Mistake #5: Neglecting Rhythm.

Rhythm issues are very common amongst guitarists, and can manifest as a gross or subtle problem. As a gross problem it is actually…well, gross in every sense of the word.

Sometimes people manipulate the rhythm in the name of playing with what’s called a rubato feel, i.e. using the subtle stretching and compressing of the rhythm as an expressive device. Do this too much though, and you’ll get comments similar to the following I got in a guitar competition once from one of the judges:

“You are making me seasick.”

More often though, rhythm problems are mainly down to a lack of awareness of rhythm feel. This is tricky though as unless you have an external reference it won’t be easy to develop a good understanding of this. However, help is at hand with the following techniques:

Option 1: Use a metronome

This sounds like the logical choice. A metronome is a simple device that is like a clock in that it ticks regularly however you can set the speed of how often it ticks. This can give a good indication of whether your rhythm is correct or not. They are also very cheap now thanks to smartphone apps. If you want the more traditional physical device, Korg makes this excellent model.

I have found with my students though a metronome is rather difficult to play along to. Especially at slower tempos as the clicks are too far apart unless you subdivide the beats, and that usually sounds rather unpleasant on a metronome. So if you aren’t a metronome fan I would suggest:

Option 2: Use a drum machine

Drum machines are excellent to play along with as they give a much more complex rhythm pattern in the background, which ironically makes it much easier to play to as the beats are subdivided but feels much more natural and pleasant to play along to. These days you don’t need tons of money for a drum machine thanks to handy ios apps (you can probably tell by now I’m a bit of an app junkie). Try Garageband for iPad or iPhone, it has a brilliant drum machine that can create nearly any beat you could need on the fly.

Option 3: A real drummer or other musician

This is probably the best option (as long as they have a decent rhythm feel themselves!). After all, rhythm is a living, breathing thing; it’s not a precise click of an electronic device. So the best (and most fun) way to develop your rhythm is in a group. A drummer obviously would be the best way to go but any other competent instrumentalist will also really help you develop.

Once I have one of the reference points suggested above, I would then record myself playing along with the metronome/drum machine/other person. Use the self-assessment and recording skills outlined in chapter 3 to do this. Problem solved.

Your Assignment:

Record yourself but listen carefully to your rhythm feel. Now try the same thing but with one of the reference points listed above. Any problems? You could really gain some insights into your playing with this technique.

Rhythm is the cornerstone of music. So ensure that you have taken the time to lay the foundations.

The next instalment will touch on a topic that should concern all guitarists – and chances are it is being ignored. See you in the next one!

~ Greg from FretDojo


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