Rhythm primer (part 4): more basic Rhythms

This is the fourth part in the rhythm primer series for guitarists. So far we've learned how to hear the beat in music, learned about quarter, half and whole notes, and the idea of measures. Here's a very quick review of those ideas for this lesson.

Whole notes are worth 4 beats, half notes are worth 2 beats, and quarter notes are worth 1 beat each. In each measure you have to make sure that the total beats equals 4- no more, no less. So this could be done only 6 different ways. One could have just a whole note (it takes the whole measure- get it?). The second possibility is two half notes (each taking up half a measure). Another way is to use 4 quarter notes. We saw these three ways in the previous lesson so you can look there for an example if you need to.

The last 3 ways all use one half note and two quarter notes. They are just arranged in different orders. Here are the different ways to combine these notes (in each example you'll hear a 4 count lead in so you can feel the tempo):

Description: First way to play quarter and half notes.

Click Arrow to Play | Which guitar chord is played?

Description: Second way to play quarter and half notes.

Click Arrow to Play | Which guitar chord is played?

Description: Third way to play quarter and half notes.

Click Arrow to Play | Which guitar chord is played?

That's all the possible ways to use whole, half and quarter notes in a measure. Here are a couple exercises for you to try so you can get used to using different rhythms in combination. Each example is four measures long and has a 4 count lead in. Remember that you count the beats in the measure and the length of each note. I wrote the count out for you underneath each measure. In each example and lead in, notice that the sound for beat one is a little different than those for beats 2, 3 and 4. That's so that if you get lost you can at least find beat 1 again and jump back in.

Description: Exercise for learning subdividing beats

Click Arrow to Play

Description: Exercise for learning subdividing beats

Click Arrow to Play

Some people pick this up very quickly and some people it takes a little longer. Keep going over the examples if you need more practice. Some other things to practice would be counting the beat out loud while playing the notes over it. Also you could tap your foot on each beat, even if you aren't striking a new note on that beat. Both of these can be a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at first, but with a little effort it starts to get easy. The reason for doing this is as rhythms get more and more complicated, it's useful to be able to feel that steady pulse, no matter what is happening on top of it.

One word of encouragement for those of you who are struggling a little bit. I had one student who for about a year was learning very slowly. Other students were learning things three to four times faster than he was. But he stuck with it. At one point, something just seemed to click. Now he's one of my most advanced students, and picks things up pretty quickly. So if it's hard, don't worry too much. Just stick with it and you'll eventually get it.

That's it for this lesson. In the next lesson we cover the idea of rests in music.

Now that you've made it this far, you're ready for the first lesson in the Solid Rhythm Series. You're also ready for the first exercise in the second tutorial which focuses on moving between whole notes, half notes and quarter notes. Of course, you should also continue on here in the primer series.

Click here to go to the next lesson: Rhythmic Rests and the Guitar

Back to rhythm primer start page

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