Guitar skills: Improve your timing with this quick and easy lesson

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Guitar skills: Getting into the groove is an integral part of guitar playing, and that's our focus for today's lesson. 

Work on strumming different subdivisions and feels, and expand your rhythmic potential by adding syncopation to your playing.

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Eighth note syncopation

A bar of eighth notes is counted ‘1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &’ evenly. Each of these syllables represents an event within the bar.

Each eighth note can either be a note, a chord or a rest. This Motown-style part goes: rest, chord, chord, rest, rest, chord, rest, chord. The chords are most often landing on the up beats, which means it is ‘syncopated’.

16th note syncopation

Sixteenth notes are twice as fast as eighth notes. Even though this example is exactly the same tempo as the previous one, there are twice the amount of ‘note events’.

You can count 16th notes: ‘1 e & a, 2 e & a, 3 e & a, 4 e & a’. Lock in your strumming hand so it is moving in constant down and up strokes. Even when there is a rest, keep your hand moving to stay in the groove.

Adding 32nd notes

Twice the speed of 16th notes are 32nd notes, however, playing 32 notes per bar can be a little too much. It is more common to add occasional 32nd notes within a 16th-note rhythm, like you can find here with this Tom Morello-inspired scratching riff.

The 32nd notes are always grouped in pairs and followed by a 16th note so that you can play them with a quick ‘down up down’. Keeping your wrist loose and the pick attack light is essential when playing this.


Triplet rhythms have three notes per beat and are counted: ‘1 & a, 2 & a, 3 & a, 4 & a’. Strum this Dave Grohl-style part with alternate down and up strokes. Notice that the first downbeat lands with a downstroke but the 2nd downbeat starts with an upstroke. Notice that the emphasis of your down and up strokes alternates.

Shuffle feel

This bluesy riff is played with a shuffle feel. Rather than the eighth notes being straight the downbeats should be twice as long as the upbeats. See this as triplets taking out the middle note leaving just the first and third notes.

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