Play Your Guitar Like a Drum Kit

How to play acoustic guitar when you don't have a good drummer.

We don’t all have the luxury of a good drummer, but we can become the drummer with the way we play.

I’ve led worship on acoustic guitar in pretty much every environment you can imagine–from big stages to tight living rooms. Nothing is as musically important as keeping rhythm.

Every part of a drum kit plays a different role: the hi-hat keeps the tempo like a metronome, the kick drum gives us a strong foundation for the snare to accent, and the cymbals take the dynamic through the roof. All that together creates a groove that everyone following along can sit in. Played with the right mindset, your acoustic guitar can handle each of these roles. Here’s how you do it.

The Hi-Hat

The hi-hat is a constant and helps everyone in the band stay in time. For the worship guitarist, our strum hand is our time keeper. It’s always moving at tempo and in either an 8th note or 16th note strum pattern. Whatever our strum pattern, the arm keeps moving. It creates the pocket and we simply choose when and what to strum. 

The Snare Drum

The snare drum is the accent that really lets everyone know where they are. It’s what everybody claps to and is the most important part of to cover when you are drumming with your guitar. You can create this sound by either fully muting your strings during your strum pattern on what would be the snare hits or by simply strumming louder on those beats. It’s an incredibly effective way to strum and allows those singing along to feel comfortable doing so.

The Kick Drum

If you’ve ever been to a worship band workshop, you’ve inevitably been told the kick drum and the bass guitar need to lock in together. Short of actually hitting our guitar we can’t really create a kick drum, but because of the natural relationship of the bass guitar to the kick, we can imply the kick drum with the way we strum our bass strings. Staying in the lower register with an ear to the groove covers that important role and gives us room to be more dynamic when we hit the bigger parts.

The Cymbals

The crash and ride cymbals live in the higher frequency range and create big dynamic. If you focus most of your playing in the lower register in the more groove oriented sections of the song, you can add in your high strings to create the same effect as those cymbals when you want to go big. That means when you hit that chorus or build into that final bridge, your strumming arm is opening up more and adding that frequency range.


While the solo acoustic arrangement chapters in Worship Artistry’s song tutorials often focus on bringing the song’s melodic hooks into your playing, I’m always careful not to sacrifice the groove. It’s the ground on which every song is built. As a worship leader, the last thing you want is to bring those around you onto shaky ground. Think of your playing from a drummer’s perspective and everyone around you will benefit. Give it a try with Lion and the Lamb.

Other Resources Mentioned

Lesson on Muting

Jason Houtsma is the co-founder and guitar teacher at Worship Artistry, where he is helping musicians of every level answer the call to worship with passion and confidence. Jason has been leading worship and writing music since he was 15 years old and currently serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA. He is husband to Alli and father to Bjorn and Asher.

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