So, I can play drums and guitar fine rhythmically (not a master but can keep time), but am having a lot of trouble locking into another drummer's groove while playing rhythm guitar and singing. FYI I've been playing for about 6 months on guitar and sporadically on drums for a bit but not nearly as frequently (can keep a backbeat and various more syncopated rhythms though, as well as in odd-meter rhythms such as 5/4 and 7/8). Basically, I feel I have a pretty solid sense of rhythm, but that intuition seems to go drown the drain when I'm working with a drummer.

Does anyone have any advice for locking into the drummer's groove? Especially while playing more syncopated strumming patterns, as I can do pretty fine with basic 4th and 8th note downstroke patterns. Do these kinds of issues usually just kind of resolve themselves the more I get used to playing with a drummer?

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    Six months is still just pretty new to guitar, IMHO, although I have had students go from nothing to playing fairly well in just six months. A lot of bass players try to lock in with the kick, which is awesome because bass and kick synchronized sounds amazing. As a guitar player, I try to lock in with the snare. Sort of inspired by funk and R&B where a lot of rhythm guitarists would literally try to hide their staccato chords behind the snare. But it does help with my rhythm to focus on the snare. Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 13:15

4 Answers 4


Congratulations on your decision to learn guitar. It is very versatile instrument and rewarding to play. But as you have probably figured out by now, not the easiest instrument to master. The good news is, it get's easier as you go and you will start to see an upturn in the learning curve as things begin to sink in and gel.

One of the most difficult aspects of playing rhythm guitar for most beginners is well - rhythm. Some never quite get it. But I have found that drummers who learn to play guitar after learning to play drums, seem to have an easier time mastering the rhythm part of guitar playing and often make great guitar players.

Let me mention a few things that I feel are important as it relates to playing rhythm guitar with a drummer (for yourself and any other guitarist who has trouble keeping up with the groove of the drummer).

The first challenge is to be sure your guitar groove and your drummer's groove are compatible with one another (drummer needs to know this too). As you know from learning to play drums, there are many different patterns and beats you can play on drums. You want to learn many patterns because each song has a different groove and the groove established by the drummer needs to match the intended groove of the song itself or things just won't mesh well.

Just as there are different patterns and beats you can play on drums, there are many different strumming patterns that you can play on guitar to establish different grooves. There are probably as many different strumming patterns for guitar as there are beats and patterns for drums. In addition to learning chords and fills and scales (fretting hand technique) you will want to spend time learning different strumming and picking patterns (picking hand technique). In order for your rhythm guitar to mesh well with the drummer, you both need to be playing a pattern that will sync up well with the intended groove of the song and with each other.

Some songs have a signature drum groove or beat that is an integral part of the songs DNA. If you are playing in a band and the drummer knows the groove of a cover song the way the band wants to play it, then you will need to be sure you adapt your strumming pattern with the drum pattern/beat. If the drummer is not familiar with the song (perhaps it's an original vs. a cover) then you as the rhythm guitarist should establish the rhythm and it's up to the drummer to pick a groove that is compatible with the groove you establish on guitar.

When I'm playing solo, I do a more percussive strumming pattern to establish the beat in the absence of a drummer. When playing with a drummer, if we have not rehearsed together, I will start the song with the percussive pattern to allow the drummer to get a feel for the groove I want to establish for the song, and the drummer will choose a beat pattern that matches. Then once the drummer has found the groove I want him to find, I will switch to a less percussive strum and allow the drummer to keep the beat while I emphasize the harmony. But my strumming pattern will be in sync with his drumming pattern.

You would be surprised how much strumming patterns are like drum patterns or beats or grooves or whatever drummers call it. With one strum pattern you may be accenting the 1 beat and 3 beat (in 4/4 time) with a down strum on 1 and 3 and and up strum on 2 and 4. Another pattern could emphasize the 2 and 4 with a more forceful down strum on those beats.

Your question seems to be about keeping the rhythm with a drummer and not singing and playing the guitar at the same time. While it's important to have many different strumming (rhythm) patterns in your vocabulary so you can choose the one most appropriate for each song, you need to be able to sing with the rhythm pattern you are playing on guitar. It's difficult enough to master singing and strumming at the same time. Assuming you can do that and assuming you can learn the appropriate strumming pattern for the song - it is the drummer's responsibility to make the adjustments to get the drum groove in sync with the singer and rhythm guitarist! In a live setting, it's easier for you to sing to the rhythm pattern you are playing on guitar. If the drummer goes in a different direction and you try to follow the drummer, it's going to throw you off every time.

So in addition to learning more strumming patterns, it's just as important for the drummer to follow the rhythm pattern you are comfortable playing on guitar and singing at the same time. As part of a band, the entire band needs to decide what groove they are going for on a particular song and then everyone needs to find a rhythm pattern that works. But if the lead singer can't follow the groove, everything will fall apart.

To help you improve your ability to match your strumming patterns to drum patterns you might try playing to a drum track or even create your own drum tracks for the songs you want to play. Then try different strumming patterns until you find one that matches the beat, and practice practice practice. You will get it.

For more about strumming patterns see this on Stack Exchange https://music.stackexchange.com/a/33731/16897

Here is an excerpt that reinforces and adds to what I stated above:

The strumming pattern you use will have an effect on your ability to maintain an appropriate rhythm for a particular song. On many patterns you may find it helpful to get your wrist moving up and down like a pendulum and keep it going much the same way as if you rest the heel of your hand on a table and tap your fingers to the beat. Depending on the strum pattern you might intentionally miss the strings on every other up-swing or every other down-swing or every third down swing etc. - depending on the strum pattern you want to use.

Good luck and have fun. You will get it!

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    Super extra +1 for discussing how powerful proper strumming is for keeping time and playing rhythms on guitar. Unfortunately, a super extra +1 is worth the same amount of rep as a normal +1. Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 17:33
  • @ToddWilcox There's also the bounty mechanism for giving more rep points. Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 21:36
  • @ToddWilcox thanks Todd. The vote of confidence from you is worth far more than the rep. Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 2:31
  • Thanks so much for such a thoughtful response. When I just practice on my own and am writing songs, I tend to stick to a similar kind of strumming pattern, as it's what I'm most used to, so now that I think about it expanding my repertoire of strumming patterns and overall becoming a more versatile rhythm guitar player might be the best course of action for improving my ability to lock into drummers. Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 5:44
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    @John that will certainly help. As a guitar player and singer myself, I like the drummer to lock into the rhythm pattern I establish in the beginning of the song, and then I can lock into the drum groove to keep the tempo. I find that once the drummer and I are in sync, it's easier for me to maintain a steady tempo throughout the song by listening for the accent beats in the drum pattern (often established by the snare). My strum pattern will often have accent strums that match the accent beats. Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 6:54

I'd say you're still pretty new to it, and nothing in music comes very quickly. With that said the best suggestion I have for singing and playing at once is repetition. For me, singing and playing together is almost like learning to play guitar all over again. You have to lock in technically with what you're going to play so that its automatic; and doing it in time just compounds the problem.

Take a few bars at a time slowly, then together, until those few bars are good. Then add a new section, with the end result pasted back on, and rehearsed all together. This is very slow to do, but the only way I've been able to get close with singing and playing at once (for someone who's only occasionally doing it).


Since you presumably spend a lot more time practicing by yourself than you do with the band, you could consider practicing with a metronome if you don't have a drum machine. This does two things. (1) It makes you listen externally for the beat (rather than hearing it in your head). (2) It avoids a common problem with guitarists who play by themself - it is very easy to think you are playing in time but you actually have an extra strum or varying tempos in your strumming that mean it's not actually in time at all.

It may still be hard to work out your strumming and the drummer's playing to work together well, but the discipline of listening and correct time will make it quicker to work with each other.


here's one very simple observation from years of experience; it is very difficult considering the instrumentation of only guitar and drums, without a bass, this becomes a bit more difficult to play counter rhythm against the drums, sing and stay in tempo/time when it comes to more complex or syncopated rhythms. The bass tends to act as a mediator between the other 2 instruments (of course it's not impossible) but in most cases it's a lot more practical. Being able to play in time (either natural or strict/ metronome-time) and knowing your basic time signatures and corresponding rhythm patterns is a prerequisite to being able to do it in a group setting.

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