Developing An Internal Rhythm

by Vishal Kapoor, GuitarKL, in Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA
Photo by Peter Okwara on Unsplash
Photo by Peter Okwara on Unsplash

Rhythm is necessary for every part of your playing no matter what skill level you are at. Without a solid sense of rhythm, playing or performing with others, recording, and playing over a backing track would be close to impossible. If you are part of the rhythm section in a band, your rhythm needs to be tight so that other band members can latch on to something solid. Poor rhythm will throw other band members off. If you are doing any lead lines, your playing needs to make rhythmic sense relative to what the band is doing. Even when playing by yourself, you would sound kind of random and all over the place since rhythm is one of the main elements which both the player and the listener latches on to in any piece of music.

Here are some simple ways for you to develop a solid internal rhythm. Take note that everyone has different levels of natural intuitive rhythm even before they start actively working on it. The methods here might work faster for some compared to others.

Identifying the pulse of a song

Every song has a pulse. The pulse refers to the strong beats which stand out in a song. Typically they are accented by the kick and snare drum. If you were to tap your foot or bob your head to a song, the timing of it would be aligned with the pulse of the song.

Generally most songs have a time signature of 4/4. Explained in simple terms, the sound you would hear from that song repeats every 4 beats. This, along with the kick and snare drums, is the most obvious indicator to where exactly the pulse of the song is. You can train to develop your internal rhythm by simply identifying where the strong beats are in any song that you listen to. Tap your foot or bob your head to these strong beats. The cool part about training this way is that you can do it without your instrument and anywhere you happen to be listening to music!

Practice to a metronome

Practicing to a metronome benefits you in a number of ways, of which keeping time is one of them. A metronome traditionally is a device used to mark time at a selected rate of beats per minute (bpm) by producing a regular “click” sound. These days there are many metronome apps or online metronomes you can access for free.

To practice with a metronome, simply set your metronome to a moderate bpm. 60bpm is a good starting point. Then strum a chord to every “click” sound that you hear. Try as much as you can to strum exactly when the “click” happens. Pay attention to whether you tend to strum slightly before or slighty after the “click” and adjust the timing of your strumming accordingly. Do this over 1 chord initially. As your timing improves, try adding more strums in between each sound. The spaces between each of your strums should ALWAYS be evenly spaced. Be as creative with this as you can. Try strumming 3 times or even 4 times on every click. Remember the sounds indicate a down beat. So depending on how many strums you are playing per “click”, the first strum should always be on every sound. As your timing gets more accurate, you can expand your single chord to a full chord progression using the same method.

A metronome is only there as a guide for you to keep time. You can and should work on every part of your playing using a metronome, including scales, scale sequences, guitar techniques and phrases.

Playing to songs or backing tracks

Similar to a metronome, playing to a backing track allows you to gauge your rhythm and timing on a larger scale i.e. an entire song, rather than just a small exercise. Pick a SIMPLE song and play along to it as if you were performing or recording it. How this differs from metronome training is if you lose track of where you are, you will need to jump back into where the song has progressed to and NOT to where you fell off the wagon. This sort of training gives you the skills to perform and jam in a real-life situation. It is recommended that you train this way with chords first, only then work your way towards songs with more complex parts such as riffs and solos.

These are just a few of the many effective ways you can train to develop a strong internal rhythm. Do not rush this process or feel frustrated if you don’t get it immediately. Take your time and enjoy the process!

Learning to play guitar on your own can be frustrating and challenging, especially if you don’t know what to do. Having a great teacher makes the whole process more fun, enjoyable and gets you real results fast.

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