By Bear Greenholtz of MusicRiser
Rhythm is one of the three aspects of music, along with harmony and melody. This is essential for any guitarist who wants to play with the groove. However, a few destructive habits can potentially ruin your rhythm playing. In this article, we are going to take a look at five of those destructive habits.
You're not using a metronome
This is a crucial issue. Most of us don’t have our internal clock under control from the get-go. Many beginners, even intermediate guitarists, struggle to play in a steady rhythm. And a metronome is an excellent solution for that. A metronome will lay out the constant pulses, and your first step would be playing along the metronome. You might find yourself getting ahead or lagging behind the pulses, which is quite normal and easy to fix.
Set the metronome at a slower tempo, slow enough for you to follow with minimal effort. You can play chords, scale, or anything you like, but ensure you are in sync with the metronome. If you get out of sync, stop and start over again.
As you get good with your timing, you should treat the metronome as a backing track and experiment with subdivisions and accents.
You don’t count out loud or tap your feet
I am sure you know how good it feels to tap your feet or bang your head along to your favorite songs. Why does it feel so good to do that? It’s because this way, you feel the rhythm through your body, and your brain finds it easier to keep track of. This is exactly what you need to introduce in your own playing.
But before that, invest some time in learning a few core concepts of rhythm. Learn about simple meters like 4/4 and 3/4; learn to count quarter notes, eighth notes, and triplets.
After absorbing those concepts to a certain degree, incorporate these into your own playing or practice sessions. Whatever you play, count the beats out loud or/and tap your foot. You can use a metronome if you are prone to lag or get ahead of the beat. Eventually, you will get to a point where you no longer need to make a conscious effort to count or tap. It will become second nature for you.
You're not comfortable with the subdivisions
This point relates to the previous one on counting. Subdividing means dividing beats into any number of smaller and equal beats. Being unable to subdivide beats will take a toll on your potential progress.
Subdivisions are fundamental to many, almost all, musical styles. They are used extensively to create complex and interesting grooves in music. So, of course, you have to have good expertise on subdivisions if you want to learn songs and at the same time understand what’s going on in those songs.
Practicing subdivisions will help build an immaculate sense of rhythm in general. Without learning and incorporating triplets and quadruplets, your playing might still sound stale. On the other hand, utilizing these subdivisions makes even a basic 4/4 sound groovy and enthralling.
You're playing with suboptimal techniques
Playing with faulty or suboptimal techniques is another issue that is ruining your rhythm on the guitar. Beginning and intermediate guitarists suffer from this quite often.
Beginners, and even intermediate guitarists, face numerous frustrating practice sessions when it comes to even the most basic guitar techniques. This happens because they haven’t accumulated enough muscle memory to execute techniques with minimal or no conscious effort. Every time they take up a guitar and try to play something that is somewhat challenging to them, they end up spending almost all their focus on only the technical aspect of playing guitar. In those instances, they usually have little to no attention left for rhythm.
One solution is to get better at guitar techniques. But this one will take time. So, should you stop practicing rhythm until you have good enough technical skills? Of course not. A great thing about rhythm is you can practice it without your instruments. To practice rhythm, you can just tap your feet, move your head or just straight up and bang the table in front of you. Unlike harmony and melody, You can practice rhythm anywhere as well. So, to get the most improvement in your rhythm, practice with and without your instrument.
You don’t accent your beats
Another potential reason that dulls your rhythm is not incorporating accents in your rhythmic patterns. An accent is playing a note, a set of notes, or a chord with a higher volume (a dynamic accent). You can achieve this, typically, by playing the targeted note or notes with a stronger attack. This will emphasize those targeted notes, thereby creating an accent.
Suppose you are playing in 4/4, meaning you must play four quarter notes per measure. One-quarter note has the same note value as two 8th notes. So, in 4/4, you have eight 8th notes. You can group these eight notes any way you want. You can make two groups of three 8th notes and one group of two 8th notes, basically, you have 3+3+2. Or if you want you could make two groups of four 8th notes i.e. 4+4. So far, so good. But how would your audience know which grouping scheme you are trying to play?
The answer is by accenting. If you accent the first notes of each group, your audience will pick up on your grouping scheme. In 3+3+2, you have three groups, so that you will have three accents, but in 4+4, you will have two. You can even shift between these two groupings in a single performance.
You can notice that just by changing the grouping scheme of a set of notes, you can create numerous grooves from any time signature. Accenting is a great tool for a musician, so I would urge you to give it a shot.
These are the five most common destructive habits that might be ruining your rhythm. If you have any of these, arrange a practice routine to get rid of these habits. Take your time and be patient. With enough practice, you will have a solid foundation in rhythm as a guitarist.