7 Essential Rhythm Guitar Techniques

Strumming a chord sounds pretty good, but these rhythm guitar techniques truly bring a song to life! Guitar teacher Jerry W. shares the tricks you’ll need to have up your sleeve…

Rhythm guitar is both easy to learn and hard to master. It is relatively easy to learn the open chords and strum along with someone as they sing. But what if you want to take your playing to the next level? What are some of the essential techniques that will help you become a more complete rhythm guitarist? Let me suggest seven key skills that will help you excel at your craft.

Power Chords

Power chords are a great way to add color to your playing and, even better, they are simple to learn. Because of their unique “open” sound they work well with distortion and are very common in many styles of popular music. Below are the two most common movable power chords.

Palm Muting

Muting the strings give the guitar a completely different sound. It muffles the tone and shortens the duration of the pitch. To mute the guitar simply place the side of your picking hand lightly against the strings very close to the bridge. The trick is to use the right amount of pressure so the notes sound muffled but not completely stopped. This technique works great when combined with distortion and power chords. To take this technique one step further, try playing selected notes open to give it a strong accent. In the following example the ‘+’ is over the notes to mute and the ‘o’ is over the notes to play open. Try this pattern with any power chord.

Fret Hand Muting

A great way to create rhythmic variety in your strumming is to learn to use fret hand muting. To mute the strings with your fret hand all you need to do is lighten the pressure from the frets so that the strings are dampened. This is different from palm muting in that you do not want the pitch to sound at all. The effect should be more of a “thunk” sound. When you intermix open strums and dampened strums you can create very interesting rhythmic patterns. This method works easiest with barre chords. A similar effect can be accomplished by laying your pinky over the strings when doing open chords. In this example the x note heads represent the dampened strums.


Learning how to fingerpick on your guitar will open up a whole new world of accompaniment patterns. Fingerpicking has a much lighter feel and allows you to create complex moving lines.

Playing in the Higher Frets

Many rhythm guitarists never learn to use the full range of the guitar. They play almost exclusively in the the first 5-7 frets. To be a more complete guitarist learn to use the higher frets. There are two ways to play in the higher frets: 1) use a capo, 2) learn the movable barre chords. Using a capo is both a simple and effective way to quickly add a higher range to your playing. Learning the movable barre chords will take a little more work but will pay off in the end. Try this exercise to memorize some of the higher chords.

Hammer Ons and Pull Offs

Hammer ons and pull offs are a little harder to master than some of the other techniques but they are well worth the effort. They are especially effective when combined with fingerpicking, but they also work with many strumming patterns. To hammer on, use your fretting finger and hammer it down on the fret to sound the pitch. For a pull off, you sound the pitch by pulling your finger off of the string in a manner that plucks the string. Here is a simple strumming pattern that includes hammer ons.

Chord Inversions and Slash Chords

My final essential technique for rhythm guitar is to learn chord inversions. This is a very complex topic and requires that you know the names of the notes on each of the lower strings. The goal is to be able to play the bass note that is requested when you see a slash chord, such as a G/B chord. This techniques is best used when there is no bass playing. It allows you to capture the sound the composer intended even though the bass is absent. Essentially you play the chord on the left side of the slash but make sure the note on the right of the slash is the lowest sounding note. Notice how this works in the following example.

Learn these seven rhythm guitar techniques and you will be well on your way to becoming a complete guitar player.

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