One the most frustrating and common problems faced by many guitar players is the ability to play their guitar in time. Working with your rhythm and timing, even for just a few minutes a day, will see huge improvements across the board with your guitar playing!
Can you relate to the following?
You’re having trouble playing along to a song you are learning on guitar. It could be a specific part of the song like the solo for example. You have the notes down, you can play these notes fast enough it seems, yet when you play along to the recording it just falls apart. You throw your guitar down in frustration vowing never to pick it up again.
The above scenario sums me up perfectly in my early days of learning guitar. I’d spend hours getting a certain part of a song down, like a section of the solo, or a particular riff, and when I tried to play along to the recording, it didn’t fit. This caused me a lot of frustration!
Eventually I worked out that it was my rhythm and timing skills that were lacking. The notes I was playing on my guitar were fine, but a lot of them were being played at the wrong time, and therefore were just wrong.
Having the ability to play your guitar in time, and to have great rhythm and timing skills throughout all areas of your playing, is essential in becoming a great guitarist!
Let me show you exactly how to develop these skills in this article. The great news is that it won’t take more than 5 minutes of your time each day.
But before we do . . . . .
What Great Rhythm And Timing Will Do For Your Guitar Playing
The drills I present to you in this article are very effective, and simple, if you work on them consistently, each day. Your awareness of time will improve greatly, and your timing will go from something that you have to “think” about, to something that you “feel.”
This is exactly what you are after!
You want to be able to “feel” where the notes are played, and “feel” where the beat is rather than having to “think” about it.
Making this switch from thinking to feeling will transform your guitar playing. Struggling to play songs in time will be a thing of the past for you. You’ll love every moment of playing guitar. Songs will be easier to play and much quicker to learn, and your confidence will go through the roof when jamming with friends and/or playing in bands.
Why You Struggle With Rhythm And Timing On Guitar And The Fall Out Of Ignoring It
The ability to play your guitar in time will make or break your playing. It is one of the most common frustrations for guitarists of all styles, some of whom are not even aware that this is the area of their playing that is holding them back.
Far too often the focus is on what notes to play, rather than WHEN to play these notes. The frustration occurs when you realise that just because you can play these notes well, it doesn’t mean that they are all going to fall into place for you by default.
This frustration turns into embarrassment when you are jamming with friends, or playing in a band, and you discover that you can’t play in time with everybody.
Unfortunately, nothing will change until you make the decision to invest time into working on your rhythm skills. It doesn’t matter how many songs you learn, you will always struggle to play any of them well if you ignore your timing issues.
No Guitar Needed. Time To Put It Down
You are going to be working on your rhythm and timing in a general sense, as oppose to looking at a specific song or riff. Timing is the common denominator between all music, so if you isolate and work on it then everything you play becomes so much better.
In light of this, you wont actually need your guitar at all. We need think like a drummer and have only rhythm to work with. We don’t need the distraction of pitch.
Now that the guitar is out of the picture, you are able to work on your rhythm and timing skills anywhere, anytime. All you need is a spare couple of minutes and away you go. This is a big advantage as you can now improve your guitar playing anytime of the day!
Warning: A very costly assumption that many people make is that they are above simple drills of counting and clapping rhythms. DO NOT fall into this trap! Whether you have been playing guitar for years, or are a beginner, the drills that follow in this article will help your guitar playing no end. They may appear simple, but the rewards of doing them on a consistent basis are huge !
The following exercises are all in 4/4 time. This is the most common time in music, but you should also work with other common time signatures too like 3/4 and 6/8 etc. Also, it’s highly recommended you use a metronome. This will train your timing so much better and will highlight areas of weakness that you can then work on (eg. keeping consistent tempo).
To start, simply count aloud 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.
Each count represents a click of the metronome.
Begin to tap or clap on the “1” beat as you continue to count 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. There should be one tap to every 4 clicks of the metronome. Here it is with the beat you are tapping on highlighted in red:
1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.
Now tap on the 3rd beat as well as the 1 like this:
1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.
Finally, tap on all 4 beats as you count:
1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.
It is vitally important that you count each beat aloud as you do this. Make sure your lips are moving.
Counting aloud now, leads to feeling the beat down the track. Remember this is our aim.
Dividing The Beat
Now it’s time to divide the beat into some common and various divisions that you will come across in your guitar playing everyday.
Start by dividing the beat into two. To do this, simply tap twice to each click of the metronome and count (aloud):
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + etc
Next, tap 3 to each click of the metronome and count (aloud):
1 + a 2 + a 3 + a 4 + a etc
Finally, tap 4 times to each click of the metronome while counting (aloud):
1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a etc
The drills above will provide you with a great foundation for your rhythm and timing. These are some of the most common everyday divisions of the beat that happen in all music, whatever the style. Learn and internalise them well.
Time To Mix It Up A Little
Once you have a feel for the drills in the previous exercise, the next step is to mix them up, coming up with all sorts of variations. In reality, this is how music is. It’s all about dividing the beat up to create rhythms and grooves.
For example, you might do something like this:
1 + 2 e + a 3 + a 4 + etc
1 e + a 2 + 3 e + a 4 + etc
Start creating your own variations, by mixing up the divisions of the beat, and always be sure to tap them out while counting aloud. You will come up with all sorts of rhythms doing this.
Remember, all you need is a few minutes to work on this each day. No guitar is needed, so take advantage of the pockets of spare time that we all have in our day, and take your guitar playing to a whole new level!
Test out your rhythm and timing skills and turn your acoustic guitar into a drum machine by learning all about acoustic guitar percussion with this free video/PDF download.
About the author: Simon Candy is based in Melbourne Australia and is founder of Simon Candy School Of Guitar where he coaches, trains and mentors students of all ages and levels. As well as running his own guitar school, Simon also offers acoustic guitar lessons online.