How To Develop Rock Solid Rhythm Awareness and Accuracy Skills On Your Guitar
by Allen Hopgood
Developing your 'internal clock' is the most important element to playing your guitar. Having a good 'sense' of time, is essential for when you are playing with other musicians and for recording. This is a fundamental skill that, like developing any skill, requires effort and time to master.
Playing with a metronome, is a pre-requisite to mastering this key skill. Though it is easier for most guitar players to keep simple time at higher tempos, the real learning – the muscle memory, and the internalisation of rock-solid timing, happens when you practice basic rhythms at a slow tempo.
These exercises are definitely not easy. It can be quite challenging. However, even short practice intervals of five minutes or more a day can reward you with massive results. I strongly urge you to commit to these exercises and persist through any 'beginner' frustrations and setbacks you may experience. These are setbacks that are completely natural, but if committed, are only temporary.
You will begin by setting your metronome to 35bpm. Unlike normal practice with a metronome, where you have a 'click' for every beat, you will remove beats 'one' and 'three'. This will leave you with, only beats 'two' and 'four' being audible.
To start, say out loud 'two' and then 'four' on the clicks that you can hear. These clicks are similar to the beat that a drummer would play on a snare drum. Continue with this until it is comfortable. Then when you can confidently get the 'two' and 'four', add in the counts of 'one' and 'three' out loud. You will have this (see diagram below). Don't mind that it is tricky. Keep at it until its comfortable. You have to work at it until the uncomfortable becomes comfortable.
Counting out loud and with confidence is the key to the above exercise. Confidence will help you internalise the beat. You want to strive for that internal rhythm which helps you produce the music from your instrument.
When you are comfortable with the above, you will now add a 'muted' down stroke, for strumming (fingers muted across all strings) or muted down pick as you count 1, 2, 3, 4 for the quarter notes below. Remember, you are counting 1, 2, 3, 4 but the metronome clicks are only on beats 2 and 4.
Really listen as you do this. Do you notice if you ahead of the beat? Or are you behind the beat. The key here is to be relaxed, and feel the beats as you play the down strokes and count 1, 2, 3, 4 out loud. Stay with this until you do. Do not move forward to the next exercise until you are confident.
The next exercise adds a basic eighth-note pattern. The quarter notes of the above exercise and the eighth notes of this exercise, provide the essential building blocks of all rhythm. They are not to be overlooked or discounted for their simplicity.
Keep the metronome on beats 2 and 4 and keep a solid and steady 'down up down up' with your muted strings, for either strumming or picking. This 'down up down up' motion really aids you with your timing here.
To know if you really have the above exercise, listen to hear if your down picks on beats 2 and 4 are completely in sync. If you hear nothing but the down stroke/pick you know you have made the metronome 'disappear'. This is exactly what you want.
The last exercise involves sixteenth notes. Continue with either your 'down up down up' stroke or pick here.
Playing sixteenth notes means you play four notes for every beat. To master this exercise listen to make sure that the sixteenth notes you are playing are spread evenly across the beat. There is a tendency to rush this, so I just wanted to bring your attention to this here.
These exercises, for you, will most likely not happen overnight. They will require patience and persistence. They are essential exercises to developing a rock-solid time, that will greatly develop the 'internal rhythm' you need to play great music on your guitar.
I would like you to keep this thought in your mind. With these exercises there is nothing you can't do on the guitar. You can do anything! If you are unable to get something at first, keep with it. You just can't do it – yet!
About the author:
Allen Hopgood knows anyone can become a guitar player, with the right instruction and guidance. Allen regularly conducts - Timing Is Everything® workshops and master classes for his guitar students at his Gold Coast Guitar Training studio.