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How You Can Make Your Rhythm Playing Steady and More Consistent

Over my years as a guitar teacher, the complaint I hear the most from new guitar students or prospective guitar students is that they have trouble being able to keep a steady rhythm. The truth is that this is a very common issue and it it happens to guitarists who have played for a short time as well as ones that have played for years. 
Some people will incorrectly think that they do not have good rhythm/timing or that it is something that they can not learn to have good rhythm/timing. Is this a genetic issue? Do they, as an individual, somehow have no ability at all to keep a rhythm? Were they abducted by aliens and given an anti-rhythm injection? Of course, the answer to all of these questions is no, well maybe the aliens… (Just joking)
Yes, it is true that some guitar players have a deficiency in this area it does not mean that they are not able to fix this problem. Anyone can learn to play with great rhythm and timing. Even guitar players that have great rhythm can still improve their skill. Every guitar player, no matter how advanced, can improve their rhythm. 
How Can You Start To Improve Your Rhythm and Timing?
One way to do this is to use a metronome when you practice 
Using a metronome or drum machine is a great tool to help you develop or improve your rhythm. I should also mention that you do not and should not become a slave to the metronome and use it for every second of your practice. 
To start out, you can set the metronome to a slow tempo, say 60 Beats Per Minute (BPM) for example. 
  • You can tap your foot to each beat (click) of the metronome 
  • You can use a pair of drumsticks and tap your leg on each beat of the metronome
  • You can tap your finger on a table or desk to each beat of the metronome
Why Should You Do These Things?
Most of the time, when people do not have a good sense of rhythm, it is because they are not able to  feel the rhythm. They do not have a feel for the pulse of the music and wind up trying to guess where the beat is. They of course, are not aware that they are guessing and will say things such as “I guess I just don’t have rhythm”. 
If you are able to feel the pulse of the music then it is so much easier to play in time. This is why the suggestions above will help develop a sense of timing. You are developing an internal feel for the pulse of the music. This will take some time to develop but with time and persistence, you will be able to more easily feel the beat. 
Some things that you can do with your guitar to help: 
  • You can play scales, chord, single note lines (whatever is easy for you to do right now) on each click of the metronome
  • You can play arpeggios (playing each note of the chord separately) with chords, picking a note on each click of the metronome. Try to make the picking patterns random so that you do not get used to playing one particular pattern all of the time 
  • If you are having trouble strumming chords and keeping them in time, you can start by strumming chords on the first metronome click and holding it for the remaining three beats. The chord(s) can ring out until the time comes around to strum the chord again
Make sure that you do this at a slow tempo to start. You can speed things up later but for now the important thing is to make sure that you are developing your timing and consistency. You also do not have to spend hours doing this. Start out practicing this in short bursts of 2-3 minutes at a time. You should be 100% laser focused during this time. 
Using these tips will help you start to create a stronger sense of rhythm and timing. The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the process of making these improvements in your guitar playing. 
About the author: Byron Marks is a guitar teacher in Manchester, NH and teaches guitar lessons for beginners