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How to Have Rhythm when you Play Guitar

By Yann, published on 01/01/2019 We Love Prof > Music > Guitar > A Guide to Rhythm for Guitarists

“To live is to be musical, starting with the blood dancing in your veins. Everything living has a rhythm. Do you feel your music?” – Michael Jackson

Although musicians don’t need to use a particular technique to move their audience, they do need a sense of rhythm.uk

The majority of Brits attend at least one concert or gig per year.

You can perfectly play a song, with all the right chords and right notes, and it’ll all sound wrong if you have the sense of rhythm. To be fair, rhythm makes up half of the music. Maybe it’s time to start learning more about rhythm in your guitar classes.

Why Rhythm is an Essential Part of Guitar Playing

Rhythm is all about timing.

Which are the best rhythms for guitarists? Good rhythms can make people want to get up and dance. (Source: StockSnap)

Don’t panic! In the same way that you can learn how to play the guitar, you can also learn to develop a sense of rhythm.

Not everyone develops a sense of rhythm and the same way. Some may have to spend hours and hours practising and studying rhythm and the underlying music theory related to timing and rhythm.

In any case, you need a good ear in order to understand and break down any given rhythm. If you want to master music, you need to master rhythm.

Try reading a text without any punctuation or spaces. Just with the letters. It’s possible but it’s also very difficult to understand where one word begins and another ends. Playing music just by playing notes will have a similar effect.

You need to concentrate in order to recognise a song, especially one that has the wrong rhythm. Rhythm gives music a particular order. The length of the notes, the time signature, the tempo, and the accents, for example, help breathe life into notes.

Without any rhythm, it would be impossible to compose or improvise any music and even harder to convey a given emotion. Unfortunately, if you’re playing the electric guitar, folk guitar, acoustic guitar, you’re going to have to learn to put the rhythm to one side so that you can learn the basic chords, arpeggios, harmonics, or even melodic patterns.

However, a good guitar teacher might focus on rhythm before doing any of the above. Similarly, just like your posture and how you position your left and right hands on the guitar, rhythm is one of the three main aspects of learning how to play the guitar.

Without rhythm, you’ll never be able to play as part of a band, your songs will sound soulless, and you won’t be able to master a number of techniques, including tapping, for example.

Rhythm allows you to play the guitar more naturally, develop your musical ear, and provides you with the freedom to compose and improvised. Of course, when you learn how to play the guitar, you’ll also need to learn about music theory, such as pentatonic scales and major scales, and all other aspects of theory if you want to really master rhythm. The same is true for any other musical instrument, especially if you’re learning how to play classical music.

If you’re the rhythm guitarist in a band, this is even more important as you’ll need to know how to play guitar strumming patterns, learn how to read a bit of sheet music to understand said rhythms since tablature doesn’t indicate them, and play chord progressions smoothly while ensuring that each chord change is seamless.

In fact, every guitar player should learn how to strum, even if they’re interested in fingerpicking or playing a solo as it can help improve their timing.

What is a Binary Rhythm and Ternary Rhythm?

There are two main types of rhythm when it comes to playing the guitar: binary rhythm and ternary rhythm.

How do you play guitar in time? Bands without timing sound terrible. (Source: JaniSnellman)

To better understand, you need to know a little bit about music theory:

  • Semibreve = 4 beats
  • Minim = 2 beats
  • Crotchet = 1 beats
  • Quaver = 1/2 beat
  • Semiquaver = 1/4 beat
  • Demisemiquaver = 1/8 beat
  • Hemidemisemiquaver = 1/16 beat

To help you keep time, you can always use a metronome. Each click of the metronome, regardless of the tempo you’ve chosen, represents a beat.

Additionally, you should know what a measure is. Measures break songs into different parts and are an essential part of the rhythm and the time signature.

For example, in a measure with four beats, you’ll have to count from 1 to 4 before the measure is over. After that, a new measure begins.

Once you understand these basics, it’s much easier to understand the difference between binary and ternary rhythms.

A binary rhythm is divisible by two whereas a ternary rhythm is divisible by three.

Binary rhythms are used in almost all the music you’ll hear on the radio including pop music, rock, folk, funk, reggae, etc. Binary rhythms are normally represented by 2/4 or 4/4 in sheet music. Ternary rhythms include 3/4, 3/8, or even 6/8.

The denominator indicates what type of note you’ll count and the numerator indicates how many of them you’ll count in a measure.

In the most common binary rhythms, there are four beats in a bar. The first and third beats are accented. In a ternary rhythm, the accented beats are the first of every three beats.

If you want to know whether you’re listening to a binary or ternary rhythm, you just have to listen and count.

Tap your foot along to the music and see and whether or not the accented beats are every four notes or every three notes. Naturally, you only be able to count in groups of three when you’re listening to a ternary rhythm and in groups of four when you’re listening to a binary rhythm.

In order to help you, keep in mind that ternary rhythms are very common in jazz and blues music and are sometimes heard in rock music.

Binary rhythms tend to give a more rigid impression where ternary rhythms have more sway.

Learn to play semiquavers on the guitar

A semiquaver is equivalent to a quarter beat. In standard time, there are 16 semiquavers. A quaver is equal to two semiquavers.

Who are the best guitarists ever? You think the great guitarists would be anything without a sense of rhythm? (Source: JaniSnellman)

You’ll play semiquavers twice as quickly as you would a quaver and four times more quickly than a crotchet. This means you’ll be hitting the strings on each beat, the offbeats, and between each beat and offbeat.

You’ll have to hit the string four times per beat. In addition a striking the string each time you hear your metronome click, you’ll also have to strike the string three more times before the next click.

The count semiquavers, don’t try to count to 16 in each measure. It’s easier to count like this: “1, e, and, a, 2, e, and, a, 3, e, and, a, 4, e, and, a,”.

Make sure that the space between each semiquaver is regular. Start by playing semiquavers at a slow tempo so that your brain can get used to how you count them. Try to alternate between playing semiquavers, quavers, and crotchets in order to differentiate between them.

Try to regularly practise rhythms on the guitar and not just when you have your guitar lessons.

Which Rhythms Should You Know on the Guitar?

Before you dive into learning different rhythms, you should practise a lever motion. This will help you keep better time with your right hand (or left hand if you’re left-handed) when striking the strings of the guitar.

What is the rhythm section of a band? It’s not just the drummer who needs a sense of rhythm. (Source: Free-Photos)

To get started, play quavers. This means that you’ll play on each beat and each offbeat. Then, practise hitting the notes only on the down stroke. Make sure you’re still moving in time without playing the notes on the offbeats. Finally, do the opposite and play all the offbeats.

Once you’ve got the hang of these three exercises and can do them perfectly, you can move on to more complicated rhythms.

Don’t skip any of the steps. Slowly increase the speed of your metronome by 10 beats per minute to make sure you’ve got the hang of playing at a certain tempo before trying to play more quickly.

Here are some different types of music to get you started with different rhythms:

  • Pop
  • Campfire music
  • Ballads
  • Waltz
  • Pop country
  • Bolero
  • Reggae

Swing plays an interesting role in certain types of music. It’s important that you work on your timing when you first start playing guitar, be it lead or rhythm guitar.

Whether you’re playing jazz fusion, Bossanova, rumba, the music of Led Zeppelin, BB King, or even Eric Clapton, there are different types of rhythms and time signatures that will make one type of music different to another.

With a bit of work and perseverance, you’ll get there!

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