When I was learning to play electric guitar, it was very difficult for me to keep up with the beats when there comes rests(I don't know if it is called "rest", I mean the beats which you need to mute your instrument).

So I developed a habit that I tap the strings with my pick hand softly for every rest beat, this will mute the strings immediately and can help me keep up with the beats.

Is there any harmful things that this habit will lead to?

What do professional guitarists do when there comes rest beats?

7 Answers 7


By keeping count like this there is a chance that, if you keep it as a habit, it could develop into a problem. Whilst muting and picking can be used as a musical idea, and indeed I use it occasionally to fill out rhythms on my bass, unwanted sounds can be picked up, and if amplified are not particularly desirable. Even muted I personally won't go near the strings as with various effects pedals that can be very sensitive even the faintest touch can produce unwanted sounds.

When I was playing Cello and would have huge sections of breaks I would lightly tap my feet whilst counting, which worked well. Whilst practising try using a metronome and make a point of not touching the strings whilst you are in a rest to try and improve your awareness of the rhythm. You can also practise different time signatures and styles over time, and again a metronome, or a drum beat behind will help. In a band situation you get used to the pieces themselves, and I'll have reference points from the other musicians (assuming they play it right...).


So you count the beats on the strings when there's a break? In that case, there could be a sound from this, especially if you use a lot of distortion. It's not necessarily wrong, not much is when it comes to music, but a more common technique is to mute the strings with your fretting hand. You can still use your picking hand to keep the beat, but then it can be done without touching the strings, ant thus without the risk of creating unwanted noise.


There's (potentially) two different things here:

  1. Using the fleshy part of your picking hand to stop notes exactly on a beat boundary -- being able to do this is a good thing.
  2. Counting out multi-beat rests by tapping your hand on the strings -- this is a bad thing in that you run the risk of making unwanted noise (note that even if it is not really noticeable to you, the slight thuds will muddy up the mix).

I don't see the problem so much with the actual motions you are doing, as much as with the idea that you don't have the flexibility to stop that hand motion and continue the beat using other parts of your body, when you want to.


Definitely teach yourself NOT to do this. You really don't want either hand "doing things" in contact with the guitar when you're not deliberately making sounds (notes or slaps, etc). A bad habit gets harder to break the longer you allow it to exist. Tap your foot, or move your body, or do almost anything else, to help you keep the beat in your mind.

Heck, some (many?) pros use a "click track" via earphone to keep everyone in synch.

  • Or don't teach yourself at all. Get a teacher.
    – user50691
    Dec 13, 2020 at 16:12

Where I play out, there's grounding issues, which leads to me either having a slight buzz when the guitar's not playing, which I handle by always keeping a hand on the strings, and of course gain and compression always make it worse. If there's time-based effects, the buzz will get caught up in that.

"Always be muting" is something I can get behind. Counting time with your hands? I just can't.


Bad habit, because it'll produce sounds that can throw off other band-members.

To replace this habit, I recommend practicing with a metronome, and learn to count the beats in your head.

In 4/4 time:

  • for quarter-notes, just count the numbers: "one, two, three, four."
  • for eighth-notes, think "and" between the numbers: "one, and, two, and... "
  • for sixteenth-notes, you need more syllables: "one, e, and, a, two, e, and..."

This is widely used, and very effective when you need to subdivide the beat, often referred to in terms such as "play this note on the 'and' after the 'two'".


Anything that is a "habit", that is not under your control, is bad. What you have done is program yourself to require extemporaneous movements in order to play. If you are just playing for fun I'd say so what, but if you want to play professionally or get better then this needs to be erased from your programming asap. I'm guessing you are self taught because an experienced guitar instructor would not have let this happen.

Keeping time is something that happens in the head while you play but it takes years to develop a good reliable sense of time. One reason beginning players lose time is because their mind is on so many other things, like getting the fingers in the right place, etc. You won't really be able to keep time silently until the other aspects of musicianship are so well developed that you can play with your eyes closed, which by the way is how you should start as a beginner. A good teacher will not let you look at your hands as that is another bad habit and a distraction.

We keep time by tapping our foot and in the guitar curriculum there is a very specific way that beginners are taught to correlate arm and foot movements in time. Using a metronome while practicing will help develop a good sense of time as well. Again, after many years of training musicians can keep time in their heads without body movement but the movement is a form of communication with other musicians.

By tapping the strings when there are rests you are effectively NOT RESTING. You are making noise of some type that is not part of the song and if there is a real break you will ruin it for the band and the audience. Imagine the song Unchained by Van Halen where DLR says "One break coming up!" and instead of everyone stopping you heard a dirty click, click, click. The song would be trash. Even if it's quiet and you think you can get away with it you are not in control of your own body movements and if you want to become a better guitarist, learn to play more complex music, etc., you are wasting valuable time tapping that could be used to set yourself up for he next lick. That will cost you dearly in the end. It will lead to sloppy uncontrolled movements and a dependence one the extra movement.

Based on the above the answers to your questions are:

"Is there any harmful things that this habit will lead to?"

Yes, see above, poor control, sloppy playing, and unwanted noise.

"What do professional guitarists do when there comes rest beats?"


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