Good rhythm is almost essential to good guitar, and probably the simplest to understand. Let's start with some terms:

Time signature

All bars (measures) consist of a number of beats. A very easy way to grasp the idea of bars is to learn a 12 bar blues. The time signature shows the number of beats in a bar and the note that will be used for counting. For example, 4/4 - the top of the fraction shows the number of beats and the bottom of the fraction shows the note unit used for counting; which in this case is a quarter note. 4/4 is usually referred to as common time. It may appear on the stave of printed music as either 4/4 or as a "C" as shown below. Whichever way the same information is given - the piece of music has four beats to a bar and the counting note is the quarter note.

4/4, or common time

All the notes in Western music have a fractional relationship. We know that in 4/4 time we will be using the quarter note as the reference for counting. Play an open string note slowly and repeatedly while counting in fours. Now play the open string note only when you count 1 and 3. You have just played a half note. To play eighth notes count "1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and" in the same time you would normally count "1-2-3-4". For sixteenth notes the count is "1-e-and-a-2-e-and-a-3-e-and-a-4-e-and-a". Here is a list of note values used in Western music:

whole note
half note
quarter note
eighth note
sixteenth note

In common time a whole note consists of four quarter notes or four beats. Each half note is two beats and quarter note is one beat.

There are other possible signatures, 3/4, 2/4, 6/8, 7/4 are some. However it must be noted that over 90 percent of the music ever written has been in common time. Triple time or 3/4 is the second most used time signature. Once again the bottom of the fraction tells us that the counting note is to be a quarter note but this time each bar is to only have a count of 3. This is easily felt by playing and counting "1-2-3". Triple time may also be called "Waltz time". Since time signatures are fractional the question will arise as to what is the difference between 3/4 timing and 6/8 timing. If you come across a 6/8 time signature it is best to take this as an indication to play the piece of music "briskly" with even emphasis. It must be remembered at all times that 4/4 timing is the most widely used time signature especially so in rock and pop music.

To further apply the concept of beats, bars and time-signatures; let's play a simple chord progression. Play G and D over two bars with a 4/4 time signature.

It will look like this (each measure separated by a pipe and each beat denoted with a dash):

G         D
|- - - - |- - - -|
 v v v v  v v v v 

The "v" from now on denotes a downstroke and a "^" denotes an upstroke. Here. you are playing a downstroke on each beat (each tick of the metronome) and nothing in between. Some people find it easier to practice this without playing any chord, and muting all the strings. Try that too.

Let's do some upstrokes now.

G         D
|- - - - |- - - - |
 v^v^v^v^ v^v^v^v^

Here, you are downstroking on the tick (intuitively called the 'downbeat') and upstroking in between the ticks ( the upbeat. A good way to do this is to count your beats, "one-and two and three and four" going down on the numbers and up on the ands. Most strumming patterns you can here this going on, but slightly more complicated. Make sure you are going down on downbeats and up on upbeats. A lot of people who start playing tend to not follow this, and it mixes up your rhythm badly. If you keep to this pattern, even with more complicated patterns, you will not lose track of the beat.

If you listen to the above pattern, it will start to sound boring. But it is the basis of all other patterns. When you hear a more complicated pattern, most likely the player is missing some strums. Like this:

G         D
|- - - - |- - - - |
 v^v^v^v^ v^v^v^v^
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