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How to use the Various Rhythm Elements

Each thing that you do that affects the rhythm is a rhythm Element...downstrums, upstrums, hammering on, sliding, all of these are things that create the rhythm that you ultimately hear. We have looked at quite a number of different rhythm elements; how do you use them in your Strumstick playing? Here is a typical sequence that you could apply to anything that you play, a song, a little melody that you make up just to fool around with, or even random melodies that you make up as you go along. This is not a rule, just a sequence to help you think about and practice how to use these things. I am assuming that you have practiced and worked with each of these elements by themselves to get them comfortable before you try putting them together here.

1. Play your melody, or phrase, or song repeatedly (left hand).

2. Strum a steady beat at first, and accent it a little bit on the 1 beat.

3. Add in a few upstrums; the more you add in the “busier” it will feel, you can decide whether you want it to feel relaxed or have more energy to it as you go along. The way the melody goes may dictate where you add upstrums somewhat...if the same note is repeated several times, that may be a good place to liven things up. If the melody has a bunch of different notes in a row, one beat for each note, it might be better to lay off the upstrums there, it will already feel busy with all the notes changing.

4. If it sounds good to do so, leave out a down strum now and then, perhaps at some dramatic point in the song.

5. Keep your accenting going as you do the various free strumming things, it is easy to drop that out as you start paying attention to other things. The accenting does not have to be dramatic; just a little emphasis on that 1 beat is enough to create a pulse, and some dimension to the rhythm. You can also do accenting and “super accenting;” (a really extra loud accent for a real “Boom” effect). If you do a super accent, you can also deliberately “roll” the pick across the strings for that 1 beat (slowing the picks motion so the sound is a little bumpier for that one strum). Think about the sound of rolling your tongue for 1 strum.

6. Try adding a cut, followed immediately a single note chop someplace, probably for several notes in a row. Do the cut by letting up on a string right after you strum it. Do the chop by just leaving that finger lightly touching that string for a strum or two.
Exercise: squeeze 1st string 2nd fret. Strum 1 2+ 3 4+ ( down downup down downup). Release pressure on the string right after “1” but keep touching it, and finish the strumming pattern with that note cut off (that makes a little chop, not too dramatic because only 1 string is being dampened). Then squeeze in time for the next “1” beat and repeat. If you get that going, it feel like that 2nd fret note appears at every 1 beat against the background rhythm. Very dimensional!

7. If you have a series of different notes in a row, try Cutting each of them. Even though the cut stops the note from sounding, the effect is to make that note stand out from the rest of what is happening. When you do a series of notes like that it has a real “shift” effect on the mood.

8. If you have muting working, try muting the strings with the side of your strumming hand as you keep strumming (this is tricky and takes practice..work on it by itself and be patient). You could play a whole section like this for a big mood shift, or just a few notes. Try playing the first phrase of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” regularly, and then muted to see what a change can happen.

9. If there are places in the melody where a note is followed by another 1 or 2 frets up from it, or from an open note to a 1st or 2nd fret note, try a hammer on at that spot. This usually shifts the second note earlier or later by a half beat, that’s OK, it makes a rhythmic variation in the tune. Ditto for sliding, or pulling off.
Exercise: If the first notes for Mary Had A Little Lamb go:

2 1 0 1 2 2 2
Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb .... you could change that to:

2 1 0 0~1 2 2 2
Ma-ry had a-a lit-tle lamb..... the 0~1 means do a hammer on there, and it gives an extra strum to the open (0) note and moves the 1st fret note a half beat later.

You also could have done:

2 1 0 1 1~2 2 2
Ma-ry had a li--i--ttle lamb.... This holds the 1st fret note on “a” an extra beat at the beginning of “little” and shifts the 2nd fret note a half beat later. Remember the hammer on, pull off, or slide is a half beat trick; it starts on the down strum, the extra note happens on the offbeat (+). You can sometimes get away with a 1 beat hammer on or pulloff, but it is usually a half beat .

We’ve just covered 9 ways to add these various rhythm elements into whatever you happen to be playing. This does not mean that you will always use all of them. Think of them like spices, you add them to create zest in your cooking, but you usually do not use all the spices in your spice rack at the same time. It is going to take some practice to get these ‘fluid” and right at your fingertips. I recommend using just one or two elements per song so you can practice them while you are learning.


Strumstick®: Using Rhythm Elements together