Work Those Rhythms (Guitar Lesson)


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David Isaacs

Work Those Rhythms

Dave works you through eight different strumming variations, discusses how to feel the groove while keeping the rhythm, and shows you how to take a handful of examples and create any strum pattern you wish!

Taught by David Isaacs in Beginner Guitar With David Isaacs seriesLength: 14:18Difficulty: 1.5 of 5


Most guitarists spend most of their time playing rhythm, especially on acoustic. It’s an essentially skill – after all, the guitar is a great instrument for accompanying a vocal, whether it’s you or someone else singing. And a good rhythm player is like a one-man band: all the essential elements to make you feel the groove are contained in that single guitar part.

We often start learning rhythm through strum patterns: a series of motions of the arm. You may have seen a strum expressed like this: down down-up-down-up- down. While this is a good way to get started, it tells you more about moving your hand than it does about the music. But there’s another approach that allows you to play practically any rhythm you might find in a popular song by applying one simple concept.

Hold down any chord and strum four quarter notes. Odds are, you’ll play four repeated downstrokes. Now play four counts again, but this time let the pick strike the strings on the way back up. You’ve just played 8 eighth notes, articulated as four pairs: “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”. Take a look at exercise 1 on our PDF; you’ll also see this on the screen at 2:50. Eighth notes are generally connected together in twos to show the pairs, or sometimes in groups of four. In this example, you’ll see both. Note that the last measure ends with a quarter note on count 4, so we finish the line with a single downstroke: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.

This back-and-forth motion of the arm is very natural whether you’re playing quarter notes or eighth notes, and it also puts a natural accent on the downbeats – 1, 2, 3, and 4 – while de-emphasizing the upbeats (the “and” in between each count). It helps to not think of the upstroke as a separate movement but more as the other half of a two-part motion: swing down, swing back up to come back to where you started. When playing repeated downstrokes, we do this without thinking, but adding the upstroke makes most people think too much. Just swing the arm and let the hand lightly brush the strings on the way back up. You don’t need to worry about hitting all the strings on the upstrokes, it will actually sound better if you don’t.

Listen to the way exercise 1 is played at 2:50 and notice how the counts and the hand movements line up: downstroke on the downbeat, upstroke on the upbeat. That’s the key, right there! Instead of thinking about which way to move your hand, think about where you are in the measure and follow the downbeat-upbeat rule. The strum movement will take care of itself.

Let’s apply this to another example. Exercise 2 appears are 4:00, with a different combination of quarter and eighth notes. This time, count 1 is a quarter note, followed by three pairs of eighth notes to finish out the bar. Applying the same strum concept gives us a downstroke on count 1 and three cycles of down-up to play 2-and-3-and-4-and. In other words, we start with two downstrokes because we start with two downbeats in a row, since we don’t strike the strings on the “and of 1”. As you proceed through the exercises, notice how this approach works with every combination of quarter and eighth notes. Strum down for a single quarter note, strum down-up for a pair of eighths. As you proceed through the video, you’ll see and hear each rhythm counted out and played. By the time you’ve gone through all 8 exercises you should be able to see the beats when you look at the rhythms on the page, and working out the strums should practically take care of itself!







Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

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scottintacoma253@gmail.com[email protected] replied on October 14th, 2016

Just a real eye-opening lesson on rhythm and strumming. I have had such issues finding strumming patterns with all the D D U U D D lessons that are out there. Thank you.

ZappafanZappafan replied on January 31st, 2016

Thanks, that was great.

lclarklclark replied on November 26th, 2015

Great lesson. Thank you.

12barDavid12barDavid replied on November 19th, 2015

A really good set of lessons. David is an excellent teacher who explains everything very well. I'm looking forward to completing the course.

Southern CashSouthern Cash replied on October 23rd, 2015

Enter your comment here.

Don.SDon.S replied on October 5th, 2015

Getting easier and easier to play along on the strums. An earlier lesson also reinforced this.

Southern CashSouthern Cash replied on September 28th, 2015

when will i be able to not count mentally when playing, or will it always be there in my mind?

OnTheRopesOnTheRopes replied on December 5th, 2015

Try watching the Strum it up workshop episode 1 with Chris Liepe and you will gain a further understanding of this

bobweir99bobweir99 replied on September 27th, 2015

I'm at two years now and signed up recently as a refresher and to learn more. This is a great lesson. Being self taught has it's downfall. I played my first eight months not know about rhythm or upstrokes. When I finally learned this lesson after eight months my playing took off. This lesson is mandatory after one learns how to transfer a few chords comfortably.

LenMatthewsLenMatthews replied on August 31st, 2015

Really enjoying this series... great teacher and just the right amount of material each lesson. Enough to push us, not too much to put us off!

Beginner Guitar With David Isaacs

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Whether you've never played before, or your coming back to guitar after brief startup attempt, you'll find everything you need to get going in this series. David uses real musical examples to teach even the most basic concepts and techniques.



Lesson 1

The Series Introduction

Don't get stuck learning chords, scales and theory with nowhere to apply the things you work on. Take the "David Isaacs" approach and learn the guitar by using real music. You'll be playing along with...

Length: 2:32 Difficulty: 0.5 FREE
Lesson 2

Strings & Things

Tune up, learn your way around your guitar, and explore a simple, musical picking exercise to help you learn the string names. You'll be playing right out of the gate!

Length: 22:20 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

Hands on the Fretboard

Learn hand position, posture and see how to set up your playing for success when it comes to your fret hand. Dave goes in depth with his discussion and demonstration of hand mechanics. Don't miss this...

Length: 16:10 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 4

Your First Song!

Learn the E7 minor and Am chords and then immediately put them to use with a simple song. Play along to the provided backing track and feel like you're part of the band...It's only your 4th lesson! Keep...

Length: 15:32 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 5

Power to the Chords

Power chords are some of the most simple and ubiquitous tools for playing and making great songs. Learn the most basic shapes and put them to use right here! Dave also discusses the beginnings of strumming...

Length: 12:21 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Music & Melody

Learn a simple melody and take in a little info about what a 'key' is. You can learn the melody and have a friend strum the rhythm. Or, do it the other way around!

Length: 18:07 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

Two Finger Chords & More

These simple, musical tools can take you a long way. Use your index and middle fingers to play a simple Am chord and a simple E chord. You'll also learn how to read chord charts and play through another...

Length: 16:46 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 8

A Simple Melody

You will be introduced to a simple A minor scale and then learn a song that helps you get your new scale under your finger tips!

Length: 12:08 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 9

Finger Independence

Do you ever feel like you are wearing mittens while you are trying to practice your guitar playing? If you have ever experienced this sensation, this lesson is for you!

Length: 11:04 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 10

Let's Major on C Major

You'll be introduced to the C Major scale and then you'll be able to put it to use over a soothing acoustic guitar rhythm bed. Have fun!

Length: 10:37 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 11

The C Chord and G7 Chord

Here you'll get to spend some time applying some fundamental chord shapes. Dave shows how to switch between these two chords seamlessly and, as usual, has a creative example ready to go so you can put...

Length: 18:39 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 12

G and C Working Together

I know what you're thinking..."I just learned these!" Well, you did learn a C chord and a G chord, but this lesson goes over ways to play these chords together in a chord progression that REALLY sounds...

Length: 11:06 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

Playing Most Songs

You've probably heard it before, but most songs out there can really be played with just 3 or 4 chords. In this lesson, Dave gives you the tools to play most of the songs you know and love!

Length: 14:04 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 14

Rhythm & Charts

We're moving into some new territory with this series now. You'll now be focusing more and more on material that you can play in a band setting. Up until now, you've been applying the basics to real music,...

Length: 24:54 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 15

A Taste of the Blues

Learn about the blues form and strum along with a cool, laid back, bluesy track. You'll be able to take the material in this lesson a long way down the road! Don't forget to have fun with it now though...

Length: 12:03 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 16

Major Pentatonic Music

Learn the C major pentatonic scale and put it to good use over a catchy tune! You'll be surprised how simple this is and how very musical you can be with just 5 notes arranged in a musically interesting...

Length: 8:38 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 17

Four Fingers and a Chord

The mighty and intimidating F chord is one that most beginners see as a major hurdle in learning the basic chords on the guitar. Dave offers some ways to make the F chord more approachable. Once you examine...

Length: 15:35 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 18

Chord Shapes & Arpeggios

Work on precision with your picking hand and more finger independence with your fretting hand using a soothing practice track called "Chimes". You'll get a good taste of combining melody and rhythm playing...

Length: 15:34 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 19

Work Those Rhythms

Dave works you through eight different strumming variations, discusses how to feel the groove while keeping the rhythm, and shows you how to take a handful of examples and create any strum pattern you...

Length: 14:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 20

Complete C

Look at the C major scale once again. This time however, you'll get to complete the first position C major pattern. You'll play every note within reach of your first 4 frets. You'll also learn a catchy...

Length: 16:28 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 21

The Return to Chords

Work in the Am, Dm, and Em chords and play them in a melancholy, yet soothing example. You'll also get to work on your basic strumming.

Length: 12:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 22

Shifty Pentatonic

Learn the E minor pentatonic scale with a small position shift that will get you out of the open position and moving around the neck a little bit. This is where it really starts to feel like you are owning...

Length: 13:53 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 23

Let's Major on A Minor

Earlier in the series, we explored the C major scale. In this lesson, the A minor will get some love. Learn the basic open position and use it in a new melody.

Length: 15:43 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 24

In 7th Heaven

Back to some chords now. In case you couldn't tell from the title, we'll be focusing on 7th chords for this lesson. You learned A7 a while back, and now you'll learn E7 and B7.

Length: 13:32 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 25

Walkin' The Blues

Take a moment to pat yourself on the back! You've covered a lot of ground so far! You've been playing real music now for some time, and in this lesson, we're going to learn a walking blues line. What is...

Length: 10:50 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 26

Moveable Chords

Chords that don't have any open strings in them AND chords whose open strings fit comfortably within the chord all called "moveable chords". Learn how to play a couple chords up the neck.

Length: 15:31 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 27

Moveable Pentatonic

In this lesson, you'll take another big step forward when it comes to working outside of the open position. You'll feel like doing some jamming too!

Length: 8:44 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 28

Syncopated Strumming

There are eight more strum patterns for you to dig into in this lesson. This time, they are a bit trickier. Follow along with the rhythm charts and take each example in chunks if needed. Combine them with...

Length: 19:33 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 29

And Now...Barre Chords!

You knew it was coming! This is the lesson where we stop dancing around full fingered moveable chords and dive head first into the most common barre chord shapes. They're not as bad as you may be fearing....

Length: 19:21 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 30

Advancing with Blues

As the musical examples continue to distance themselves from that stereotypical beginner sound, Dave works through this track with a simple, moving melody inside a blues progression.

Length: 14:47 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 31

Make It up as You Go

Some of you may have been waiting for this one! Now we'll focus on some improvisation...Some lead playing. It's not about knowing all the scales or trying to be fancy. It is about using what you know...

Length: 12:45 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 32

Like a Drummer

Learn how to create motion and percussive interest with your strumming. If you look at and listen to how drummers accent general grooves, there is a lot of insight there in to how to make your rhythm playing...

Length: 17:29 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 33

New Chords, New Strums

Learn B minor chord and continue developing your feel and grooviness when it comes to strumming. Be sure that you are combing over older lessons as well so that you can incorporate many ideas into what...

Length: 21:19 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 34

A Start to Alternate Picking

Develop precision in your picking. Learn when it's best to use alternate picking. Get comfortable with a few exercises and then apply the technique in a musical context!

Length: 20:26 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 35

A Little Bluegrass

We're going to continue with rhythm playing and 16th note strumming, but this time we're going to touch on some laid back bluegrass playing. This is another simple style of playing to add to your arsenal.

Length: 10:06 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 36

A Bit More on Barre Chords

Learn a few more barre chord forms and get more advanced with your strumming. As you've come to know and love with these lessons, you'll have a chance to learn a new song!

Length: 13:51 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 37

Here You Are

You've made it a long way if you've made it to the end of this series! In this final lesson of Mr. Isaacs beginner course, you'll spend some dedicated time moving both major and minor barre chord formations...

Length: 21:58 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only

About David Isaacs View Full Biography Nashville-based Dave Isaacs has made a name for himself as one of Music City's top guitar instructors, working with both professional and aspiring songwriters and artists at his Music Row teaching studio. He is also an instructor in the music department at Tennessee State University and is the coordinator and artistic director of the annual TSU Guitar Summit.

A seasoned performer as well, Dave has released eight independent CDs and gigs steadily as a solo artist, bandleader, and sideman. He continues to write, record, and perform as well as arranging and producing projects for other artists.

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