We meet once again,
Rhythm is such a beautiful thing. It is so simple, but it can also be so complex. It is present in basically every aspect of life; from the way we track time to how our hearts beat. Oh, you don’t believe me? If your heart constantly beats too fast, you probably have a medical condition. The same is true if your heart beats too slow. In case either of these is true, please go see a doctor, for real.
Yes! That is how powerful rhythm is. Ok, let’s narrow it down a bit and just stick to art. Rhythm is a major part of literature, theater, dance, and music. Its importance can never be overstated. It can either make or break anything regarding an art form.
So… when it comes to music, what is rhythm? It has been defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a movement marked by the regulated succession of a strong and weak element, or of opposite or different conditions”. A more direct definition is “the systematic arrangement of musical sounds, principally according to the duration and periodic stress”.
There are many aspects related to rhythm. Here we will focus on just a few ones to keep it simple. One of those aspects is the beat.
Follow the beat
As a guitar player, you will probably hear a lot about the beat. But what exactly is the beat? The beat is basically the speed at which a piece of music is played. It is that basic unit of time that is dictated by the conductor of an orchestra or band. It is also the speed at which you tap your foot while playing or even listening to a song. It can be fast, slow, or anything in between and beyond.
The importance of rhythm as a guitar player
How important is rhythm for guitar players? Extremely important. If you have a poor sense of rhythm, nothing else matters. You basically won’t be able to play with any kind of decency if you don’t have at least a decent grasp on rhythm.
And this is true for any musician, not just guitar players. Take any great musician from any point in history. They all had a great sense of rhythm, from Johann Sebastian Bach all the way to the Motown greats. Steve Vai? He has a fantastic sense of rhythm. Phil Collins? You bet! Jimi Hendrix? Great control of rhythm as well. There’s no way around this one.
How do you develop a good sense of rhythm?
The good news is that you can train to get better at rhythm. It is fundamental to listen to all kinds of music to develop a good sense of rhythm. And that includes what I call active listening. That means you focus 100 % on the music, as opposed to listening while you drive, wash dishes, jog, etc.
Another and perhaps the most obvious way to get better at rhythm (or anything else for that matter) is practice. You can practice playing riffs on time, solos, patterns, etc. If you use a metronome while you do that, then you are going to be improving at a great pace.
And the third way to get better at rhythm is to record yourself and then listen back. This tool is quite powerful and will reveal several things that you might not notice about your playing. It is a very powerful tool to get better as a musician in general.
And the most fun way of getting better at rhythm… play with other musicians, especially those that are better than you. Again, this is a great way to get better as a guitar player in general. If you can jam with another guitar player, or bass player or even a drummer, do it. There’s nothing like playing music with people to develop skills that you have already worked on in your practice room.
You have to learn to walk before you can run, and before all that, you probably need to learn to crawl. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many guitar players try to play fast from the get-go. Folks… please avoid that temptation, as it will be wasted time.
Make sure you can execute something slowly first before you speed it up. It can be the simplest thing, like changing from a C chord to an Am chord. You need to make sure you can do that smoothly and with confidence slowly before you try it fast.
The best way to track progress is through the use of a metronome. Set it slow, and once you have whatever you’re working on down at a slow speed, then you can start increasing the speed of the metronome slowly. I repeat: slowly.
The depth of rhythm
Of all aspects of music, rhythm is the one humans relate to the most. It is a very tribal aspect that is central to many cultures of the world, not only in music but in art and life in general. There are professionals dedicated exclusively to the study of rhythm and its impact on society throughout history.
And there are countless stories of great musicians traveling to faraway lands to study rhythms from different parts of the world to enrich their own musical abilities and life. George Harrison spent a lot of time in India, Timbaland in Africa and the guys from Snarky Puppy in the middle east, doing just that.
Wrapping it all up
Rhythm is a central part of music and life. It is a lifelong pursuit to become good at rhythm and explore its many variations, intricacies, and aspects. It may be one of the most beautiful journeys a person might take.
As a guitar player, playing with a good time and a good sense of rhythm is one of the most important skills to master, arguably the most important. There are several ways to achieve this. With dedication, practice, perseverance, patience and some curiosity, you can also embark on this amazing journey.
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned and…