Introduction to Rhythm | Hub Guitar

Introduction to Rhythm

The Importance of Rhythm

Rhythm is one of the most important elements of music. The audience can tell if a band has good time. A simple rhythm or “groove” can capture the attention of an entire stadium full of people—for hours!

Your first task as a musician is to follow the beat. A beat is a steady pulse of rhythm. The speed of this pulse is measured by how many occur in a minute. This rate is called beats-per-minute or BPM.

You hear beats every day life. A clock ticks at a steady beat of 60BPM. The human heart normally beats a bit faster, between 60BPM and 100BPM when resting. A passing train sounds even faster. Imagine the “CHUG-a-chug-a” sound of a train passing by. Notice how the first “CHUG” is louder and stronger than the next three; the imaginary train’s sound is grouped into fours! Each group of four is actually just one beat, subdivided into four little beats. We can divide a beat into any number of subdivisions, though multiples of 2 and 3 are the most common.

A metronome is a device that will play a single, steady beat—much like the ticking of a clock, but at any speed desired. You can buy a machine that does this for $10-$20 USD, or you can find a program or web application that will work just as well. You can also get Tempo by Frozen Ape[?]Affiliate Link, an app version for your iPhone.

How do musicians “lock in” to the beat, without straying from the pulse? Lots of practice!

Playing the guitar in time is difficult. You’re playing a manmade instrument. You’re attempting to position your hands correctly to create the notes you want. You’re trying to remember the sequences of notes and chords that you have to play, and you’re also trying to switch from one chord to the next. And now you have to do this all in perfect time.

How can you shift your focus to the rhythmic aspects of your playing when you’re still focused on creating the sounds you want? You can remove complication by focusing just on rhythm. In fact, we can work on rhythm without even touching an instrument.

Beginning Rhythm Exercises

To do these exercises, you’ll need to get a metronome and set it to about 60 BPM.

The exercises begin at easy levels and progress in difficulty. As you master the easier exercises, you may choose to discard them. However, if you struggle with any rhythm, you should return to the most simple exercises possible, in order to learn to internalize the beat.

Exercise 1. Counting.
Summary: Count along with the beat.
Practice counting 1, 2, 3, 4 along with the beat. Try counting just one; just two, just three and just four. Also, try counting one & three or two & four.

Exercise 2. Clapping.
Summary: Clap along with the beat.
Clap on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4. Your claps should “overlap” the beat. If done correctly, you will no longer hear the metronome clicking; instead you will hear only your claps. As before, try clapping just on “2”, or on groups such as on “2” and on “4”.

Exercise 3. One note.
Summary: Play one single note in time.
Play the open “E” note on all four beats; then on beats 1 & 3, then on beats 2 & 4.

Exercise 4. One chord.
Summary: Play one single chord in time.
Play the E major chord on all four beats; then on beats 1 & 3; then on beats 2 & 4.

Exercise 5. Major scale.
Summary: Play a scale in time. Play a one octave E major scale, with one note per click.

Exercise 6. Chord sequence.
Summary: Play a chord progression in time.
Play E major, A major, B7 and E major. Each chord gets four beats.

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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