Easy Exercise That Will Make Your Rhythm Bulletproof

The number one reason why beginning guitarist struggle to contribute to a band may not be what you think it is. Do you think it‘s important to know chord shapes and be able to play them smoothly? That is an important skill but not an essential. Do you think Do you think it‘s the ability to get the right tone out of your instrument? Well yes that differentiates players from good players. Do you think it‘s the knowledge of lots of songs? That‘s not really that important for most bands. 

The skill we are talking about here is the ability to keep a rhythm and play tightly in that rhythm. This is an essential skill because even if you play the smoothest chords, get the best tone out of your instrument and know a lot of songs all of that will not help you at all if you cannot play them at the right time. So to make sure you never hit it at the wrong time in a situation that is important you should invest some of your practice time into it. To give you an Idea how you can do this I will show you an excellent exercise and some variations on it. 

The exercise

Take a simple phrase that has a multiple of 4 notes in it and learn it on your guitar. It does not matter whether you take them out of a scale or just take any four notes. Here is an example phrase from the G major scale:

Play this phrase to a beat from a metronome with each note as a quarter note. Raise the speed continually until you reach a speed at which you cannot play the phrase cleanly and correctly for 5 times. 

When you have established that speed divide it by half and play the notes as eight notes. Because you halved the speed of the beats and you play two notes per beat you playing speed is exactly as fast as before.

Repeat that process once more i.e. half the speed of the beat again and now play the phrase in 16th notes. You should still play at the same speed but the beat will only occur every four beats. 

All of the above was a preparation for the real exercise which follows now.

Now that you are playing a phrase in 16ths your job is to start playing the phrase from the first 16th for one minute. Then start your phrase on the second 16th and play that for a whole minute. After that you start your phrase on the third 16th for a minute and finally your start on the fourth 16th and play that for a minute.

You will find that it‘s not easy to do these things because you are fixated on the beat. The challenge clearly is not a limitation in your fingers because you are have proven in the former steps that you are able to play the phrase at that speed. The only limitation is your ability to feel and count rhythm.

To make the beginning easier I recommend counting 1-2-3-4 on each beat to get a feel when the 16th notes should ring. Then start your phrase on the appropriate time. 

A small variation would be to still start on the first 16th but starting on the second, third or fourth note of the phrase. Some find it easier to start this way.

If you struggle with the speed allow yourself to reduce the speed by 10% to 20 %.

You can apply this training exercise to any piece, lick, riff or phrase you learn to play on your guitar and it will make your playing significantly tighter. Another added benefit is that you learn how all those phrases and licks sound if you change the emphasis of the beat. This will inevitably open up new door to your creativity.

This article was written by Rene John Kerkdyk. He teaches guitar on Hildesheim, Germany. If you are looking for guitar lessons in Hildesheim be sure to drop him a note.