RIFF-MONGERS AND TAB HOUNDS, take notice: Do not skip this lesson. Perhaps you’ve already scanned the musical examples herein and noticed the lesson doesn’t offer hot licks, cool tricks, or other transcribed morsels of instant guitar gratification, but know this: It delivers something much more valuable.
“It shows you how to develop rhythmic control,” says GIT’s Vadim Zilbershtein. “Having rhythmic control goes way beyond making for great rhythm playing. It’s necessary for everything you do, including putting power in your lead playing.”
Having worked with everyone from Chaka Khan, Rick James, and Ronnie Laws to Marcus Miller, Me’Shell Ndegéocello and Earth, Wind & Fire, Zilbershtein is certainly qualified to speak on matters of groove: “Many grooves can be broken down into sixteenths, so that’s where this lesson starts.”
Zilbershtein, who was first turned onto this strumming workout by one of his early influences, guitarist Carl Burnett, says the basic approach involves choosing a chord (such as one of the Em7 grips in Ex. 1), getting your metronome going at a tempo at which you can comfortably strum four sixteenth- notes per downbeat (“one-e-and-uh, two-e-and-uh,” etc.), and fretting the chord only on the noteheads in any of the many looped strum patterns featured in this lesson.
“The X-ed out notes are muted strums,” reminds Zilbershtein. “Strum every sixteenth. And when you’re not fretting a chord, mute the strings with your fretting hand. Even if your pick doesn’t actually make contact with the strings during muted notes, be sure your strumming hand still goes through the motion. Keep that strumming engine running! And never lose track of the quarter-note downbeats. Once you’ve done an example strummed, also practice the same pattern with your picking restricted to a single string, sounding only a single note [Ex. 2].”
Starting simply and gradually getting more complex, Examples 3 through 6 cover many of the rhythmic permutations an ensemble guitarist needs to have nailed to play various genres of Western music. Example 6, for example, contains a common three-against-four rhythm featured on Kool & the Gang’s famous “Jungle Boogie” interlude, as well as on other iconic songs.
“Triplets get a little trickier,” says Zilbershtein, referring to the eighth-note triplet groupings that are the basis of each downbeat in Examples 7 through 9. “Now, we’re striking the strings only three times per downbeat, which means with each new downbeat, our picking pattern reverses. You may practice the triplet exercises two different ways: starting the measure downup- down, up-down-up, etc., or vice-versa.”
Once you get going with the basic triplet permutations in Ex. 7, move on to Ex. 8 (which shows how quarter-note triplets are generated by accenting every other eighth-note) and Ex. 9 (which shows how half-note triplets are generated by accenting every fourth eighth-note).
“I’ve been doing this exercise for 30 years, and it always yields results,” says Zilbershtein. “It’s open-ended, and there is no limit to the number of ways you can mix and match the patterns or apply them to different tempos, chord progressions, and riffs. It really helps you develop consistency and control. Best of all, it really helps you feel each pulse in the bar, which is good. You can’t expect anyone else to feel what you’re playing if you don’t first feel it yourself.”