Introduction to Rhythm Notation | Hub Guitar

Introduction to Rhythm Notation

Using Rhythm

All musical events have a specific rhythm, and this rhythm can be defined using a clear and unambiguous language called music notation. This includes musical events that are intended entirely to provide rhythmic support, such as playing drums or even hand clapping. But it also includes chordA harmonic structure (that is, the combination of several notes) which ideally produces a pleasing sound. Chords are normally created by stacking notes in groups of thirds.s, melodyA series of pitches which form a memorable musical statement. and any other musical event you might hear within a song or other composition.

Notating Rhythm

For the purpose of this guide, we will learn a few fundamentals about music notation necessary to describe and play rhythms, melodies and chords.

rhythm time signature.

Rhythm refers to how music unfolds over time. In modern music, rhythms are often organized into groups of four beats. This group of four is called a measure or a bar and is the basic unit of rhythm. There will be a time signature (see left) declaring this at the very beginning of the music.

If we envision a note that lasts for one measure, this would be four beats long. How can these four beatA word meant to describe the pulses by which music is organized (as in beats per minute), but also often used to describe the unique nature of its rhythm.s be understood? A drummer might play them, or they may be silent, but counted by the performers. Imagine that these beats form an invisible time grid on which musicians can arrange their rhythms.

A great example is seconds on a ticking clock. One second is always the same length of time, whether someone’s counting it or not.

Dividing The Beat

Imagine that our one note, whose length is four beats, is cut into two, shorter notes. If we cut evenly, the result is two half-notes.

If we cut them in half again, now we’ll have our basic unit of measurement: four quarter notes.

Now that we’ve reached the basic unit of measurement, we can continue to subdivide it by cutting it in half. A quarter note cut in half yields two eighth notes, and those eighth notes, when cut in half, yield two sixteenth notes.

We can visualize how long notes are by arranging them into a pyramid from longest to shortest. Each time we take a step down the pyramid, the amount of notes we can fit into our measure will double.

Basic Rhythm Pyramid

All examples are played using an open A major chord.

Whole note

Play one note for four beats.

Whole note rhythm example.

Half notes

Play one note every two beats.

Half note rhythm example.

Quarter notes

Play one note on every beat.

Quarter-note rhythm example.

Eighth notes

Divide every beat into two, and play two notes per beat.

Eighth-note rhythm example.

Sixteenth notes

Divide every beat into four, and play four notes per beat.

Sixteenth-note rhythm example.

Key Exercises

  1. Tap your hand on a surface and verbally perform the beats of each of these measures. This means you would say, “dah,” and hold out that sound while your hand taps four beats; then say “dah” for two beats, twice. You’re using your hand to count the grid, and your voice to perform the actual rhythm.
  2. Once you can do this, repeat it, but switch randomly from one group to another until you can perform any of them.
As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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