Today I want to talk about one of the most interesting and important concepts for guitar players- rhythm. Rhythm is interesting because it is the force that compels one to dance (or at least tap their toes). Have you heard of Michael Jackson or perhaps Prince? Both of these musicians (and their bands) are experts in the art of rhythm.
Rhythm is deceptive. It is the most basic concept behind music and therefore the easiest to overlook, especially for guitarists. Throughout my years as a guitar instructor, I have found a common thread behind the majority of my students: they want to learn the “notes” to a song but are not as interested in learning how to play them in good time. My theory is that because rhythm is so easy to understand, my students often don’t practice it.
Without rhythm, a melody is just a collection of lifeless notes. One example I like to show my students is the "random note example". I pick a collection of random notes and initially play them with an undefined rhythm. The result usually sounds pretty bad because it is just a bunch of directionless notes. Following that, I play the same sequence of notes, but this time with a rhythmic idea in mind. Instantly a group of previously aimless notes turns into something that makes much more sense. It is not necessarily the notes that you play, but in the rhythmic organization behind them.
Listen to any Led Zeppelin song. You will hear John Bonham laying down a rock solid foundation for the rest of the band but, it doesn't end there. Upon further listening, one will hear that Jimmy Page is also playing with great timing. This rings true for Robert Plant and John Paul Jones as well. It is easy to think that the drummer is the one responsible for taking care of the rhythm, but for a band to sound truly good, everyone in the band must have a great sense of timing.
Okay, so how does one get a better sense of timing? There are two answers:
1. Play to a metronome.
2. Listen more carefully to how your playing lines up to the metronome.
Playing to the metronome is difficult because it requires one to listen intently at all times. A metronome can be a dreadful thing to many musicians, but the truth is that it’s your best friend.
It can also be a daunting experience, but the secret to making it less scary is playing slow. Yes, the piece you are working on will sound strange at a slower tempo, but by playing slow, you are training yourself to play evenly. Once you speed your piece up, it will be surprising to hear how much better it sounds. This is because you are playing with solid rhythm now.
To sum up, playing in good rhythm is half the battle for any guitarist. There are many other factors that go into playing guitar well, but if there is no rhythm behind what you are doing, the music will fall flat. If your sense of rhythm is solid, don’t be surprised if you inspire those around you to get up and start moving!
Derrick B. is a RockHome Instructor that specializes in teaching guitar, bass guitar, piano, and drums in Denver, CO. Derrick holds a bachelors degree in music performance from Denver University and is currently involved in multiple music projects in the Denver Metro area.
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