!

                                                                                                                                                                  ©2016 Jim Greenfield