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How To Play Tight Rhythm Guitar Like A Master

How can you become an excellent rhythm guitarist? Do you need to go out and learn as many guitar riffs as possible? Do you need to jam with others? Do you need to assign more time in your practice ses...

How can you become an excellent rhythm guitarist? Do you need to go out and learn as many guitar riffs as possible? Do you need to jam with others? Do you need to assign more time in your practice sessions to work with a metronome? The answer to all these questions is: NO.

Excellent rhythm guitar skills come from:

-Learning how to hear the way things should sound as you practice.

-Knowing how to spot poor rhythm guitar playing errors and change them.

This video demonstrates how to fix a very frequent rhythm guitar playing mistake:

Watch the video to the end to make the rest of this article easier to understand!

Question: “Tom Hess, how does working to improve my ear help my rhythm guitar playing? Isn’t ear training mainly used for identifying intervals, harmonies and the notes of scales?”

Answer: Ear training involves a lot of things. These things include training yourself to be able to identify chords, scale patterns and intervals, but not exclusively. Identifying rhythms (note values) is also part of ear training. Knowing how to identify flaws in rhythm guitar playing is another area. There are many other areas as well (including areas specific to lead guitar).

How good are you at quickly spotting rhythm guitar playing flaws? Take this free rhythm guitar playing assessment and see.

Stay away from these common rhythm guitar playing mistakes:

Rhythm Guitar Mistake Category #1: Palm Muting Mistakes

Mistake #1: Palm Muting Everything

When you palm mute everything, every note feels the same and it becomes difficult to add emphasis to any particular note. This makes your rhythm guitar playing sound too similar and it eventually becomes dull.

Palm muting is excellent for creating contrast between notes/chords when used on some notes but not others. When used this way, the unmuted notes become the center of attention. Muting notes also gives the player more control and a chance to add a percussive sound to the strings.

Check out the video (starting at 0:09) to see the difference between good and poor palm muting.

Mistake #2: Inconsistent Palm Muting

There are two variations of inconsistent palm muting:

-1: Arbitrarily switching which notes are muted. Listen to an example. This example has the first riff played with consistent muting and the next with inconsistent muting.

-2: Arbitrarily varying how heavy the palm muting is played. Listen to an example. This example has the first power chord played with consistent muting and the next with inconsistent muting. Sometimes the muting is just right, sometimes it is too soft and in other instances too heavy.

Both versions of inconsistent palm muting generally happen at the same time.

Note: Inconsistent palm muting is NOT the same as playing with intention. The former is just a mistake. The latter is done with the purpose of creating variation in the rhythm of the notes.

Question: “Tom Hess, can you truly understand the difference between arbitrarily inconsistent palm muting and palm muting that is varied on purpose? Isn’t that just your opinion?”

Answer: It’s actually very easy to identify inconsistent palm muting. One can do this by noticing various telltale signs:

-Inconsistent palm muting usually happens during times within a riff that don’t make sense. Example: muting on a downbeat and leaving the rest of the riff unmuted.

-Usually there is a lot of string noise plus poor articulation that accompanies inconsistent muting.

-Inconsistent palm muting has no strict pattern to it. This comes off as sounding unintentional.

A great guitar teacher can easily identify flaws in your rhythm guitar playing and give you honest feedback on how to improve it.

Rhythm Guitar Mistakes Category #2: Timing Mistakes

Common rhythm guitar timing mistakes include:

1. Playing too much ahead of the beat. This means your notes are played before the beat of the drum/metronome.

2. Playing too much behind the beat. This means your notes are played ahead of the beat of the drum/metronome.

Your main objective is to play exactly on the beat (right on top of the metronome/drum beat).

Hear an audio example of rhythm guitar played in time.

Hear an audio example of rhythm guitar played ahead of the beat.

Hear an audio example of rhythm guitar played behind the beat.

Taking rhythm guitar lessons helps you gain perfect timing fast.

As your ears improve, using this free rhythm guitar playing assessment will help you measure your progress.

Rhythm Guitar Mistakes Category #3: Picking Articulation Errors

Excellent picking articulation will make it very easy to hear individual notes within guitar riffs. Poor picking articulation causes the notes to run together.

Great rhythm guitar articulation is NOT a product of:

Inconsistent Pick Attack – playing some notes loud and others very soft (unintentionally). This inconsistency makes it a struggle to articulate the notes clearly.

A Lack Of Perfect Two Hand Synchronization – your picking and fretting hands are out of time with each other. When you play fast, a lack of solid two-hand synchronization becomes especially obvious. This makes it tough to play with articulation.

Weak Pick Attack – picking notes very lightly.

Two-hand synchronization mistakes are caused by a foundation of poor guitar technique and poor practicing habits. This online resource shows how to improve your lead guitar solos and play guitar fast.

How To Improve Your Rhythm Guitar Playing Right Now:

1. Record yourself practicing rhythm guitar playing on a consistent basis and pay close attention to your recordings. This trains you to see the weaknesses within your playing.

2. Write down the specific mistakes in your playing that you want to get rid of. This way you will always know what you need to work on next and can avoid feeling overwhelmed.

3. Focus on the mistakes you want to fix. You can do this using two approaches:

Work on fixing the issue in isolation from everything else. This approach is most effective when used to fix smaller problems.


Approach the issue by rotating your focus among several problems within the same practice session. For instance: play a guitar riff over and over for 1 minute focusing on palm muting only. Then play it for 1 minute while focusing on playing in perfect time. Next, focus on articulation for 1 minute. Repeat this circuit for a total of 15 minutes. This will help you to develop your skills in the long term.

4. Work with a guitar teacher who will give you expert feedback on your playing so you can improve your skills much faster.

This free rhythm guitar playing assessment will help you master rhythm guitar playing fast.

Source: Free Articles from


About The Author:
Tom Hess is a professional touring musician, recording artist and online guitar teacher who teaches guitarists from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. On his website,, you can get additional free tips about guitar playing, guitar playing resources, mini courses and surveys.

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