6 Exercises to Improve Your Rhythm and Time

Develop your ability to move between different divisions of time.

Ultimate Guitar
When playing music, one skill that is very useful is to be able to smoothly transition between different divisions of time. This is good for our lead and our rhythm playing. We'll start off with some simple examples and then use a short etude at the end to see how good your skills are!

What we are aiming to improve with these exercises:
  • Ability to move between different divisions of time.
  • Ability to play accurately for a sustained period of time - our consistency.
  • Playing accurately to a metronome.
It should go without saying that all these exercises should be practiced to a click. Even if you think you are too advanced for some of the first exercises, give them a go. See if you can play them perfectly for 2 minutes straight.

Exercise 1

Here we are just playing the open G string once per click.

Exercise 2

This time are playing twice per click, nice and evenly.

Exercise 3

Now we are mixing them up... pay attention to how this fits to the click.

Exercise 4

Here, we are dealing with triplets, so we have three notes per click.

Exercise 5

This one is pretty fun, here are moving between triplet quavers and semi quavers. Make sure you can keep this one tight to the click for two minutes straight before moving on.

Exercise 6

Hey! Did you skip ahead to this one? Go back and do the other exercises for 2 minutes straight first!

Here we are mixing up some scale sequences and an arpeggio (you can sweep the arpeggio if you are able to, but don't worry if you can't sweep, picking through it at lower speeds is fine). The first bar uses part of the Mixolydian position going into a C major arpeggio, and the second bar uses part of the Aeolian position going into a D major arpeggio.

The scale sequences are in semi quavers and the arpeggios are triplet quavers. Memorize where the notes go first, and then get it in time to a click slowly, then start ramping up the speed.

If you want to test just how accurately you are really playing, you can do either of the following:
  1. Video yourself playing on your phone and then listen back. How tight are you with the click? You can also check how much movement your hands are making, and if you can cut out any unnecessary movement.
  2. Record yourself in Logic/Reaper/Audacity etc. Then zoom in... and look at the waveform compared to the bar marker. Can you get the waveform any closer to the bar line? Give it a go, see how close you can get it!

About the Author:
Written by Sam Russell. If you want to learn more about the electric guitar and the modes, you can check out Sam's free eBook, "The Ultimate Guide to the Modes of the Major, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor Scales" on his website.

22 comments sorted by best / new / date

    There's a tiny skill jump between 5 and 6.
    Yes I had to slow way down to play it as close to on beat as possible. Muscle memory kicking in and sometimes I find myself forgetting I'm playing it and thinking WOW I just did it perfect...then I screw up.
    Keep playing it slow enough that you can consistently play it correctly - you're doing pretty good, keep it up! You'll find the muscle memory takes over and your speed will shoot up.
    Nice, Sam. I like the idea of using Audacity to visually compare the waveforms. Dave
    Thanks! It's quite useful for getting your playing super tight.
    I like using the metronomes that you can configure to be silent for a predetermined amount of bars, so you're relying on your internal sense of time. If you set it to 4 bars on, 4 bars off, at a slow tempo - it ain't easy! I use Mytronome on iPhone, I'm sure there are others though.
    That's an awesome idea - I didn't know those exist. I'm going to have to check them out.
    tinalong870 · Dec 19, 2015 11:08 AM
    I'm going to try this when I have the time. To this I'd like to add: Play with other (more talented) people. ever since I started playing bass at church I've been able to... uhh... actually count to 4 . Playing along with a recording is also good. And it goes without saying, COUNTING is a really good idea!
    That's great advice - playing with people with a grater level of skill than you (I dislike the word 'talent' ) is a sure way to improve your playing very quickly.
    This is good progression... Anyone going for this might want to try Exercise 5 with powerchords, both palm-muted and open. 555 5555 777 7777 333 3333 555 5555 555 5555 777 7777 333 3333 555 5555 333 3333 555 5555 111 1111 333 3333.... repeat... And mix it up to have the triplets as open strums with the quarters as palm muted... You're now playing rhythm as complicated as it really needs to get....
    anjali321 · Feb 03, 2016 03:27 AM
    I am here at the 6 Exercises to Improve Your Rhythm and Time, site and I am logged into UG but darn it, I can't find where to "start" the exercises. I have "clicked" all over the place, but don't hear or see anything. Now, granted I am over 7o years old, and none too bright, but usually I can figure this stuff out. Can you direct me please?
    Thanks for the exercises. After almost 2 years of practicing rhythm, basically every day for at least 10 minutes, it is a shame that I still suck. Surely when I started I really sucked at rhythm and time and during those months of practicing I have definitely improved a little. But yeah I still suck and it is just really frustrating. I love to play music but it is sad that I am just not good at it. Sometimes I really wish that I had never started to play music at all. Now every day I just know that I need to practice the stuff I have been practicing for almost two years. Or else I will never be able to follow my dreams. If one day I could ever play in a band and record an album or something then that would really mean the world to me. That dream is one of the things that keeps me going.
    Hi Paul, I remember being where you are. I remember what it is like to feel that way. But I overcame those obstacles. I'm now finishing my second album and planning a tour of performances in cathedrals in 2017 and 2018 (first electric guitar player ever to play in a lot of them). Let me help you - send a PM and we can talk.
    I have a question. With the semi quavers does that mean you are playing four notes per click?
    Learnt some DT and Meshuggah stuff, this seems hell too easy... Although I still practice these kinds of excercises, learning prog metal certainly made me a better guitarist.