Ever wonder how some guitarists seem to be able to play with excellent rhythm guitar timing while others just can’t? To do this, do you have to learn a bunch of riffs? Do you need practice with a band or get good with using a metronome? The answer 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 training yourself to improve your ear so you know how things SHOULD sound improve rhythm guitar skills? Isn’t ear training only good for identifying intervals, arpeggios and scale patterns?”

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? Use this free rhythm guitar playing skills assessment to find out.

Avoid these frequently made rhythm guitar playing mistakes:

Rhythm Guitar Mistake Category #1: Palm Muting Errors

Mistake #1: Palm Muting Constantly

Palm muting everything you play makes it difficult to accent important notes or chords while playing guitar riffs. This will lead to making your guitar playing sound dull and repetitive.

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: Arbitrarily inconsistent palm muting is NOT the same as intentionally using variation. The former is simply a mistake. The latter is done on purpose to be creative.

Question: “Tom Hess, do you actually know how to tell the difference between arbitrarily inconsistent palm muting and palm muting that is used with intention? Or is that really 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.

-When palm muting is inconsistent, it also has no strict sense of pattern. This ends up sounding unintentional and random.

An excellent guitar instructor can quickly spot errors in your rhythm guitar playing and give you honest feedback on ways to correct them.

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 goal should be to play exactly on the beat. Any note/chord should you play needs to fall right on top of the metronome or 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 get better, use this free rhythm guitar playing skills assessment to track your progress.

Rhythm Guitar Mistakes Category #3: Picking Articulation Errors

Great picking articulation helps you emphasize specific notes within a guitar riff. Without it, the notes will tend to run together and the riff becomes weaker as a whole.

Great rhythm guitar articulation is NOT a product of:

Weak Pick Attack – picking notes very lightly.

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.

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

Steps To Take Now In Order To Improve Your Rhythm Guitar Playing:

1. Record yourself whenever you practice rhythm guitar playing. Then listen back to it. This will help you spot any inconsistencies or weaknesses in 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.


Work on fixing the issue by using a kind of circuit training during your guitar practice. For instance: play a guitar riff for 1 minute straight while focusing on exclusively improving your palm muting. Next, play it for 1 minute while focusing only on playing in perfect time. Last, focus on playing with excellent articulation for 1 minute. Play through this circuit for 10-15 minutes total. This will help you to massively improve 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 skills assessment shows you how good you are at rhythm guitar.


Author's Bio: 

About The Author:

Tom Hess is a professional touring musician, composer and successful rock/metal guitar teacher. He helps guitarists around the world learn to play guitar online. On his website tomhess.net, you can find guitar playing tips, free guitar resources and more guitar articles.