How to Develop Rock-Solid Rhythm Guitar Time-Keeping Skills

Rhythm is a crucial aspect of guitar playing that every guitarist needs to master.

But let’s face it.  It’s easy to get caught up learning new guitar techniques and working on guitar solos.

If you play a song accurately note-for-note, but play those notes on the wrong part of the beat—it will sound wrong.  After all, you are playing the chords or notes where they are not supposed to be.

Here is a deceptively simple, yet powerful exercise you can do to develop solid time-keeping skills on the guitar so you can become great at rhythm guitar.

Bury the Beat

The first key to becoming a great rhythm guitar player is to develop a great sense of time.

What does this really mean?

It means to be able to tap your foot at a consistent tempo.  Most beginner guitar players are able to play in time for a while, but then start to drift in and out of time.   Sometimes guitarists will unintentionally speed up and/or slow down at certain parts of songs.

The best way to develop a solid unshakable sense of rhythm is to become great at what I like to call burying the beat.

First you need a metronome.  If you don’t already have one, I would highly recommend that you go to your favourite music store and purchase one this week.  They are inexpensive and will help your guitar playing immensely.

If you don’t have a metronome right now, don’t worry.  Here is a link to a free online metronome:

http://www.metronomeonline.com/

So do you have your metronome ready?  Great!

Here is how to perform the exercise.

Set the metronome at 60 beats per minute.  Now all you do is clap along with the metronome.  Count out loud as you clap.

So you would count each clap and say:

One, two, three, four.

Burying the Beat, counting four-four time

But here is the trick: you want to be able to bury the sound of the beat.

By this I mean that your goal is to clap louder than the metronome and be able to clap at precisely the right time so that you can’t actually hear the metronome click.

When you are able to clap so that the metronome clicks can’t be heard, you are playing perfectly at 60 beats per minute.  This will take some practice to do.  Once you can do this at 60 beats per minute try moving the metronome up a few notches.  So try it at 65 beats per minute.  Try it at 70 beats per minute, etc.  The idea here is to be able to bury the metronome clicks at any tempo.  Once you can do this you will have a good solid sense of rhythm.

One other thing to do is to move the metronome to slower tempos.  This will actually make the exercise harder.  Why? The exercise will become trickier because there are now longer spaces between each click.  As the beats get slower, you will want to adjust your counting.  At the slower tempos you may want to count off eighth notes or even sixteenth notes.  So you would count:

1 +   2 +   3 +   4 +

or

1 e   +   ah    2 e   +   ah    3 e   +   ah     4 e   +   ah

Bear in mind that even though you are counting eighth or sixteenth notes, you are still clapping only on the beat.  So you are clapping on the “1, 2, 3, 4″.  The eighth or sixteenth notes are really just place holders for you.  They break down the space between the next beat making it easier for you keep time at slow tempos.

Once you can do this exercise at various tempos, you can grab your guitar and do this exercise with a guitar chord.  Once you can do it with one chord, try applying it to a chord progression.  After this is nailed down, you can start to experiment with different time signatures and different chord progressions.

But here is the trick: you want to be able to bury the sound of the beat.

By this I mean that your goal is to clap louder than the metronome and be able to clap at precisely the right time so that you can’t actually hear the metronome click.

When you are able to clap so that the metronome clicks can’t be heard, you are playing perfectly at 60 beats per minute.This will take some practice to do.Once you can do this at 60 beats per minute try moving the metronome up a few notches.So try it at 65 beats per minute.Try it at 70 beats per minute, etc.The idea here is to be able to bury the metronome clicks at any tempo.Once you can do this you will have a good solid sense of rhythm.

One other thing to do is to move the metronome to slower tempos.This will actually make the exercise harder.Why? The exercise will become trickier because there are now longer spaces between each click.As the beats get slower, you will want to adjust your counting.At the slower tempos you may want to count off eighth notes or even sixteenth notes.So you would count:

1+2+3+4+

or

1e+ah2e+ah3e+ah4e+ah

Once you can do this exercise at various tempos, you can grab your guitar and do this exercise with a chord.Once you can do it with one chord, try applying it to a chord progression.After this is nailed down, you can start to experiment with different time signatures.

About Don J MacLean

Don J. MacLean is one of the world's leading authorities on accelerated learning systems for guitar—with students using his methods in more than 50 countries worldwide. Don is the author of over 60 books including The World of Scales, the Absolute Essentials of Music Theory for Guitar, How I Got Killer Guitar Chops While I Was Still in High School: Confessions of a High School Shredder, 21 Secrets to Learn any Guitar Song Super-Fast, and Guitar Essentials: Chord Master Expanded Edition.

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