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Rhythm Guitar Lesson

Before You Start

This is the first lesson in learning to play bluegrass rhythm guitar. I hope to teach you good playing and practice methods right from the start. This set of lessons is geared to the beginning player, but many intermediate and advanced players can benefit from the techniques discussed here.

Good rhythm guitar playing depends on timing, timing and timing. The secret of good rhythm guitar playing is to play smooth, even, right-hand pick strokes or strums with perfect timing.

I'll put this another way. If your right hand is even and smooth, and your timing is right, you will be a great rhythm player, even though you are only playing the simplest chords with your left hand. But if your right hand strumming is off the beat even slightly, or your volume is uneven and your timing is unsteady, you will be a poor rhythm player even though your left hand is playing really complex chords and fancy fills and runs.

With rhythm guitar, timing is everything. Simple is good. Less is more.
With this in mind, these lesson will concentrate on right hand playing techniques first.

How to Hold a Flatpick

Almost all flatpickers (at least at first) hold the pick as if they were picking something up, like picking up a penny from a stack of coins. The pick is held between the thumb and the first finger. Well, you can't play well holding the pick this way. In the pictures below, I will show how to hold the flatpick so that your picking is always smooth, and always in control.

Hand position First, let your hand relax into a natural position. You'll notice that the fingers are slightly curled, and the thumb rests on the first finger. Notice that the thumb automatically meets the first joint of your first finger.

Rhythm Guitar Lesson Picture

With your hand in this natural relaxed position, place the flatpick on the side of your index finger. The pick should just extend slightly beyond your fingertip, and should be balanced on the side of your finger.

Holding a Flatpick Now bring your thumb down to meet your first finger, and grip the pick. In the picture you see that the pick is held firmly against the side of your first finger, where it can't slip or move, and your playing hand is in a relaxed, natural position. The thumb is exactly over the first joint of your finger. This pick grip is critical for good rhythm and lead guitar playing.

Now you can start playing, and we'll start with the basic bluegrass rhythm strum on the next page.

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