Creating your own rhythm and chord strumming patterns


TIME TO COMPLETE: 10 minutes

WHAT YOU NEED: Paper and pen, Blank rhythm printout



Having a solid understanding of rhythm is crucial for every guitarist. Playing in time and knowing how to count the beat will help you play along with other musicians as well as help you sound better. It can be pretty obvious when a guitarist is playing out of time so this lesson will help you learn to think about rhythm more and write out your own rhythm patterns. The patterns you write can be played as strumming patterns with chord progressions or they can be used to come up with ideas for riffs or melodies. As you will see, learning to come up with rhythm patterns will help you in other areas of guitar. Take your time with this lesson, download and print the blank rhythm sheet then have a go making your own rhythm patterns.


For this lesson you don’t need to have anything but a piece of paper and a pen. This exercise will help you think about how the beats in a bar can be divided into eighth notes, sixteenth notes, triplets etc. The great thing is that after you write down some patterns, you can try them out with guitar chords and use the patterns in songs.
To write down basic strumming patterns, you need to know the basics of standard notation. You don’t need to know any notes – only the difference between the note types (eg: quarter note, eighth, sixteenth). Below is a diagram labeling the different types of note durations you can use.

As well as the symbols for notes, you can also add rests to your rhythms. The different symbols for rests are shown below. Think about rests as the the opposite of a note, in other words, instead of playing something when you see the note, you don’t play anything when you see a rest.

To write down your rhythm patterns, take a piece of paper and draw a single horizontal line across the page. Split the line up into two halves as shown below:

The short vertical lines represent the bar lines. You should also write down the time signature for the rhythm so you will always know how many beats are in the bar. You can see above that the left of the line has the time signature: 4/4. This way we know the piece will have four beats in every bar.
So now we have two bars ready in 4/4 time for any rhythm you write down. Below is an example of two different rhythms across the two bars. Write every single note on the line. After all, we are simply marking out the rhythm so we don’t need to worry about chord names or notes.

Start out writing down simple patterns that mainly use one and two beat notes. In the example above, the first bar has four one beat notes and the second bar has two one beat notes then a two beat note. Have a go clapping out the rhythm while counting out loud: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. You should have clapped 4 times in sync with the first four numbers in the first bar then continued by clapping three times and pausing on the very last count (4). If you have trouble understanding this, check out the lesson on playing with a metronome here.

Notice that the 2 beat note has a space to the right of the symbol. This is to remind us that the note lasts for two beats. When writing your own patterns, try to adjust the spacing so the rhythm looks like how it should sound. In other words, notes that last a long time have space after them and short notes should be fairly close together.
When writing down rhythm patterns, keep these points in mind:

  1. Start your patterns simple then slowly work your way to more complicated patterns.
  2. Always check and make sure all the notes add up to the write number of beats in a bar (eg: 4 beats in 4/4 time).
  3. Once you feel comfortable coming up with complicated patterns, have a go adding in rests to your patterns.
  4. Try different tempos so you learn to feel comfortable counting both fast and slow.
  5. Have a go writing a rhythm down then try clapping it out.
  6. Have a go clapping out a rhythm then figure out how to write it down (opposite of 5).
  7. Come up with patterns in 4/4, 3/4, 6/8, or any other time you can figure out.
  8. Remember to space out the notes appropriately (eg: Large space to the right of a 2 beat note)



Once you get used to coming up with different patterns and feel comfortable clapping out the rhythm without getting confused you can start to apply this skill in more interesting ways. There are many things you can do when you can easily come up with rhythm patterns. Below is a short list to give you an idea some things you can do when applying this skill:

  1. Write strumming patterns for chord progressions
  2. Transcribe strumming patterns from songs by ear
  3. Learn to play along with a drummer
  4. Give drummers ideas for beats and patterns
  5. Add an interesting rhythm to your licks and melodies
  6. Write riffs that are focused on a rhythm pattern

As you can see this skill can be applied in so many ways. The six ideas above only scratch the surface with what you can do once you understand rhythm. So print off the blank rhythm sheet here and get started coming up with your own patterns. Print off multiple copies so you can practice writing rhythm patterns wherever you go. No need to have a guitar with you, only a pen and paper. The great thing with this exercise is that it’s simple: if you can count to four you will have no trouble coming up with interesting rhythms.