Essential Funk Guitar Rhythm Exercise

blog Jul 10, 2018

Let this easy exercise get your Funk 16th notes in order!


Funk guitar, while so much fun, has it’s challenges. The first challenge, which I went over in my last blog post is what chords to use.

The more you listen to funk, the more cool voicings you will find. But, to me, the essential part of funk guitar, the part that you just cant get past is the rhythm.

The rhythm of funk guitar is not just part of how cool it sounds, It also plays an essential role in the song its self. The guitar is three things, melodic, chordal and rhythmic. And in funk guitar, the rhythmic aspect comes straight to the forefront!

It could be the placement of the chord on an off beat, or the muted clicks of the strings, back and forth, that pushes the song further along. Or, it could be the rhythm of muted strings accented with the up and down slope of a wah wah pedal.

Today, I am going to give you my essential funk rhythm guitar exercise, that will help fuel your funk and keep you locked in with the drummer for the rest of your funky days!

Once you have this technique down, funk strums, muted string clicks, wah wah rhythms, and rhythmic chord placement will all start to make sense.


Funk rhythm exercise #1


The sixteenth note strum is featured for my funk guitar exercise today.

The sixteenth note rhythm is the one we are so used to hearing in funk songs. Sixteenth notes take up a quarter (1/4) of a beat.

To fit all four of the strums into one beat is tough. Luckily, there is a trick! If you count each measure like this :

1e&a     2e&a     3e&a     4e&a

The number of the beat plus the “e” “&” and the “a” will help you place all of the sixteenth notes properly in each beat.

Sixteenth notes can be pretty tough to play at first. Especially If you just have to play a single sixteenth note once, on one of those off beats, it’s easy to misplace. Also, if you are playing straight sixteenth notesit’s super easy to rush. That means that you start speeding up your playing faster than the tempo of the song.


Step 1.

First, we are just going to mute our strings and play sixteenth notes across each measure.

How do we do this?

Rest your left hand anywhere on the strings. But for this, let’s say around the 5th fret.

Just lightly touch the strings. Don’t press down all the way. Just touch the strings enough that you can hear the click of the pick without the notes.

So, to do the exercise, keep the strings muted and start strumming 16th notes.

1e&a   2e&a   3e&a   4e&a

Remember to use Down up strumming. 

1e&a   2e&a   3e&a   4e&a

↓↑↓↑     ↓↑↓↑    ↓↑↓↑     ↓↑↓↑

Find a drum loop or a metronome to play along with at a comfortable tempo.


It’s seems pretty easy, but over time, you may notice that your strums don’t line up with the beat.

You may start to rush, or even go the other way and you may start to slow down. Either way, slow down the tempo of your metronome until you can stay right with the beat.

What ever that BPM is, Write it down. That’s your number.


Step 2.

Next, lets start to add some funk chords to this one.

The chord I will use for this example is the A minor 7th chord at the 5th fret.

It’s easy! All you have to do is barre the top 4 strings (D G B high E) at the 5th fret. 

Try to play all of your sixteenth notes (1e&a 2e&a 3e&a 4e&a) now with this chord.

Remember: Down up strumming!

Now that we have a good bit of strings involved, it could be a bit more challenging to stay in time. Practice that for a while until you feel confident.



Step 3.

Now we are going to start to isolate some of the strums.

Try just letting the chord ring on the first strum of each beat (on the numbers).

For the rest, (the e&a’s), mute your strings.

How we will do that is just by letting loose of the chord a bit.

Let loose just enough that you are still touching the strings, but the chord doesn’t sound.

**Another option to mute your strings is to put the rest of your fingers (2,3,4) down in front of the chord on the beats you want muted.


Let’s give it a try:

1xxx   2xxx   3xxx   4xxx

↑↓↑    ↓↑↓↑   ↓↑↓↑    ↑↓↑



Step 4.

Next, repeat the process. But…

…only let the second strum (the “e” of each beat) sound.

Mute all of the other strums.

xexx  xexx  xexx   xexx

↓↑  ↓↓↑   ↓↓↑    ↓↓↑

This is where the difficulty comes in. It’s natural to want to accent the first note of the beat. But, work on that hitting that second sixteenth note.

If you continue to use down up strumming, it’s easy to find which beat is the “E” of the group.

It’s your first up stroke in each group.




Step 5.

Next , repeat again. Only this time let the third strum (the “&” of each beat) sound. Mute all of the other strums

xx&x  xx&x  xx&x   xx&x

↓↑↑   ↓↑↑    ↓↑↑   ↓↑




Step 6.

And finally , repeat again. This last time, only let the forth strum (the A of each beat) sound. Mute all of the other strums

xxxa  xxxa  xxxa   xxxa

↓↑↓   ↓↑↓  ↓↑↓   ↓↑↓



There you have it, my funk rhythm exercise #1.


What are the next steps


Here are a few ideas to take this exercise to the next level:


Mix and match: 


To increase the difficulty, try playing different sixteenth note chord strums on different beats.

On beat one, play your cord on the beat. (1),

on beat two play your chord on the “e,

on beat three, play your chord on the “&

On beat four, play your chord on the “a”.

Like this:

1xxx  xexx  xx&x   xxxa

↑↓   ↓  ↓↑    ↓↑↓




Once you are comfortable with this, try different combinations to see what sounds good to you.


 Remove the muted strums all together:


And finally, to go even further, try to just strum your chord on the last sixteenth of each beat, without the crutch of the up and down muted strumming.

You never know, you may have to play a song where all of that clicking from the muted strings sounds very distracting.

So, try hitting that last sixteenth strum of the beat all by its self.

. . . a  . . . a  . . . a  . . . a

      ↑         ↑        ↑        ↑







So there is is, my Funk Rhythm #1 exercise.

We went over:

  • Playing 16th note strums with muted strings
  • Playing 16 note strums with a chord,
  • Playing the chord on the first sixteenth strum of each beat
  • Playing the chord on the second sixteenth strum of each beat
  • Playing the chord on the third sixteenth strum of each beat
  • Playing the chord on the fourth sixteenth strum of each beat
  • mixing and matching sixteenth strums
  • removing the muted strums


Give it a shot, it can only help your timing and your strumming.

For a whole lot of fun, try practicing this over your favorite funky songs. Throw on some James Brown or some Chili Peppers and give it a try.

Or better yet, try using this idea while playing a wah wah pedal back and forth to the same rhythm. Instant 70’s style right there.

For more info on funk rhythm, checkout episode 28 of the Play Guitar Podcast.


So let us know what you think!


Have you ever played funky 16th note rhythms? What is your favorite way to practice funk rhythms?

We would all love to know! Just leave your answer below in the comment section on this page.




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