5 essential rhythm guitar styles
When it comes to rhythm guitar, staying in time is everything - so you need to know how the rhythm you are trying to play should sound. Each of these examples are in ‘4/4’ time.
Don’t worry about the theory - 4/4 just means you can count to four to stay in time with the music. Mastering our examples boils down to knowing where the ‘between the numbers’ rhythms fall. That means adapting the basic ‘1 2 3 4’ count to vocalise each rhythm.
1. Shuffling along
Essential blues-style riffing
Although many describe this rhythm as a cliché, the humble ‘blues shuffle’ is perhaps the most essential guitar riff of them all, and is staple jam session fodder. It’s also pretty easy. Use your first finger for the 2nd fret notes and your third finger for the 4th fret.
When you reach the 5th fret either use your fourth finger or slide up with your third finger - it’s up to you. We’ve used ‘down up’-style picking but use all downstrokes if you find it easier.
Shuffling along tab (right-click to download)
2. Galloping onward
From Zeppelin to Maiden to Metallica
The ‘gallop’ is best known as a heavy metal-style riff popularised by bands such as Iron Maiden and Metallica.
You can think of it as a modified blues shuffle, sped up and straightened out for a more aggressive feel. It boils down to one rhythm, played on the guitar as: down, down-up.
When repeated there’s a hypnotic groove. Go on - clap a galloping horse rhythm and you’ll see what we mean! Our riff runs through the gallop three times then lands on a powerchord.
Galloping onward tab (right-click to download)
3. Ska punk skank
Upstrokes all the way
Characterised by offbeat chord stabs and a ‘walking’ bassline, ska originated in Jamaica and was commercialised in the 80s and 90s by bands such as The Specials, Madness, Rancid and Sublime.
Our example showcases the all-important ‘skank’ guitar groove. We’ve deliberately used chords without any open strings to allow you to silence the strings between each chord simply by releasing pressure. Play every chord with an upstroke to get the right feel.
Ska punk skank tab (right-click to download)
4. Reggae skank
Slower and groovier than ska
With their roots in ska, both reggae and rocksteady styles take the skank groove and slow it down to give more space in the music.
In our riff we’ve mixed up the ‘double-hit’ skank (two strums on each chord) of Bob Marley’s Trenchtown Rock with the more usual ‘single hit’ approach of tracks like Buffalo Soldier and Could You Be Loved.
The spacing of the chords in the notation should help you pick up on the rhythm. Play down-up for the double hit, then down for the single hit.
Reggae skank tab (right-click to download)
5. The 'three three two'
A rhythm for the Millennials
This rhythm is most associated with modern rock and pop-rock. Muse used it in their 1999 song Uno and Dave Grohl played it in Foo Fighters’ Best Of You, but the best known example is Coldplay’s Clocks.
It’s a simple rhythm, comprising just eight downstrokes. You just have to emphasise the first, fourth and seventh notes. Count ‘1 & a 2 & a 3 &’ to get a feel for it. If you find the barre chords a challenge, just use open shapes instead.
The ‘three three two’ tab (right-click to download)