Knowing how to play your guitar in time is absolutely crucial to a musician, indeed a guitarist's development. The best online guitar classes in India stress this aspect. The improvement you will achieve with your guitar by working on your rhythm and timing makes all the difference between a good guitar player and the ones who leave a mark!

Check out this one-stop guide to learning guitar rhythms.

Timing can be thought of as the glue that holds everything that you play on your guitar together. Timing can make or break your playing. Many guitarists struggle with it, but some are not even aware that it is a problem. The reason why playing your guitar in time can be a struggle is because, most often, guitarists tend to focus on what notes to play, and not when to play these notes.

Getting into the groove is an integral part of guitar playing.

The rhythm and timing of a song are not things that happen by default once you have the notes and chords down. Lack of this awareness causes many guitar-playing problems and frustrations. Imagine you spend hours on how to learn to play songs on the guitar only to have it fall apart when it is time to play it either in a band situation, jamming with friends, or just on your own. Unfortunately, this problem will not go away if you ignore timing and rhythm.

Playing the guitar
Rhythmic accuracy while playing the guitar can only be achieved through a sense of timing. | Image credit: Sweetwater
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Useful Guitar Rhythms Using Syncopation

Adding syncopation to your playing can help you work on strumming different subdivisions and feels, and expand your rhythmic potential.

Eighth Note Syncopation

A bar of eighth notes is counted ‘1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &’ evenly. Each of these syllables represents an event within the bar. Each eighth note can either be a note, a chord, or a rest. This Motown-style part goes: rest, chord, chord, rest, rest, chord, rest, chord. The chords are most often landing on the up beats, which means it is ‘syncopated’.

16th Note Syncopation

Sixteenth notes are twice as fast as eighth notes. Even though this example is exactly the same tempo as the previous one, there are twice the amount of ‘note events’. You can count 16th notes: ‘1 e & a, 2 e & a, 3 e & a, 4 e & a’. Lock in your strumming hand so it is moving in constant down and upstrokes. Even when there is a rest, keep your hand moving to stay in the groove.

Adding 32nd Notes

Twice the speed of 16th notes is 32nd notes. However, playing 32 notes per bar can be a little too much. It is more common to add occasional 32nd notes within a 16th-note rhythm. The 32nd notes are always grouped in pairs and followed by a 16th note so that you can play them with a quick ‘down up down’. Keeping your wrist loose and the pick attack light is essential when playing this.

Triplets

Triplet rhythms have three notes per beat and are counted: ‘1 & a, 2 & a, 3 & a, 4 & a’. The first downbeat lands with a downstroke but the 2nd downbeat starts with an upstroke. The emphasis of your down and upstrokes alternates.

As a beginner, you must understand how guitar rhythms work.

Shuffle Feel

This bluesy riff is played with a shuffle feel. Rather than the eighth notes being straight, the downbeats should be twice as long as the upbeats. See this as triplets taking out the middle note leaving just the first and third notes.

Tips to Improve Your Sense of Timing

These exercises are simple, but very effective if done regularly. As a beginner, you will find that your sense and awareness of time will get a lot better as a result. Do these exercises so that time becomes something that you start to “feel” more rather than something you have to “think” about.

One of the key elements to developing your timing is practicing with a metronome.

Guitar players with good timing will always get the best gigs and opportunities as they’re easy to work with. So if you’re looking for opportunities to perform in a band, or even solo, you’re going to have to work on your time and feel.

metronome musical notes
The metronome is your best friend when it comes to developing timing on the guitar. | Image credit: Unsplash

Guitar Practice with a Metronome

Start slow, 40 BPM slow, work on accuracy rather than speed. Imagine yourself playing that piece of music at a gig, make it sound great! You’re hoping to get close enough to the click that the metronome will disappear. Use the metronome clicks as beats 2 and 4. You’ll need to start with a slow tempo. This is really tricky as you’ll need to hear where beats 1 and 3 are. You can also try using the metronome clicks as beats 1 and 3. This time, you’ll have to feel beats 2 and 4.

These are the essential strumming patterns that every rhythm guitarist should know.

Record and Listen Back

If you record gigs, band practice, even your private practice and listen back, you’ll improve your timing, feel, and playing almost without effort as you’ll start hearing common mistakes. If you hear a mistake a few times, you’ll probably get bored of it and want to work on avoiding it.

Play with Better Musicians

Playing with musicians who are better than you will automatically push you to become a stronger guitar player. Musicians who are way better than you will be more critical and this constructive feedback might not be available even in the best online guitar classes in India.

Simple Exercises for Developing Timing on Guitar

Guitar timing exercises will help you to practice transitioning between note values seamlessly and accurately. At the same time, keep your practice exercises simple and less complicated. The idea is to achieve accuracy and consistency.

Guitar Timing Exercise 1

Divide the quarter note into four equal sixteenth (semiquavers) notes. The tempo of the exercise is significantly low since a sixteenth note is four times as fast as a quarter note. Once you can play these exercises perfectly on time at a slow tempo, you will improve your timing on the guitar even further if you start increasing the tempo.

Guitar Timing Exercise 2

Developing a correct sense of timing on the guitar requires not only playing the notes on time but also playing nothing when silence is expected from you. These silences in music are called rests and there is a rest for every note duration. Explore the quarter note, the eighth note, and the sixteenth note rest. To execute the rest, lift your left-hand finger from pressing the note, but keep it touching the string, so that it makes no sound at all.

Check out this guitar class here on Superprof.

A child with guitar
The more you practice, the better you will get at it. | Image credit: AppGrooves

Guitar Timing Exercise 3

In this exercise, put some of the rhythms in a more musical context by applying them to the A minor natural scale using a three-note per string pattern. You don't need to use rests in this exercise. However, applying rhythmic patterns involving rests to a scale also makes a good exercise for improving your timing. The last note in this exercise is a full note, also called a semibreve. It is the equivalent of four quarter (crotchet) notes and fills a full bar in 4/4 time.

There are plenty of good reasons to learn rhythms as a guitarist.

In order to keep developing your sense of timing, try working on these things:

  • More rhythmic patterns: There are many common rhythms for you to explore out there, such as combining quavers and semiquavers in the same beat, ties, and dots, and others. Don't hold back! The more rhythmic patterns you can feel, the easier you’ll find any piece of music to learn, and the more ideas you’ll have when composing your own.
  • Using rhythms in different musical contexts: In Guitar Timing Exercise 3, we practiced some of the rhythmic patterns in the context of the A minor natural scale. Explore more scales and how you can use some of the rhythmic patterns in there.

The whole exercise of learning timing on guitar is to go from having to “think” where the beat is and where the notes we play on the guitar go, to “feeling” where the beat is and where our notes are played. Once you can do this, then you also start enjoying playing your guitar that much more. You will play the songs you love with far greater ease, play with a greater sense of freedom and satisfaction in knowing that you can play any song without worrying about your timing, and feel really confident when jamming with friends or playing in a band.

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Shreyanjana

Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.