Whether you are interested in being the next Rockstar, want to learn guitar to be a singer-songwriter, or just want to learn for your own enjoyment; rhythm will play a major part in a students growth that will be emphasized by all of our Atlanta Guitar Teachers. Now, why is rhythm so important for guitarists? Keep reading to learn more.
Pulse vs. Rhythm
When you begin your guitar lessons and start exploring the importance of rhythm for guitarists, the first step is understanding the difference between pulse and rhythm.
The pulse, otherwise known as the beat, is the steady consisting sound felt while performing music. Examples of pulse are a ticking clock or your heartbeat. When pulse is related to music, the pulse is measured in musical time by counting the number of beats per minute or BPM.
Rhythm is music’s pattern in time. It is the pattern of long and short sounds as you move through the song. Whatever other elements a given piece of music may have (e.g., patterns in pitch or timbre), rhythm is the one indispensable element of all music. Rhythm can exist without melody, as in the drumbeats of so-called primitive music, but melody cannot exist without rhythm.
Rhythm’s Importance to Melody
When we hum a melody, we not only hum the notes on a musical staff, but we sing those melodic notes over different durations of time (note lengths) at a given speed (pulse). Rhythm can be described not only as something we can play, but as something we can feel.
Like how a rhythm guitar player locks into the rhythm of the bass player and drummer in a jazz big band, or how a guitar player follows the rhythm of the drummer in a rock band. In order for a melody to truly sing, the rhythm has to be there. If music was a heart, rhythm would be the heartbeat that pumps blood through it.
The Art of the Metronome and its Importance
All musicians want to have good rhythm, but how musicians, especially guitar players test themselves on how well their rhythm is, is by using a metronome. The metronome for a musician, especially a guitar player, is his or hers best and/or worst friend. All guitar players in the back of their heads want to play fast and shred, or play complicated strumming patterns, but in order to get to that point, they need to develop their rhythm, and this is done with a metronome.
Whether you have a real metronome, or a metronome app on your phone, the metronome does not lie, nor does it change its pulse mid-way through a song. The job of the metronome is to give you that steady pulse, and you as the guitar player have to match that pulse and feel.
The best way I show students how well their rhythm is by setting a metronome speed and record them in real time playing a song or an exercise. When listening back to the students recording, it is quite obvious to determine if the student is behind, in-front of, or off-beat. Using this information, helps me as the teacher see where a student is struggling and help them with alternative techniques whether speaking or clapping a rhythm to help them feel the pulse. Not only does repetition help the student, but the more the student can feel a pulse via the metronome, the more confident the student will feel when playing a song without a metronome at a steady speed throughout the song.
What makes music more than just entertainment and enjoyment for others and ourselves, is music is felt by the person performing it. Music is felt all throughout the musicians body, and that feel of the melody going into us and out through our instruments is propelled by the rhythm we play.
Complex vs. Simplistic Rhythms
Not all amazing music has complex rhythms. Yes there are things known as polyrhythms and polymeters where different rhythms and pulses are combined simultaneously; but rhythm in its simplistic form can be mostly uniform with a beautiful melody. The melody to Ave Maria by Franz Schubert is a good example of a melody with a simple rhythm.
When faced with a complex rhythm, follow these steps to conquer the rhythm.
- Step 1: Review the overall rhythm of the music you want to play, see where there could be difficult parts and circle them.
- Step 2: Start to go through counting the rhythms, whether it be for an entire score or for just a sixteen bar phrase. If the rhythm seems too hard to count, write out the rhythms using pneumonic rhythmic words such as (1 – e – and – ah)
- Step 3: Try and play through the complex rhythm and see where you continue to mess up. Make sure to turn on the metronome at a slow speed.
- Step 4: If there is a section of the music that is giving you difficulty, repeat this section over and over again. If needed, break down this section into smaller and smaller parts to work on the rhythm.
- Step 5: When working through a complex rhythmic part, try clapping and saying the rhythm at a slow metronome speed.
- Step 6: Once you feel confident at a slower speed clapping and saying the rhythm, increase the metronome speed and continue to clap and sing the rhythm.
- Step 7: Once you have the rhythm down, move to your instrument and play the rhythm at a slow metronome speed.
- Step 8: Increase the speed of the metronome until you are at your desired speed.
- Step 9: Finally, play through the entire song or phrase you are working on to see if you have the complex rhythm down.
- Step 10: Take a break, internalize the rhythm, and come back the next day and see how comfortable you feel on this complex rhythm. If the rhythm is still giving you difficulty, repeat the steps, if not, enjoy and give yourself a pat on the back on learning a new complex rhythm
Overall, when it comes to the importance of rhythm for guitar, this not only applies to the guitarist but applies to all musicians of varying skill level and instrument choice. Rhythm is an essential part of music, and understanding how rhythm is applied to music making, the student will better come to appreciate the performing and studying of music.
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By P.R. Hyland