RHYTHM GUITAR: A Beginners Guide to Anticipation

It almost goes without saying that rhythm guitar is one of the most important skill areas that a guitarist needs to develop over the years. However, playing rhythm guitar is a secondary skill to learning chord patterns. 

In the early days, (during the first couple of years that a guitarist practices), learning the chord shapes will take up a majority of their rehearsal time.

However, once a selection of chords has come under control for the guitarist, they quickly begin realizing the importance of knowing how to develop strumming ideas. The key factor within this 'strumming' area is what is known of as, "Meter."

The recurring feel of how groups of note durations get linked together as a specific pattern, (most often highly dependent upon a specific music style; i.e., funk, rock, blues, etc.), is what is refereed to as the rhythmic, "Meter."

The level of skill that a guitarist is able to both develop and maintain with any rhythmic pattern will be their greatest advantage. Keep in mind, that a guitarist will generally play rhythm parts nearly 90% of the evening on a gig.

One of the easier ideas to develop in the world of 'rhythmic meter' studies, (for both beginner and intermediate guitar players), is that of "Anticipation."

When a chord is performed with anticipation, it will arrive 'ahead' of the measure, or the beat to which it is intended to cover. In most cases, the timing is out by way of an Eighth-Note. 

In example one, I have a groove in the key of, "D Minor," that demonstrates two instances of rhythmic anticipation.

Look at the example below and notice where the second measures "G major" chord arrives on the up-beat of four. Next, look at the fourth measures "C major" chord arriving in measure three's up-beat of four.

Listen to the audio example, then make a study of the groove notated below.

Anticipation can also occur from within a measure, as well as, prior to a new one. When we find this happening, it will often be seen upon the up-beat of two anticipating the arrival of the beat of three.

Look at example two, I have an, "F major," chord which is part of the third and fourth beats of measure one. However, the "F major," is occurring upon measure one's up-beat of two. There is also anticipation found upon the up-beat of measure one's count of four. Notice the, "G major" chord occurring at the up-beat of the count of four's rhythmic position, (the "F major" is technically covering into measure two).

Listen to the audio example, then make a study of the groove notated below.

In funk, (and some other music styles), we will find an interesting application of anticipation where the groove goes silent. These abrupt stops to the meter make for blunt and expressive rhythm parts. 

In example three, I have a part like this. The groove is a sixteenth-note feel where the, "F major," chord in each measure occurs upon the final sixteenth-note of the count of "two." The beats of three and four are both silent. 

However, the interesting emotional impact of the "F major" chord continues to resonate in the listeners mind during the period of silence. This is not only a simple idea to execute, but a great rhythm guitar effect, and an excellent example of how to accomplish 'more with less.'

Listen to the audio example, then make a study of the groove notated below.

Since rhythm guitar skill is so important, we can never get enough practice. Learning unique concepts like "Anticipation," are only one critical element. Be sure to also do plenty of transcription and compose different rhythm ideas of your own as well. Plus, please remember that you absolutely must develop your skills using a metronome or drum machine. The aide of having an external 100% accurate source for your sense of rhythm is critical for developing your own sense of 'internalized' rhythmic skills.

Above all else, be sure to experiment with many different styles of music. The primary differences that will occur between the music styles, (blues, funk, reggae, latin, rock, metal, etc.), are all extremely dependent upon learning different styles of rhythmic meter. Over time, your skills will naturally improve.

- Andrew Wasson


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