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Piano Rhythm Patterns

Learn the rhythm patterns on piano that every player should know.

Last Updated: May 2023 | Article Details: 2588 words (14 – 16 minute read)

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When you’re learning to play by ear, knowing different piano rhythm patterns is essential. It’s great knowing your scales and chords, but music also has rhythm to it.

Not just music, even speech can have a rhythmic pattern to it.

In this guide we’ll show you the most essential patterns every player should know.

You may not use some of these yourself, but be sure to become familiar with them so you’re a versatile player.

You will need to know how to count music beats and measures/bars, and also understand how time in music works.

And if you really want to level up your piano playing, consider taking structured online piano lessons – they’re the single best way to learn piano on your own.

Ok, no more fluff, let’s get right into the different piano rhythms you should know.


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How to Play the Rhythms Below

The first thing we need to talk about is exactly what you need to play when learning and practicing these piano rhythm patterns.

We’re going to keep things pretty basic, but know there are many variations to this.

With any pattern, you’ll want to play a chord in your right hand, along with the root note of the chord in your left hand. So which chords would you play? Well we need a good piano chord progression (learn more) to help us out.

Using this method makes it much easier to learn and internalize the rhythms. If you try adding a melody at this stage it makes things unnecessarily difficult (or confusing).

And if you’re having trouble using both your hands at the same time, you can try working on your limb independence. All it takes is some consistent practice on the piano (learn more).

For this guide we’re going to use a I – V – vi – IV (1-5-6-4) progression in the key of C Major.

That means the chords we’ll play in the left hand are C Maj -> G Maj -> A min -> F Maj (in that order) along with the root notes of C -> G -> A -> F in the bass (left hand).

If you don’t know how to build those chords check out this guide on piano chords.

Finally, if you see an X in the table, it means you don’t play anything for that beat/count.

Person Playing a Brown Yamaha Piano

Basic Piano Rhythms

These rhythms are the most fundamental ones you’ll learn. They’re very basic but can still be used in very powerful ways on the piano.

You can also vary these in any way you’d like. Try experimenting with things once you’ve thoroughly learned them in their basic form.

Piano Four on the Floor

Four on the floor usually refers to a drum beat where the kick (bass) drum plays on every beat of a measure – i.e. 1-2-3-4

It works the same way on the piano. You’re going to play a chord in your right hand on every beat of the measure, and the root note in your left hand on only the first beat of the measure. You’ll change the chord to the next one in the progression every measure.

If you’re using a 4 chord progression (like we are), the pattern lasts for 4 measures before starting again.

Here’s what it looks like:

Measure 1Measure 2Measure 3Measure 4
Beat Count1 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 4
Right Hand (chord)C Maj – C Maj – C Maj – C MajG Maj – G Maj – G Maj – G MajA min – A min – A min – A minF Maj – F Maj – F Maj – F Maj
Left Hand (root note)C – X – X – XG – X – X – XA – X – X – XF – X – X – X

There are a couple ways you can play this basic pattern:

  1. Play the root/bass note on beat 1 without holding it down to sustain across the measure
  2. Press and hold the root/bass note so it sustains for the whole measure
  3. Play the root/bass note on every beat along with the chord, instead of just the first beat

Audio Example:

Four Minus One

The next few patterns are simple variations of the above “four on the floor” style pattern. We’re basically not going to play on one of the beats in the measure.

Which beat you end up removing will have an impact on how that rhythm (and thus your song) feels/sounds.

Here’s how to play them all:

Measure 1Measure 2Measure 3Measure 4
Beat Count1 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 4
Right Hand (chord)C Maj – X – C Maj – C MajG Maj – X – G Maj – G MajA min – X – A min – A minF Maj – X – F Maj – F Maj
Left Hand (root note)C – X – X – XG – X – X – XA – X – X – XF – X – X – X

Audio Example:

Measure 1Measure 2Measure 3Measure 4
Beat Count1 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 4
Right Hand (chord)C Maj – C Maj – X – C MajG Maj – G Maj – X – G MajA min – A min – X – A minF Maj – F Maj – X – F Maj
Left Hand (root note)C – X – X – XG – X – X – XA – X – X – XF – X – X – X

Audio Example:

Measure 1Measure 2Measure 3Measure 4
Beat Count1 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 4
Right Hand (chord)C Maj – C Maj – C Maj – XG Maj – G Maj – G Maj – XA min – A min – A min – XF Maj – F Maj – F Maj – X
Left Hand (root note)C – X – X – XG – X – X – XA – X – X – XF – X – X – X

Audio Example:


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Chord on Down Beats

Think of this pattern as a Four Minus Two rhythm. We’re going to play the chord on the 1 and 3 counts of each measure. The bass note can play on the 1 count (like shown below), or can follow the chord by playing on the 1 and 3 counts – both work.

Measure 1Measure 2Measure 3Measure 4
Beat Count1 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 4
Right Hand (chord)C Maj – X – C Maj – XG Maj – X – G Maj – XA min – X – A min – XF Maj – X – F Maj – X
Left Hand (root note)C – X – X – XG – X – X – XA – X – X – XF – X – X – X

Audio Example:

Chord Lead In Rhythm

Here’s a basic rhythm that adds a little bit of a bounce to the feel. You’re playing the chord twice in each measure.

Measure 1Measure 2Measure 3Measure 4
Beat Count1 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 41 – 2 – 3 – 4
Right Hand (chord)C Maj – X – X – C MajG Maj – X – X – G MajA min – X – X – A minF Maj – X – X – F Maj
Left Hand (root note)C – X – X – XG – X – X – XA – X – X – XF – X – X – X

Audio Example:

Syncopated Piano Rhythms

Let’s add a little bit of complexity to our straight piano rhythms above. These add a little more bounce and interest to any chord progression.

One thing to note about the below patterns is that we’re going to only show 2 measures of the patterns. You could just repeat the 2 chord patterns, or use them as a template to add the other 2 chords from the above progression for an additional 2 measures.

We’re only showing 2 measures so we can count out eighth and sixteenth notes (1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a, etc.). These can be tricky at first, but just take things SUPER SLOW and you’ll get it in no time.

Bass Lead In Pattern #1

Measure 1 (1st half)Measure 1 (2nd half)Measure 2 (1st half)Measure 2 (2nd half)
Beat Count1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a
Right Hand (chord)C Maj-X-X-X, C Maj-X-X-XC Maj-X-X-X, C Maj-X-X-XG Maj-X-X-X, G Maj-X-X-XG Maj-X-X-X, G Maj-X-X-X
Left Hand (root note)C-X-X-X, X-X-C-X C-X-X-X, X-X-X-XG-X-X-X, X-X-G-XG-X-X-X, X-X-X-X

Audio Example:

Bass Lead In Pattern #2

Measure 1 (1st half)Measure 1 (2nd half)Measure 2 (1st half)Measure 2 (2nd half)
Beat Count1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a
Right Hand (chord)C Maj-X-X-X, C Maj-X-X-XC Maj-X-X-X, C Maj-X-X-XG Maj-X-X-X, G Maj-X-X-XG Maj-X-X-X, G Maj-X-X-X
Left Hand (root note)C-X-X-X, X-X-X-X X-X-X-X, X-X-C-XG-X-X-X, X-X-X-XX-X-X-X, X-X-G-X

Audio Example:

Moving Bass Line Piano Pattern

This pattern is similar to the above patterns, but it is faster paced and more upbeat. The bass hand has more movement giving it that feel.

Measure 1 (1st half)Measure 1 (2nd half)Measure 2 (1st half)Measure 2 (2nd half)
Beat Count1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a
Right Hand (chord)C Maj-X-X-X, C Maj-X-X-XG Maj-X-X-X, G Maj-X-X-XA min-X-X-X, A min-X-X-XF Maj-X-X-X, F Maj-X-X-X
Left Hand (root note)C-X-X-X, X-X-C-X G-X-X-X, X-X-G-XA-X-X-X, X-X-A-XF-X-X-X, X-X-F-X

Audio Example:

Chord on Up-Beat w/ Syncopated Bass

In the following pattern, we’re not playing the chord on the down-beats (strong beats, i.e. 1 and 3) of the measure, but the bass note does get played on the 1.

We only show 2 chords here (the I and the V chord), but you could easily extend this to include the full 4-chord progression.

Measure 1 (1st half)Measure 1 (2nd half)Measure 2 (1st half)Measure 2 (2nd half)
Beat Count1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a
Right Hand (chord)X-X-X-X, C Maj-X-X-XX-X-X-X, C Maj-X-X-XX-X-X-X, G maj-X-X-XX-X-X-X, G Maj-X-X-X
Left Hand (root note)C-X-X-X, X-X-X-X X-X-C-X, X-X-X-XG-X-X-X, X-X-X-XX-X-G-X, X-X-X-X

Audio Example:


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Arpeggiated Patterns

In the following patterns you’re technically still playing chords, but we’re breaking them up and playing them as an arpeggio. That just means instead of playing the notes in the chord all together at once, we play them one at a time.

Again we’re only showing two measures of the patterns, but you can use them as a template to add the other two chords into the progression.

Left Hand Arpeggio

For this piano rhythm we are playing the chord arpeggio in the left hand. The right hand plays the root note of each “chord” in the progression.

Measure 1 (1st half)Measure 1 (2nd half)Measure 2 (1st half)Measure 2 (2nd half)
Beat Count1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a
Right Hand (single note)C-X-X-X, X-X-X-XX-X-X-X, C-X-X-XG-X-X-X, X-X-X-XX-X-X-X, G-X-X-X
Left Hand (single note)C-X-E-X, G-X-E-XC-X-E-X, G-X-E-XG-X-B-X, D-X-B-XG-X-B-X, D-X-B-X

Audio Example:

This pattern can also be inverted (not to be confused with piano chord inversions – learn more). Try playing the chord arpeggio in the right hand and the root note in the bass (left) hand.

Basic Alberti Bass Piano Pattern

This piano rhythm pattern is from the “romantic” era of classical music. It has a nice, smooth feeling to it. You’re playing the chord in the following way – low note, high note, middle note, high note.

Watch out for the change up at the very end of each measure. The arpeggio ends each measure on the root note of the chord instead of the high note like the rest of the measure. This makes it easier to move to the next chord.

It can be a bit difficult to get at first, but with some practice you’ll get it. Take it slow – super slow.

Measure 1 (1st half)Measure 1 (2nd half)Measure 2 (1st half)Measure 2 (2nd half)
Beat Count1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a3-e-and-a, 4-e-and-a
Right Hand (single note)C-X-X-X, X-X-X-XX-X-X-X, C-X-X-XG-X-X-X, X-X-X-XX-X-X-X, G-X-X-X
Left Hand (single note)C-G-E-G, C-G-E-GC-G-E-G, C-G-E-CG-D-B-D, G-D-B-DG-D-B-D, G-D-B-G

Audio Example:

Again, try this pattern inverted as well – playing the chord arpeggio in the right hand instead of the left – for a different sound/vibe.


Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Rhythmic Patterns in Music?

Rhythmic patterns in music are essentially templates that can be used to create/play music on any instrument. It’s a template of how the notes are played, rather than which notes are played. That means you are shown what “rhythm” to play, and you can use any notes/chords you want. For example, a pattern may indicate you are to play a chord on each beat of a measure, or play a chord only on the 1 and 3 counts of a measure, etc. The rhythm itself heavily influences the feeling, bounce or “vibe” of the music.

When Do You Use Piano Rhythm Patterns

Piano rhythm patterns are used mostly when accompanying another artist – whether they’re an instrumentalist or a vocalist. Oftentimes, piano ballads that are sung, use these patterns to help provide the singer with a harmonic and rhythmic foundation to sing on. So if you’re ever singing while playing piano or playing keys in a band, there’s a good chance you’ll be using these types of patterns for piano.

How Do You Improve Piano Rhythm?

The best way to improve your rhythm is to practice various rhythmic patterns, gradually increasing in difficulty. But the trick is to practice them extremely slowly – like turtle speed. The more time you put into the practice side of things, the easier it becomes to play, and the more fluidly you’re able to play them. Put in the reps, and it’s almost like time slows down to allow you to really dial in the “feel” of your music.

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    Final Thoughts

    If you internalize the above 12 patterns, you’ll have a solid foundation to start playing, accompanying and even writing your own music.

    Remember to take things slow, especially when first starting out. This isn’t a race so even if it doesn’t sound good while you’re learning a pattern don’t sweat it.

    Once you have done a couple of reps of the pattern after figuring it out, you’ll be able to increase your speed/tempo.

    And finally, these are all starting points. There are literally dozens of ways to customize these patterns and make them more or less intricate/bouncy/etc.

    So once you’ve internalized these piano rhythm patterns for beginners, start to experiment by adding/removing notes and chords you’re playing in various places.

    If you really want to level up your piano playing, there’s nothing better than learning your favorite songs. So I highly recommend you try out FlowKey – the best online piano song library around.

    Thanks for reading this guide!

    Up next, learn how to practice effectively on the piano – read now.

    Additional Resources

    Piano Lesson Reviews

    Related Piano Articles

    • How to Play Piano for Beginners – Read Now
    • Beginner Piano Scales – Read Now
    • Guide to Effective Piano Practice – Read Now
    • Learn Piano Playing By Ear – Read Now
    • How to Teach Yourself Piano – Read Now
    • Improve Piano Finger Dexterity – Read Now

    Resources & Tools for Piano Players (affiliate links)


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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.