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Learning the rhythm for a musical piece on the guitar

By Micha, published on 10/05/2017 Blog > Music > Guitar > How do you learn rhythm on the guitar?

When you’re learning guitar, you’ll rapidly realize that there are some basics you need to master – reading notes and tabs, picking notes out on the guitar, playing either with your fingers or with a pick, and learning the main major and minor chords.

Once you graduate to reading music or tabs as well, you’ll realize that there’s something else important that you need to master – rhythm.

What do you need to do to learn the rhythm of a piece of music? How do other guitarists do it? Are there online tutorials or guitar lessons that you can take to improve?

How do you go about mastering it?

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General rules on rhythm

The structure of a piece of music

Whatever style of music you’re playing, it’ll be made up of two basic parts – notes and rhythm.

If you already know everything about guitar and guitarists, it’s a fact of which you’ll be well aware.
Basically, the notes are pretty easy. You’ll quickly begin to recognize them when you sing or play. A background in classical music is especially helpful here.

 What is the relationship between rhythm and guitar style? Break your piece of music down to find your rhythm.

Rhythm is something that touches your heart, itches your feet, and makes you want to dance and move. It like an internal anthem that you’re externalizing through your guitar playing.

You’ll often find rhythms that you recognize when you’re playing genres like rock, pop, or funk.

Rhythm can also help keep you motivated in your guitar playing. A good beat will make your guitar classes easier.

Here are 2 recommendations to find your rhythm once you’ve lost it.

If you want to take guitar lessons and learn to keep the rhythm for different pieces of music, there aren’t too many options.

  • You could go to a music shop or find an online store to buy an official songbook that contains the score for the piece of music that you want to learn. Then you can learn the exact song, with all the notes and timings laid out.
  • Or you can train your ear to learn a song and its rhythm just from listening to it.

A third option might be to sign up for guitar lessons, but guitar lessons will be better over time with regular practice, and won’t just produce immediate results.

If you choose to go with the songbook option, it’s pretty easy. You’ll just need to find the tabs that correspond to your piece of music so that you can replicate the notes and rhythm easily on your guitar

If you decide to go with a musical ear instead, it may take some time and experience to achieve your desired result.

Thankfully, here are a few tips to help you reach your goal.

The 3 pillars of rhythm

First of all, in order to learn a piece of music and play all of the chords, you should know that there isn’t just one specific rhythm for each song.

Learning to read and play guitar chords is essential!

There are dozens of different ways to play a piece of music and replicate its rhythm, and the one that you choose has more to do with the style you’re going for than anything else.

But to bring your music to life, you must master the rhythm.

Learning the rhythm requires getting 3 key factors right – your foot, your right hand, and your head.

Pillar 1 – your foot

In fact, learning the rhythm for a piece of music often means putting your foot to work.

Your foot can serve as your foundation for defining your tempo and will help keep the beat.

Working with your foot is easy – just tap it to the beat. Make sure that you move your foot regularly and don’t stop or slow down.

Even if at the beginning it takes a bit of attention to keep tapping your foot, it’ll soon become second nature.

You can use whichever foot is more comfortable in a given moment, some musicians even switch feet in the middle of a song.

However, there are a couple of basic guidelines for keeping time with your foot:

  • Only one foot should be moving at a given time
  • Your foot hits the floor on each beat

For example, take a piece of normal music, and start counting 1, 2, 3, 4.

Use your metronome and set it to 60 to pulse on the beat.

Each time the metronome clicks, tap your foot on the ground.

Between each click, your foot goes up and comes back down.

It’s very important to tap your foot in time with the metronome.

Pillar number 2 – your right hand

Your right hand is the hand that strums the strings on your guitar.

This hand will begin to move in spite of itself and follow the movements of your foot. This way it will never lose the rhythm of your playing.

When your foot rises, your hand will also rise, and when your foot goes down, so should your hand.

In this way, your hand will follow the movements of your foot.

How should you train your hand? Use the same method as before, start your metronome, and begin to tap your foot.

Once your foot is on the beat, add in the movements of your right hand.

Pillar number 3 – your head

Of course, it’s impossible to learn rhythm without using your head!

But what should your head do to learn the rhythm? It’s pretty easy – just count to 4.

Different musical genres often have a singular rhythm. Learn to master your piece! Listen to different styles of music and learn to recognize their rhythms.

Take the example of setting your metronome to 60 again and work on a piece of music set in 4/4 (which includes more than 90% of rock, blues, pop, and folk music). Your foot and hand are keeping beat at the same speed.

Your brain will begin to learn to count when your foot is tapping the floor – 1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4; 1…etc..

Thanks to this easy method, you’ll always know when the top of the bar is.

Advice for finding the rhythm in a piece of music

Besides all of the other techniques and things to keep in mind when you’re playing guitar, here’s some additional advice to help you find your rhythm and learn your favorite piece of music at guitar class.

Interpreting the music

Like we mentioned before, rhythm isn’t just a fixed and permanent value.

It’s something that you need to keep in mind as you learn a piece of music and make it your own.

You may have already realized from listening to instrumental segments of music – rhythm is also something that can change, even over the course of a single song.

The rhythm used during the first verse is often different from the rhythm of the third.

In fact, musicians and singers will often tweak and play with a piece of music, performing certain portions differently from the way that they were originally written.

How to replay your favorite tracks on the guitar? By discovering the structure of the piece measure after measure. Make the rhythm yours when you perform your music!

This difference in the rhythm is especially audible during live concerts and performances.

So always keep this in mind – there isn’t just one rhythm to follow, but several depending on how you’re feeling in any given moment.

Don’t try to match the original rhythm

When you first start playing guitar, you’ll often want to learn your favorite song and try to play it at the same speed as the original.

However, it will take time, patience, and perseverance before you can play a song at the same speed as the greats.

Start by choosing easy songs with a basic rhythm, and then work up to more complicated pieces as you improve.

Keep in mind that you aren’t automatically going to be able to play at the same level as someone who’s released an album!

Take the context into consideration

When you’re trying to replicate a favorite piece of music, take a couple of minutes to think about how that music was made.

A typical group is often made up of 2 guitarists, one bassist, a keyboard, a drummer, a singer, and maybe one or two other instruments.

With all of these other players, the guitarists must often keep to simple rhythms so that the other instruments can be heard and appreciated as well.

Sometimes you can find yourself playing a rhythm that’s a bit boring.

Try and find a more interesting rhythm which has more complexity and can be played on its own on the guitar.

Make your own version

When you’re learning existing songs, whether it’s by listening to a CD or watching a video on YouTube, you’ll never be able to reproduce exactly the same rhythm and notes.

Each musician has their own style, preferences, and influences.

Learn how to make a piece of music your own, and experiment with changing and modifying the rhythm to reflect your current feelings.

The more you play with a piece of music, the more interesting it will be to listen to.

How to spot a rhythm on the guitar? Listening to it several times with a rested mind. Take your time to really hear the beat of a piece of music

Don’t hesitate to try things out for yourself. The more you play, the better your reflexes and your ear for the music will become.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced guitarist, work and practice are the key to playing well.

However, don’t just play nonsense – some rhythms will sound really terrible with some pieces of music.

You’ll have to figure out how many beats there are per measure, and then take that into consideration to find the right rhythm for your song.

As you can see, getting the rhythm right is a key part of replicating a piece of music on the guitar. Some genres, such as rock or blues, really rely on the rhythm of their songs to give them a certain feel, and if you don’t get the rhythm right the song may no longer be recognizable.

Maybe you haven’t actually bought a guitar yet? Or maybe you’re just starting to work on arpeggios?

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