How to Play Guitar for Hip Hop: 5 Essential Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Practice chord progressions
  2. Study hip hop beats
  3. Learn to improvise
  4. Incorporate scratching techniques
  5. Explore different tunings

Playing the guitar is one thing — but knowing how to play guitar for hip hop? That's a whole new level of cool. Hip hop has a unique rhythm and beat that can challenge even seasoned guitar players. Luckily, we've got your back. In this blog, we'll share with you five essential tips that will guide you on your journey to mastering hip hop guitar. Let's dive in, shall we?

Practice Chord Progressions

When learning how to play guitar for hip hop, the first thing you want to focus on is chord progressions. You might ask, "Why are chord progressions so important?" Well, they are the backbone of any song, and hip hop is no different.

Understanding Chord Progressions

Chord progressions are simply sequences of chords that create a harmonic structure. In hip hop, simple yet catchy chord progressions are key. Think about it: the rhythm of hip hop is usually fast-paced, so simpler chord progressions can help you keep up with the beat. They also leave a lot of room for vocals — an important aspect of hip hop music.

Practicing Chord Progressions

  • Start with simple chord progressions: For starters, try practicing the I-IV-V chord progression, which is common in many hip hop songs. That means if you're in the key of C, you'll be playing the chords C (I), F (IV), and G (V).
  • Experiment with different chord types: Don't limit yourself to major and minor chords. Venture into the realm of seventh chords, diminished chords, and augmented chords. They can add a unique flavor to your hip hop guitar playing.
  • Change up your rhythm: Hip hop is all about the rhythm. Once you're comfortable with a chord progression, try changing up the rhythm to make it sound more hip hop-like.

Remember, practice makes perfect. So, get your guitar and start strumming those chords! Before you know it, you'll be on your way to understanding how to play guitar for hip hop.

Applying Chord Progressions to Hip Hop Songs

Once you've got a handle on practicing chord progressions, it's time to apply them to actual hip hop songs. Pick a few of your favorite hip hop tracks and try to figure out their chord progressions. You'll start to see patterns and, over time, develop an instinct for playing chord progressions that fit the hip hop style. It's a fun and practical way to understand how to play guitar for hip hop.

Study Hip Hop Beats

Once you've got those chord progressions down, it's time to dig deeper into the heart of hip hop: the beat. The beat gives hip hop its distinctive rhythm and vibe — it's the pulse that keeps the tune alive. So, if you're wondering how to play guitar for hip hop, understanding the beat is a must.

Understanding Hip Hop Beats

What sets hip hop beats apart? It's all about the groove. Hip hop typically employs a steady, syncopated beat that gets your foot tapping. Listen to a few hip hop songs and notice the rhythm — it's often a strong, steady beat with a laid-back vibe.

Practicing Hip Hop Beats on Guitar

It might seem odd to practice beats on a guitar — isn't that a job for the drums? But in hip hop, every instrument contributes to the beat, and that includes the guitar. Here's how you can practice:

  • Start with a simple beat: Try playing on the downbeats first. That's the first and third beat of every measure. Once you're comfortable, add the upbeats, or the second and fourth beat.
  • Use a metronome: A metronome can help keep your timing in check and help you stay with the beat. It's a handy tool for any guitarist, especially if you're playing hip hop.
  • Play along with hip hop tracks: This can be a fun way to practice. Choose a hip hop track and try playing along with it on your guitar. This can help you internalize the beat and understand how to play guitar in a hip hop style.

Analyzing Hip Hop Beats

Lastly, take some time to analyze hip hop beats. Listen to different hip hop songs and try to break down the beat. How fast is it? Is it consistent or does it change throughout the song? What other instruments contribute to the beat? This kind of analysis can help you understand the role of the guitar in hip hop and give you ideas for your own hip hop guitar playing.

Remember, the beat is the heartbeat of hip hop. So, study it, practice it, feel it — and your hip hop guitar playing will be all the better for it.

Learn to Improvise

Moving forward, we're diving into another key aspect of playing guitar for hip hop — improvisation. This is the ability to come up with musical ideas on the fly. It's what gives you the freedom to add your own spin to a hip hop track. So, how can you get better at improvising on your guitar? Let's dive in.

Understanding Improvisation

Improvisation is all about spontaneity. It's like having a conversation with your guitar, where you respond to the music in real time. It might sound intimidating, but don't worry. The more you practice, the more natural it becomes.

Practicing Improvisation

How do you practice something that's supposed to be spontaneous? Good question. Here are a few tips:

  • Start small: Begin with a simple chord progression, then try adding a few extra notes or changing the rhythm slightly. As you get comfortable, you can start making bigger changes.
  • Play with others: Jamming with other musicians is a great way to practice improvisation. It forces you to respond to what others are playing, which is a key part of improvisation.
  • Record yourself: This allows you to listen back and identify areas where you can improve. Plus, you might come up with some great ideas that you can use in future songs!

Mastering Improvisation

Mastering improvisation isn't about playing the most complicated riffs or the fastest solos. It's about being able to express yourself musically, in the moment. It's about creating something unique every time you pick up your guitar. And that, my friend, is a crucial part of understanding how to play guitar for hip hop.

So, keep practicing, keep pushing your boundaries, and soon you'll be improvising like a pro!

Incorporate Scratching Techniques

Next on our journey of learning how to play guitar for hip hop is incorporating scratching techniques. If you're scratching your head wondering what this means for a guitarist, let me explain. In hip hop, scratching is a technique used by DJs to create percussive sounds by moving a vinyl record back and forth on a turntable. But guess what? We can simulate this sound on a guitar, too! Let's see how we can pull this off.

What is Guitar Scratching?

Guitar scratching involves manipulating the strings of your guitar to create unique, percussive sounds that mimic the effect of a DJ scratching a record. The result? A distinct sound that adds a whole new dimension to your guitar playing, especially in the context of hip hop.

How to Scratch on a Guitar

Ready to give guitar scratching a try? Here's how you can make it happen:

  1. Mute the strings: Place your fretting hand lightly on the strings without pressing them down. This will mute the strings, creating a more percussive sound when you strum.
  2. Strum rhythmically: Use your other hand to strum the strings in a rhythmic pattern. Experiment with different rhythms to see what sounds best.
  3. Add variety: Throw in some open strings or partial chords every now and then to add some variety to your scratching.

Perfecting Your Scratching

Like any other guitar technique, scratching takes practice to perfect. So, don't get discouraged if it doesn't sound perfect right away. Keep experimenting and practicing, and before you know it, you'll be adding some serious groove to your hip hop tracks with your new scratching skills.

Remember, the goal here is not to become a DJ on your guitar, but to add a new layer of sound and rhythm to your playing. And that's exactly what you need to know when figuring out how to play guitar for hip hop.

Explore Different Tunings

As we continue to explore how to play guitar for hip hop, let’s turn our attention to the tuning of your guitar. Normally, you might stick to the standard tuning (EADGBE). But did you know that by exploring different tunings, you can uncover a whole new world of sounds and textures? This can be particularly useful in hip hop, where unconventional sounds and rhythms can really make a track stand out.

What are Alternate Tunings?

Alternate tunings involve changing the standard tuning of your guitar to a different setup. This can be as simple as tuning one string down a step, or as complex as tuning each string to a different note altogether. The result? A fresh new sound that can inspire creativity and help you break out of your usual playing patterns.

There are countless alternate tunings you can experiment with, but here are a few popular ones to get you started:

  • Drop D: This tuning involves tuning the low E string down to a D, creating a heavier, more resonant sound.
  • Open G: In this tuning, the guitar is tuned to a G major chord, allowing for easy playing of major chords and unique slide guitar effects.
  • DADGAD: Also known as "Celtic tuning," this tuning is great for creating a droning, resonant sound.

How to Use Alternate Tunings

When it comes to using alternate tunings in hip hop, the sky's the limit. You can use them to create unique chord voicings, to add depth to your rhythm parts, or even to create interesting lead lines. So, don't be afraid to experiment and see what sounds good to you. After all, hip hop is all about pushing boundaries and trying new things, right?

Exploring different tunings is a great way to add some spice to your guitar playing and will certainly aid in your journey of learning how to play guitar for hip hop. So go ahead, give it a shot, and see where your creativity takes you!

If you enjoyed learning about how to play guitar for hip hop and want to take your skills to the next level, check out Debbie Knox-Hewson's workshop 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!'. This workshop will not only help you improve your guitar playing skills but also provide you with valuable insights on how to excel in various aspects of your creative journey.