SMG Guitar Lesson: Tips On Rhythm

I have students all the time that ask me things like “How do you know when to strum up or down?” and “How do you develop good timing?”

Even for an experienced musician and guitar teacher, rhythm is still one of the most challenging things to teach. That’s because, while it may take just a few minutes to explain the basics concepts of rhythm, it can take years to really develop your sense of rhythm to the point where it becomes second nature.

Here are a few tips on how to develop a good sense of rhythm

  • Learn the note values of standard notation and learn how to pick apart and analyze rhythms. Learning even a little bit of the basics will get you pretty far.
  • Tap your foot while you play. Get to the point where you can feel the rhythm moving through your whole body. It really works!
  • Try alternating your picking up and down steadily like clockwork. If there is already a part of your body that is working like a metronome, then it’ll be much easier for you to keep up with the beat. If it worked for Stevie Ray Vaughan, it’ll work for you!
  • Take it slow at first. Playing a song very slowly at first when you’re first learning it helps to train your motor memory for when you’re ready to attempt playing it up to speed. Don’t sweat it, even the pros do this. Regardless of how long you’ve been playing or what level you’re at, every time you learn a new song it’s something that you’re completely unfamiliar with, so it’s ok to stumble through it a few times and take it piecemeal at first.
  • If there is a particular song you’re trying to learn, practice along with the recording of it. This will allow you to hear things you could improve on that you may not have otherwise noticed. You’ll also feel more inclined to learn the song from start to finish. (There are way too many people who can only play the intros to a handful of songs and nothing more. Don’t be “that guy”!)
  • Practice improvising along with jam-along backing tracks or “guitaraoke” tracks of your favourite songs. You can even jam along to random songs on the radio, creating your own guitar parts as you go. It doesn’t always have to sound great for you to learn something, so don’t sweat it – just do it! Improvising is a great way to improve your phrasing, timing, and delivery.
  • Practice playing along with a metronome. When we play music, we instinctively tend to get excited and want to speed up, getting faster as we go. While we may be having fun at the time, it tends to sound kind of amateurish. The metronome trains us to play with a steady beat. – This is especially important if you want get to the point where you can perform your music live.
  • Find a group of other musicians to get together and jam with. Make sure they are at your same level or, if you’re lucky, slightly more experienced but still in your league. There is no greater way to improve your musicianship than hanging around and playing with other musicians. You’ll also be held more accountable for your progress. It’s a lot harder to shrug off practicing when you know your buddies are counting on you to play what you agreed to learn for the next jam session.

For those of you who are into writing your own music – here is a cool technique that I use to come up with funky new rhythms

Remember…. there is absolutely NO quick fix, NO silver bullet, and NO substitute for practicing your guitar for hours on end. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out!

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