Keeping in Time

Having trouble keeping up with your buddies at a jam session? Finding it hard to stay at a constant and smooth speed? Well read on and I will give you some great tips to improving your overall speed and keep you playing in time.

Ultimate Guitar

One of the most essential skills for a guitarist is to be able to master the art of keeping time. It may not sound very important but having poor timing can turn a great song into a sloppy mess that no one wants to listen to. But don't worry because I have prepared some practical tips to help you keep in time and your playing sounding perfect.

1. Always Practise With A Metronome

It sounds simple I know but a metronome is an invaluable tool for any musician when used properly it can keep you in perfect time. I have a metronome app for my smart phone which cost nothing and is great when I'm practising away from home. Just make sure if you're playing in a band that you're all set on the same tempo (bpm).

2. Tap Your Foot

When you tap your foot that constant rhythmic motion creates a kind of inner metronome which helps you feel the beat of what you're playing. Many professional musicians claim that tapping your foot is the most important thing when keeping time.

3. Count Yourself In

When you do so count 1, 2, 3, 4 to the tempo you're playing in. This will not only help you but will gives others playing an idea of what tempo you're playing in. When I used to play with my friend Chris we would take a few minutes before each song we were playing and workout what tempo we wanted to play in and found that counting in was a great way to communicate with the other person what tempo we thought would sound best.

4. Record Yourself

Recording yourself and playing it back helps you to be able to identify weak areas especially when It comes to speed. Sometimes you can be falling behind or speeding up without even realizing you're doing so.

If you follow these simple and effective tips then you will without a doubt be on your way to play in good time. Thanks for reading this column and I hoped this help you. Best of wishes on your guitar playing endeavours and in the words of Tommy Emmanuel "Get to Work."

15 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Can you make one of these for drums? Serious question.
    Basically use the tips that's already written in the article. 1: Metronome practise. Get a headset with in-build metronome, or get a metronome for your phone, or use an online metronome. 2: Tap your heel. I don't use double-bass, so my left foot is always on the hi-hat pedal. One of the cool side-effects is you're gonna have a light 'chick' when you lift your foot. That said, you can't do this with the hi-hat semi-open I always keep rythm with the hihat (opening and closing with the pedal) when I'm crashing away / riding. I've found this is when I'm most in tempo. 3: Count in. Your bandmembers are going to love you. 4: Record yourself. Record the patterns you're playing. Then re-record with a metronome. Notice the difference between the two? If not. Congratulations. If you do, work on the weak spots. 5: Get a bandpractise / play to some of your friends. Tell them to stop you, when they notice you're going completely out of tempo. This is just an alternative to recording yourself. Everyone in the audience is not a drummer. If they can't hear you're screwing up, it's good. 6: DON'T COUNT IN YOUR HEAD! This is more of personal experience. If I count, I'm 100% sure to f*ck up. If I just trust my feel, I'm way more precise. 7: Practise. For all that's good. Practise. When you know all your parts, it's gonna be way easier not to screw up. Of course we're all different, and there might be some things that work better for you, but this is what I'm doing, when I'm practising. I think this article covered it good. PS: English is not my first language, I won't hate you if you correct me.
    Pablo Mortis
    Tapping your foot isn't exactly a viable option on drums, is it xD My mate went from playing piano to learning drums, and diagnosed himself with "Rockabilly Foot," which was basically him hitting the bass drum twice as often as he wanted to xD
    I have attended classes called 'Rhythm Studies Workshop' which focuses on teaching drums, bass and guitar to connect and hone in with eachother to create a solid performance. One of the things that we are taught as a guitarist is to listen to specific parts of the drums that we can target to keep precisely in time with as a band. For example if there is a prominent guitar hit that should land exactly as the snare drum is hit then focus on it. A lot of the cases when performing with other musicians, there will be natural shifts in the tempo of what you are playing, even if the drummer is to a metronome he/she will never be perfect and you should adjust to keep the performance sounding professional rather than going off on one because you feel your timing is correct and theirs is not. Learning how to hone in with a band is much more beneficial in my opinion than learning to keep to a metronome. Although both are very effective at improving your technique.
    Sign of War
    I hate the sound of Metronomes so I've made up a simple little drum loop that's bass, snare, bass, crash. My question is how do I know when I'm playing in time? I've played cover songs with bass players and drummers and have known "well I'm in time because I'm playing the right part at the same time as everyone else" but with a metronome it's just a constant click how can I tell?
    Great Idea, I know what you mean with the sound of metronomes though. Drum loops can be very effective. keep it up
    You forgot to mention the use of backing tracks. They help to keep time, even if you don't know exactly what time that is.
    As a drummer, I got myself a metronome app for my phone that randomly mutes bars so you have to concentrate like mad to try and come back in perfectly. It's actually a lot harder than I first thought! It's the only thing I've found that REALLY makes you learn to play time. Cannot recommend it enough. The only thing is, the rest of my band still come out with rubbish like "the click is wrong" or "it loses the feel". When they make an app for that, I'll be happy.
    Thanks mate additional resources are always appreciated. Thanks mate
    Not important? It's the most important thing there is. Why would anyone want to listen to music that is sloppy and out of time? If you're having trouble keeping in time at a jam, make sure it's just you and not others that are out of time (i.e. the drummer). If the drummer and bass are in rhythm, it shouldn't be hard to stay in time with them as long as you know what you're doing. If you don't know what you're doing, go back to the woodshed, sit by your computer and play licks to your favorite songs a thousand times until you have your shit together. A song or backing track is always in time.