Rhythm simply means how your notes or strums are related in time. You have a few strums, you have some chunks of time in between them, those are our building blocks. You can create marvelously interesting music with some simple instructions on how to create rhythms, and that is what this section will address.
What you are going to learn to do is make up interesting rhythms as you go play. We call this "Free Strumming." Instead of learning one specific rhythm for this song, and another specific rhythm for that song, memorizing, memorizing, you will be able to make up changing rhythms as you go along. You will be improvising, and varying the rhythm within the song, eventually. That makes a rich, interesting sound, is easy to do, and develops your rhythm sense in a very useful way.
Note: COUNTING OUT LOUD IS VERY USEFUL WHILE LEARNING THIS. You have been using your voice for many years, but have only been strumming a Strumstick for a short time. Counting out loud gives you an audible reference for what you are trying to do. Counting in your thoughts does not help anywhere near as much as out loud. You want your ears involved, and your voice, so it is tangible. You DO NOT necessarily have to count while you strum; count BEFORE you strum to set the pace, and establish what you are trying to do.
1. The Steady Beat
Count out loud 1, 2, 3, 4 at a slow but steady pace. Count several times, and feel how steady and clocklike you can do it. Now strum down once for each count, trying to keep that same steady marchlike feeling. Don't do anything with the fretboard, just strum the open strings. Keep counting steadily (1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4), and strumming down at each beat you count.
Notice that you bring up the pick between counts? The count is called the "beat," and 1/2 way between beats, when your pick comes up, is the "off beat". Do this step until you get a little bored. Trust me, it is a foundation.
2. Adding Offbeats
We can count "1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +" as a way of counting the off beat (for the + sign, say the word " and", or maybe " an"). Count "1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +" a few times, while strumming down on the beats again. Notice that your hand moves down on the numbers, and moves up on the +'s. Don't interrupt the beat, just keep moving steadily, and notice the "+" is where you are moving up.
Next, instead of simply moving up on "+", actually strum up on the "+". You may have to twist UP a bit harder. Count "1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +" and strum down-up down-up down-up down-up. It will throw you off at first, stay with it. Count out loud first to get the rhythm in mind, then try counting and strumming together. The beat (1 2 3 4) stays the same tempo whether you do the åã+åäs or not. Do this for a little while.
Go back to the steady beat (1, 2, 3, 4 ) for a little while, then do the offbeats (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +) for a while. Notice that sounds are happening twice as fast when you add the offbeats.
3. Random Offbeats
Now we are ready to get fancy! Try this count, OUT LOUD, over and over, without strumming: "1, 2, 3 + 4 +" . (This rhythm sounds like "fee, fie, fiddle faddle). Then try strumming it: that would be, down, down, down-up down-up. If you find yourself stopping the steady down/up motion of your hand, go back to the steady beat for a while. THE BEAT GOES ON, the offbeats go in between.
Let's try another one - how about 1+2 3 4 ("fiddle fee, fie foe) down-up, down, down, down. Try that a while. You can add upstrums after ANY downstrum, like 1 + 2 + 3 4, or 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +, or 1 2 3 4+, etc. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO memorize any of these rhythms. Simply get used to strumming a beat and adding upstrums into it, anywhere you happen to. Practice all of this for a while, before going to the next step.
4. Leaving Out Beats
We are going to leave out a downstrum (producing an empty space). The beat for that "missing" downstrum will still be there, there will just not be any noise at that beat.
Do this by strumming down without hitting the strings - a "fake" downstrum (it is much easier to do a fake downstrum than it is to do nothing and wait for the next beat). That way your steady succession of down motions in not interrupted.
This would count like, for example, "1, 2 , fake, 4". Say "space" or "fake" where the missing beat is. "1, 2, fake, 4."
After counting that out loud a few times, strum "down, down, fake, down". Remember, "fake" is a down motion that does not hit the strings. We do that for two reasons. One is, it marks the time of the missing beat so you don't loose the beat. The other reason is, if you make a mistake and hit the strings, so what. It will still sound fine, you just wonåât have the empty beat you were trying to make.
Try that until it's smooth. Now, count out loud "1, fake, 3, 4 " several times, then strum "down, fake, down, down". To add an empty space, just do a fake!
5. Altogether Now!
Now, count out loud "1 space 3 4 +" several times, then strum "down, fake, down, down-up". We added one offbeat (upstrum) at the very end.
When you get comfortable with a rhythm, try moving your left hand around while you strum. If you are playing a song, adding offbeats will make it more interesting, and add a background rhythm. The bottom line is, you can add any upstrums you want to, and leave out any downstrums you want to. Return to the steady beat from time to time, it "clears the air" for whatever you will do next.
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