Rhythm

author: UG Team date: 07/31/2003 category: guitar techniques
rating: 6 / votes: 14 
One thing that is important to technique is a good sense of rhythm. You must be able to play along with the beat, if you don't it will sound sloppy. Especially when you're playing very fast, it gets hard to keep track of whether you're playing 16th notes or triplets. You must learn to have a 'feel' for it so that you can sense 'where you are' in the rhythm, and when the next beat is coming. The next couple of lessons will deal with rhythm, because after this I'm going to get into the subject of alternate picking, for which you'll need to understand some things about rhythm. The first thing that I'll talk about is the time value of notes. w - this is a whole note. Because I want to do most of these lessons in ASCII, we're going to say that the short form for a whole note is 'w'. Some of you are now probably expecting me to tell you how long a whole note should be held. In fact, I can't do this, because the length of notes is dependent completely on it's relation to other notes. So really, the whole note can last for as long as you want. The important thing to remember is that the 'half' note: h - will last half as long as the whole note. That means that you can fit 2 half notes in the time it takes to play a whole note. Similarly, you can fit 2 quarter notes: q - in the time it takes to play a half note. Also, you can fit 4 quarter notes in the time it takes to play a whole note. If you've gone through grade school, you should know enough about fractions to figure this out. The next is the eighth note: e - you can fit two eighth notes in a quarter note, 4 eighth notes in a half note, and 8 of them in a whole note. Make sense? So here's a little picture to help you out:
time------:

w------------------------
h-----------h------------
q-----q-----q-----q-----q
e--e--e--e--e--e--e--e--e
You can continue to break down the beats into smaller and smaller parts. The next kind of note is the sixteenth note, and 2 sixteenth notes are equal to 1 eighth note. Notice that the names of the notes are all powers of 2. Now I'll talk about 'bars'. A bar is a way of grouping the beats together. It's a method of dividing a song up into small, rhythmically identical pieces. Each bar will have the same number of beats. From song to song, the number of beats in each bar will differ. This leads me to time signatures. Here is a time signature:
4
4
The top number indicates how many beats there will be in each bar. In this case, there will be four beats in each bar. Now you're asking, well how much is a beat? That's what the bottom number tells us. The bottom number tells us that a quarter note will get one beat. So in every bar, there are four quarter note. If the bottom note was an 8, then an eighth note would get one beat, and there would be 4 eighth notes in every bar. Consider this example:

4 q q q q |q q q q |
4         |        |
The lines are called 'bar lines' and they divide the piece into bars. If you look closely, you'll notice that there are four quarter notes in each bar, which is correct for this time signature. Here's another example:
3 e e e |e e e |
8       |      |
This is also correct, because there are 3 eighth notes in each bar, and there are supposed to be 3 beats in each bar, and each beat is an eighth note. Now consider the following:
4 h q q |q q q q |
4       |        |
Is this correct? Of course it is. The half note at the beginning of the first bar counts for two quarter notes, so there are still four beats in the first bar, which is correct. We could also do this:
4 h q e e |q e e h |
4         |        |
If you counted up the values of all the notes in each bar, you would find that they would total four beats. This is all correct. By now you're probably wondering why this is important. Well, every song has some kind of rhythm, and you have to be able to feel or understand this rhythm. A good exercise is to clap the above examples. For example, clapping this exercise is easy:
4 q q q q|
4        |
You would simply clap four times in a row, and each clap would be equally spaced from the others. To clap this:
4 h q q | 
4       |
you would clap once, and then you would clap twice in the time it took you to clap the first beat. The reason for this is that the quarter notes count for half the amount of time that the half notes count for, and you can fit 2 quarter notes into the time it takes to play 1 half note. Instead of clapping these exercises, you can play them on your guitar. Each clap will equal a strum. Surely when you first started out, you strummed a few chords, right? And you probably had to strum the chords in some kind of pattern. This pattern was the rhythm, and it can be written down in this kind of format, whether you knew it or not. The next lesson we'll be talking about how to keep the rhythm steady with constant motion of the arm. So we'll be getting a little bit away from all the theoretical rhythm stuff(although not completely), and we'll be actually playing something. This lesson is very incomplete. Also, since I'm not teaching one person individually, it's hard to account for everyone who'll be reading this. One person will probably wonder why I even bother saying some of the things I do, while others will be confused and not understand. Rhythm is particularly difficult to learn just by reading something. You have to actually do it to understand. Even so, I hope this will help a bit, and for those who do understand, the next more advanced lessons will be more of a benefit. Things to remember from this lesson: 1. Notes have values. These values are all relative to other notes. A single note won't be held for a 'certain' amount of time, instead it will be held for an amount of time that corresponds to how long the other notes should be held. For example, a quarter note will be held half as long as a half note. 2. Note values come in powers of 2. The first note is a whole note, and then comes the half note, quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note and so on. Each note has half the value of the note before it. 3. Rhythm is divided groups of beats, called 'bars'. These bars have a specified number of beats them, which is dictated by the 'time signature'. 4. The top number of the time signature tells how many beats there are in each bar. The bottom note tells what kind of note will count for a beat. 5. Each bar will always have the specified number of beats, regardless of how this is accomplished. For example, a four beat bar may have 4 notes, each counting for a beat, or 1 note, counting for four beats, etc. 6. Rhythm is important to be able to have a 'feeling' of where you are in the song, in regards to time.
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