Using Syncopation (Guitar Lesson)

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Jim Deeming

Using Syncopation

Jim Deeming explains how to integrate basic syncopation into your rhythm playing.

Taught by Jim Deeming in Fingerstyle Guitar seriesLength: 17:00Difficulty: 3.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (00:47) Introduction Music Jim kicks off lesson 4 of this series with an excellent fingerstyle arrangement.
Chapter 2: (11:26) Fingerstyle and Syncopation In previous lessons, Jim taught you how to play an alternating bass pattern using the thumb. He expanded on this concept by adding plucked chords to the bass pattern. Jim demonstrated how to place the plucked chords on various downbeats. Take this time to review each of the rhythmic patterns he discussed in past lessons. In the current lesson, Jim takes these basic concepts one step further. If you have not mastered the patterns from past lessons, you will have a very hard time with the material presented in this lesson.

If you only pluck chords on the downbeats, your rhythmic playing will begin to sound quite stale rather quickly. For this reason, you must learn how to apply plucked chords to the upbeats of an alternating bass pattern.

Like Jim mentions, the term "syncopation" can be loosely attached to this idea. However, the examples taught in this lesson do not adhere to a strict definition of syncopation. Jim discusses this idea in the beginning of this scene. This is a very important concept to keep in mind. Here is a definition of syncopation taken from The New Harvard Dictionary of Music: "Syncopation. A momentary contradiction of the prevailing meter or pulse. This may take the form of a temporary transformation of the fundamental character of the meter, e.g., from duple to triple or from 3/4 to 3/2, or it may be simply the contradiction of the regular succession of strong and weak beats within a measure or a group of measures whose metrical context nevertheless remains clearly defined by some part of the musical texture that does not itself participate in the syncopation." When people refer to syncopation, they most often are referring to the second part of this definition.

Plucking chords on the up beats while playing an alternating bass line on the down beats requires a great deal of mental and physical coordination. Be very patient with the exercises taught in this lesson. Play them as slowly as you possibly can while still maintaining a steady rhythmic pulse.

Rhythmic Pattern No. 1

Note: Tablature and notation of all the musical examples presented in this lesson will be posted in the near future under the "Supplemental Content" tab.

Here is a beat-by-beat breakdown of the first rhythmic pattern that Jim demonstrates:

Beat 1: root note (bass)
Beat 2: pluck chord
Beat 3 (downbeat): fifth of chord (bass)
Beat 3 (upbeat): pluck chord
Beat 4: third of chord (bass)

Essentially, you are plucking the chord on the up beat or "and" of beat 3 instead of plucking the chord on beat 4. All of the bass notes in this pattern should be palm-muted in order to diminish their volume and create a tonal contrast between the bass line and chordal accompaniment. Be sure that you practice each rhythmic pattern taught in this lesson with a variety of chord shapes.

When these examples are played at a slow tempo, the effect of the up beat chord is not quite apparent. However, when you speed the tempo up, the effect of this metric displacement is quite obvious.

Rhythmic Pattern No. 2

Here is a beat-by-beat breakdown of this pattern:

Beat 1: root note (bass) + plucked chord
Beat 2 (downbeat): third of chord (bass)
Beat 2 (upbeat): plucked chord
Beat 3: fifth of chord (bass)
Beat 4: third of chord (bass)

Rhythmic Pattern No. 3

Beat 1 (downbeat): root note (bass)
Beat 1 (upbeat): plucked chord
Beat 2: third of chord (bass)
Beat 3: fifth of chord (bass) + plucked chord
Beat 4: third of chord (bass)

Chapter 3: (04:55) Syncopation with Hammer-ons and Pull-offs In this scene, Jim demonstrates how hammer-ons can be applied to the rhythmic patterns you learned in the last scene. He uses these hammer-on concepts in the context of a I IV V progression in the key of A. Essentially, when each chord is plucked, the third of the chord is embellished by a grace note hammer-on. A grace note is played so rapidly that it is not counted.

Take a look at the first chord in the progression, A. The third of this chord is C#. You can embellish this note with either the open B string or the C at the first fret. It is very common to embellish a major third by hammering on from the minor third. This creates a very bluesy sound.

The second chord in the progression is D. Embellish the third of this chord by hammering from the open E string. It is not practical to embellish this chord with a hammer-on from the minor third from a physical standpoint. The final chord is E. Embellish the third by hammering from the open G string.

Note: Notation and tablature of this exercise will be posted in "Supplemental Content" in the near future.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

JT123JT123 replied

Hi Jim, I am really enjoying your lesson plan. Happy TG.

NneretinNneretin replied

thanks so much for your thoughtful help here. was trying to learn an etta baker song and realized that I actually needed to learn the alternate picking from the beginning.

aezpegasusaezpegasus replied

Really fun to learn a new technique for my playing skills. Really appreciated these lessons!

BigSkyGuyBigSkyGuy replied

You have a great calm encouraging teaching style. In my youth I played a few strumming folk songs. I'm 66 and decided to get a guitar and learn finger style. Thanks to your articulate teaching style I'm having a great time and am progressing nicely. Jam play is a fabulous learning tool!

RobZohnRobZohn replied

Jim, Thanks for the course. After several attempts over the years to get use to using a thumb pick I finnaly am on my way!

GravelRoadGravelRoad replied

Hey Jim. I just started Jamplay and this is my first series. Great instruction so far - I'm really enjoying your lessons. Thx

pauldarcherpauldarcher replied

Hi Very good! Comment: I would like to see in supplemental all versions of chords and their patterns, not just selected chords. Would be very useful

Wood55Wood55 replied

just looking at the date of the comments here and man where have I been for so long, wanted to learn this style for so long and finally found the best teacher/method. thanks Jim

rexdogrexdog replied

No suitable players found what does this mean. I can't get into my lesson

august44august44 replied

I noticed that when playing the D chord your thumb is not going through the same motion, I'm not sure about right hand fingering.

Wood55Wood55 replied

what I understand from the lesson when doing the D & F chord shift your hand position down one string so that you are only plucking 2 strings (the E & B) and thumb works the D, G, A, G strings for bass

blackgretschblackgretsch replied

Good Lesson JIm

orangeloverorangelover replied

Loving learning from Jim. Kudos!

vino7petervino7peter replied

Your better than Jim Bean

roadbikerroadbiker replied

What is that little black thing on the top of your guitar Jim? Thanx, Jim

MartinoilsMartinoils replied

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genecamachogenecamacho replied

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bruthabruthabruthabrutha replied

great teacher lv never be tort .u make it a pleasure to learn and iv found the style i m looking 4 anyway thanks brother brett from new zealand

unclefuzzy6unclefuzzy6 replied

Jim, you're the best! Fuzzy.

hamster892hamster892 replied

I really liked this lesson. It was some easy stuff that make playing sound a lot better and made it a lot more fun. Can't wait to master these techniques and move on to the next skill.

cinessacinessa replied

I've been working with different teachers here, and boy do I learn much more, and much faster with you. My guitar playing's getting better and I have more interest in working harder and practicing because I'm getting somewhere. I impressed myself now, and love to here all the different sounds! Thank you!!!

cinessacinessa replied

I've been working with different teachers here, and boy do I learn much more, and much faster with you. My guitar playing's getting better and I have more interest in working harder and practicing because I'm getting somewhere. I impressed myself now, and love to here all the different sounds! Thank you!!!

sherchanrock72sherchanrock72 replied

Jim techniques are the best so far i have known.

joeyoungjoeyoung replied

Hi Jim, I have been playing for about 15 years on and off I have played in bands mainly backing and singing. Since christmas I have played so much more with your lessons they are well designed and your teaching method is keeping me interested, thanks. You just played a piece of bogangles do you have a lesson on this ? regards Joe

johnny4265johnny4265 replied

I heard so many cool possibilities in this lesson. I am going to spend a lot of time with the different combinations before moving to the next lesson. Your lessons and teaching ability are better than any I have seen on the web anywhere. Thanks.

onceupononceupon replied

Hi Jim. I'm confused as to how to apply most of the alternating picking patterns and syncopation to the D chord. (It only seems more viable to do it at the barred D on the 5th fret.)

joseefjoseef replied

Really really really loved this lesson; not as hard as I thought it would're a great teacher Jim, thank you.

joseefjoseef replied

The only thing missing is the tabs for the two other patterns (only one is shown) in the C am F G C progression...would make it easier to practice than trying to remember the patterns when practicing.

goosiegoosie replied

Fantastic lesson, this is exactly what I have been looking for. You are a wonderful teacher, and I am one happy student!!!!

clarke1966clarke1966 replied

Jim, I always place my right ring finger and pinky on the soundboard in order to stabilize my picking fingers, but I'm afraid that I'm forming a bad habit. Do you think this is okay, or should I try to change my style?

clarke1966clarke1966 replied

Good lesson Jim, it's amazing what a small complexity like that can add to a song.

dlaskowskidlaskowski replied

great lesson

squirillitzsquirillitz replied

many thanks Jim. It's beautifull improve fingerpicking with your lessons

wbutlerwbutler replied

I travis pick as a finger style. by learning other styles am i just confusing myself (my default) when I play. do you play one style or do you play several?

jvcroizatjvcroizat replied

Been playing a long time and always wanted to get better at fingerstyle. Your lessons are very helpful Thanks !!!

sugruesugrue replied

The hammer ons are much easier than I thought and sound so cool.

malcmalc replied

thanks jim great lesson i just have to get the tempo up a few notches

joe1950joe1950 replied

Jim.....Thanks so much for your lessons.....This is 'exactly' what I wanted to learn and you are doing a wonderful job of teaching. I remember that once Chet Atkins was asked how he was doing the thumb patter. After showing the thumb pattern....He said ...."Just work on that for a couple of years".... Thanks again, Joe

dash rendardash rendar replied

Sounds like the Man has come around. :) Thanks so much. This has really livened up my playing.

jefrankjefrank replied

Jim, thanks so much for the great lesson! Truly a pleasure, and lots to work on.

Jim.DeemingJim.Deeming replied

I prefer the term "independence" because it conveys the idea the thumb is acting on its own. "Coordination" makes it sound like some kind of trick, or difficult thing. Much as I want my audience to think so, really it isn't. It's muscle memory born of hundreds of thousands of repetitions. When I want to hear a sound, my thumb makes it for me and I don't have to think about how (unless teaching it to someone else). Just like you don't have to think through each complexity of riding your bicycle. Your mind just say, "I want to go over there" and your bicycle takes you there. But, when you first started, you rode very slowly and fell down a lot. There's no shortcut for falling off your thumb a few dozen hundred times at the beginning. Hang in there!

kenstylekenstyle replied

i have a question about "true thumb independence." How much is it really thumb independence and how much is it super-coordination?

toolfan88toolfan88 replied

Jim great lesson! i love it. iv been playing for a long time and picked up alot of stuff!

Fingerstyle Guitar

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Fingerstyle guitar allows you to play the bass, harmony, and melody of a song all within the context of a single guitar part.

Intro to FingerstyleLesson 1

Intro to Fingerstyle

This lesson serves as an introduction for Fingerstyle Guitar with Jim Deeming. Come on in and get started!

Length: 24:32 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Basic FingerstyleLesson 2

Basic Fingerstyle

Jim demonstrates a basic fingerstyle exercise that you can use with any of the chords you know.

Length: 16:05 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
More Picking PatternsLesson 3

More Picking Patterns

Jim expands on lesson 2 and teaches several different picking patterns. He also covers the basics of muting.

Length: 14:23 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Using SyncopationLesson 4

Using Syncopation

Jim Deeming explains how to integrate basic syncopation into your rhythm playing.

Length: 17:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Picking Melody NotesLesson 5

Picking Melody Notes

This lesson is all about picking melody notes. Fingerstyle guitar really gets interesting when you combine bass, harmony, and melody.

Length: 33:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Aura LeeLesson 6

Aura Lee

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle version of the classic Civil War era song "Aura Lee."

Length: 43:23 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Chet Atkins StyleLesson 7

Chet Atkins Style

Jim explains key components of Chet Atkins' guitar style.

Length: 18:12 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
3/4 Time and a SongLesson 8

3/4 Time and a Song

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "Bicycle Built for Two." He uses this piece as an example of 3/4 or waltz timing.

Length: 37:34 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Two Songs at OnceLesson 9

Two Songs at Once

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "Yankee Doodle" and "Dixie." Both songs are played simultaneously!

Length: 30:03 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Open G TuningLesson 10

Open G Tuning

Jim Deeming teaches the basics of open G tuning. He also teaches a song entitled "Spanish Fandango" to show how the tuning can be used.

Length: 39:58 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Carter Family StyleLesson 11

Carter Family Style

Jim Deeming introduces a playing style called "Carter Family Style." The technique is also referred to as "Frailing" or "Clawhammer" style.

Length: 13:07 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
DADGAD TuningLesson 12


Jim Deeming teaches the many wonders of DADGAD tuning.

Length: 32:25 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Thumb Independence Lesson 13

Thumb Independence

Jim Deeming tackles the topic of thumb independence.

Length: 31:51 Difficulty: 1.5 FREE
The JamPlay SongLesson 14

The JamPlay Song

Jim Deeming teaches a more advanced version of the aptly named "JamPlay Song."

Length: 7:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
The Wayfaring StrangerLesson 15

The Wayfaring Stranger

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle version of the classic song "The Wayfaring Stranger."

Length: 31:27 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
The Official Thumbpick GuideLesson 16

The Official Thumbpick Guide

Jim Deeming answers one of the most common fingerstyle questions, "which thumbpick should I use?"

Length: 13:03 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Fingernail GuideLesson 17

Fingernail Guide

Jim Deeming presents his thoughts on how to properly grow and groom your fingernails.

Length: 7:07 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
The EntertainerLesson 18

The Entertainer

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "The Entertainer," a classic piano song ported over to the guitar.

Length: 20:40 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle SongsLesson 19

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs

Jim Deeming teaches the skills necessary to transform any song into a solo fingerstyle masterpiece.

Length: 37:04 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 2Lesson 20

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 2

Jim talks more about arranging fingerstyle songs. This time around he discusses harmonization and chord inversions.

Length: 13:35 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 3Lesson 21

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 3

Jim Deeming demonstrates alternate ways to play the CAGED chords that can be very useful when playing melody and accompaniment simultaneously.

Length: 30:38 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 4Lesson 22

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 4

In this lesson Jim Deeming talks about a simple way to add harmony notes to the melody section of fingerstyle songs. This technique is quite simple and can add a whole new dimension to your playing.

Length: 5:51 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Jim Deeming

About Jim Deeming View Full Biography Jim Deeming got his first guitar when he was only six years old. His Dad was taking fingerpicking lessons, and Jim wanted to be just like him. The Mel Bay books didn't last very long before he strapped on a thumb pick and added the Chet part to Red River Valley so it sounded better.

Most of Jim's early learning was by ear. With unlimited access to his Dad's collection of Chet Atkins albums, he spent countless hours decoding his favorite songs. They were never "right" until they sounded just like Chet. Around the age of 12, Jim heard Jerry Reed for the first time and just knew he had to be able to make that "Alabama Wild Man" sound. The styles of Chet & Jerry always have been a big influence on his playing.

More recently he has pursued arrangements by Tommy Emmanuel and Doyle Dykes, in addition to creating some of his own and writing originals.

Jim has performed in front of a variety of audiences, including concerts, competitions, weddings and the like, but playing at church has always been a mainstay. Whether playing in worship bands or guitar solos, gospel music is deep in his roots and is also the driving theme behind his debut CD release, titled "First Fruits".

Jim has been playing for about 38 years. He also has taught private lessons in the past but believes is an exciting and better venue with many advantages over the traditional method of weekly 30 minute sessions.

Jim lives in Berthoud, Colorado with his wife, Linda, and their four children. Although he still has a "day job", he is actively performing and is already back in the studio working on the next CD. If you wonder how he finds time, look no further than the back seat of his truck where he keeps a "travel guitar" to take advantage of any practice or song-writing opportunities he can get.

The opening song you hear in Jim's introductory JamPlay video is called, "A Pick In My Pocket". It's an original tune, written in memory of Jim's father who told him early on he should always keep a pick in his pocket in case he ever met Chet Atkins and got the chance to play for him. That song is slated to be the title track for his next CD, which will feature several more originals plus some of his favorite covers of Chet and Jerry arrangements.

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