To play on beat is a critical element of sounding good on the guitar. Unfortunately it is elusive to many beginners. In this lesson I'm going to show you a step-by-step approach to develop rhythm, (in other words play on beat) without struggle. You will need to do a bit of work upfront but it will pay many times over. This is the course I wish I had when I first started learning guitar.
What Is Beat?
The beat is the pulse of the music. It's what you experience when you tap your foot to a song. Almost all popular music has a steady beat throughout the entire song. It might be difficult to identify it with your mind because there's a lot of other elements going on, but you can almost always feel it.
When you play a song by yourself on the guitar you would need to provide the beat yourself. You can either do that internally or by tapping your foot. When you play with someone else like a drummer, another guitar player or recorded drum track you would want to play together or in sync. In other words you would play in time with the same beat as them.
Let me start by pointing out that no one ever plays exactly with the beat. We are always just a little bit off. Otherwise we would sound like a machine. The point is to play close enough to the beat so it sounds good.
If you play too far off the beat with someone else it begins to sound bad. You can hear the sound not lining up. When playing by yourself it sounds like the song is either rushing if you play too fast or dragging if you start slowing down.
In this lesson on “how to develop rhythm” you are going to work on your ability to play on beat and develop rock solid rhythm. Another way to say this is you will be able to play in sync with the beat either provided by yourself or someone else.
Using A Metronome
A metronome is a great tool for developing rhythm. It enables you to start at any speed that is comfortable for you and it's usually very clear where the beat is. There are even metronomes that have a function that allows you to hear a different sound on the “one” of each beat in a measure.
When using a metronome for practice it’s fairly easy to measure your progress by using the numbers on the metronome. I usually recommend students increase the speed in increments of 4 bpm (beats per minute).
Understand that the metronome is not a solution to all timing problems but only a tool. It's helpful to practice without a metronome to you get in touch with your own inner pulse as well.
Using A Drumbeat
It's a little more fun to practice timing with the drumbeat. I particularly like it if you plan on playing with other people because it really is more realistic to what you will hear in a band setting. Course it sounds more musical as well.
As a FREE GIFT I've included a few drumbeats ( below) like the ones I'm using in the video for you to download and use for yourself. Unfortunately you won't have as many options to change speed as you would with the metronome. You may want to use both.
My 4 Step Slam Dunk Process To Develop Rhythm - Step One
Most popular music has four beats per measure. That means you can count one – two – three – four throughout the song. There tends to be a little extra emphasis or push on the first beat. In this first exercise you'll practice playing a chord just on the first beat. This is often called in music playing on the one.
In this exercise you count one – two – three – four. Every time you count one you play the chord.
Step Two - Play On Beat
Now play the same exercise but play the chord on every beat. This also means you'll play for chords in each measure.
If use get off the beat you can usually tell if you hear the drum or metronome sound and it's not together with your guitar playing. When this happens it's best to stop, start counting, and then joined in again on the first beat or the "one".
Step Three - Add Guitar Strum
Now let's add the Basic Down-Up Strum.
The down up strum takes up for accounts or beats. You will start a new strum pattern on the one or first beat.
Play slowly along with the drum pattern or metronome until you can go for about two minutes without getting off. Then start increasing the speed. Again if you find yourself getting ahead or behind just stop and begin counting again.
Step Four - Changing Chords
The next step is to change chords on the one or first beat.
Will use the D chord and the A7 chord for this exercise, but you could use any two chords that you want to practice. If you are not confident with changing between the chords you may want to practice the chords a little bit before you start this exercise. I would recommend a simple chord changing exercise so that you're not concentrating on the changing of chords but rather on the beat.
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We would love to hear your comments and questions. What specific things are you struggling with while learning guitar?
I enjoy your lessons and feel I have been learning a lot from them. Thanks for helping.
I have a question. I love your hat and I’m wondering what kind it is, brand/model and where did you get it? Love to buy one and wear while playing.
Thank you for your kind words Larry.
I’ve had a few hats but the one I’ve been wearing for about the past year is by far my favorite. I bought it here: http://www.goorin.com/hat-shops/union-square
Thank you very much for this advice about playing on the beat, this is so helpfull to me as I’m just starting to learn playing the guitar and this as helped a great deal,
You are very welcome Derek. I’m glad it helped.
How to play ” my sweet lord ” guitar strumming. Thanks.
Hi Chow. I’ll add that to my list. – Tomas
Very nice of ye to explain it so thoroughly, Tomas. My instructor is always about having spot on rhythm which is hard to get, and as ye mentioned we cannot play exactly like how it should be because it sounds mechanical. I feel great after reading that and now I am practising this exercise to improve myself more. Thank ye.
You’re welcome Praysis. Glad I could help. -Tomas
U have helped me so much i was worried about cords but now realise everything you say makes sense rhythm is the most important even if not perfect Thanks
Thanks for your comment Sue. I’m happy to hear that my lessons have helped you. – Tomas
Thank you so much Mr. Michaud…. I have been trying to find an easier way to learn this but people are speaking alien to me…. This really helped thank you my playing is somewhat rough but good…. Any extra tips?
Thank you so much Mr.Michaud….I have been trying to find an easier way to learn this but people are speaking alien to me and I just don’t understand…But this has really helped me…. Thank you again I soumd somewhat rough when i play but good sorta…. Any other tips?
You’re welcome Hannah. – Tomas