How To Keep A Steady, Consistent Rhythm
By Byron Marks
One of the most common complaints I see from new or prospective guitar students is that they have trouble keeping a steady rhythm. This is a very common problem, I’ve seen it in people who have only been playing a few months as well as people who have been playing for years.
Some people falsely believe that they just don’t have rhythm or don’t have the ability to learn how to have good rhythm. Can you see why thinking this way can cause someone to get frustrated and either just try to deal with not having good rhythm or even worse, give up playing altogether?
Why is it that these players have trouble with their rhythm and timing? Is it genetics? Is it that they, as an individual lack the capacity to keep a steady rhythm? Did aliens come down and inject them with an anti-rhythm serum? The answer to all of these is no of course, well maybe the alien thing (just kidding).
Though it is true that some people lack a sense of rhythm and timing that does not mean that they are unable to learn to have good rhythm. It would be like someone becoming upset because they weren’t born a good driver. You have to learn to have good rhythm. Even people that have a good sense of rhythm can develop it further. None of us are born with awesome rhythm abilities that would never need improving.
How can you develop rock solid rhythm/timing?
Using a metronome
While you should not become a slave to it, working with a metronome is a great way to help develop your sense of rhythm. Set your metronome to a slow tempo – 60 beats per minutes for example.
Ways to use a metronome to help develop your timing
clap to the ticks of the metronome
Tap your foot (only one foot) to the ticks of the metronome
Tap your hand on your knee to the ticks of the metronome
Using a pair of drumsticks, tap (not hit) your leg to the ticks of the metronome
Why do these things?
Most people who don’t have a good sense of rhythm don’t realize that it is because they don’t FEEL the rhythm and tempo. They are ‘guessing‘ all of the time where the beat falls as well as how and where to repeat it. They are completely unaware that they are guessing and will usually say things like “I don’t have any rhythm”. Without some sort of compass to guide them they will continue to float around (the beat) aimlessly.
If you can FEEL the beat (or the pulse) of the music then it is much easier to play on beat and in time. That is why the above ideas will work great. It will take some time but with patience and persistence, you will see your ability to feel the beat come much easier.
In conjunction with these the ideas listed above you can also:
Play chords, scales or single notes, whichever is easier to do along with the metronome, playing on each tick of the metronome
Arpeggiate (playing each note of the chord separately) the chords, playing each note on each metronome tick. Make the picking pattern random the picking pattern so that you don’t just play a familiar pattern every time.
If you find strumming chords on all of the beats to be too difficult you can strum on the first of the four beats only. There will be some space between strums but that is okay, you can just let the chord ring for all four beats until the next time to strum comes up.
Again, make sure that the tempo you are practicing these things at is a slow one. If the tempo is too fast, it will be very hard to keep up and will get frustrating. Patience is key here. The other thing is to practice these items in short bursts, 2-3 minutes each. The longer you go, the easier it is to get bored and move on to something else.
If you follow the tips given in this article, you will see an improvement in your rhythm and timing. The most important thing is to have fun making these improvements to your playing.
About the Author: Byron Marks is a guitar teacher in Manchester, NH where he teaches beginning guitar students, showing them step by step how to play guitar.