What is Rhythm?
The word ‘rhythm’ stems from the Greek word rhythmos, meaning “any regular recurring motion, or symmetry”. In music, rhythm is about when notes, chords, and other musical sounds begin and end. As a result, rhythm is the essential ingredient in all music.
No matter what instrument a student is learning, everyone needs good rhythmic foundation. Melodies, scales and chord patterns are all dependent on a piece’s rhythm. The importance of developing a strong sense of pulse or rhythm is a crucial element when learning to play – and being taught the basics of rhythm starts in the very first lesson.
And, as students’ progress, it will become easier for them to understand why something doesn’t sound exactly as it should – more often than not, it is rhythm which needs work or changing. By developing a good sense of rhythm students will be able to better identify when the pulse or beat is off.
Mastering rhythm is essential for many “rhythm section” instruments: bass, drums, and rhythm guitar and piano. Even melodic parts, like vocals or lead guitar, need to understand the rhythm in order to play fluidly with accompaniment.
Rhythm exercises should be a part of a student’s daily practice regimen. Mix rhythm exercises together with scales, arpeggios, songs, and various techniques.
Here are some tips to develop rhythm:
1. Use a metronome
While playing with metronomes will no doubt make everything tougher, it is a great way to get used to playing with an outside beat. Sometimes, when students tap the beat themselves, or count aloud, they unknowingly slow down in the harder spots, or speed up towards the end of a piece. Using a metronome will allow practicing with a steady, constant beat.
2. Practice rhythmic exercises
Start out simple and work your way through more complex patterns. Clapping and counting rhythms out loud is a great way to become more comfortable with rhythms, especially for students who learn best through auditory methods. For visual learning, write in the rhythm (1 + 2 + 3 + 4+…) in before playing or clapping.
3. Understand the time signature
Rhythm is expressed, stated, and describe with a time signature, which defines the note duration and time relationship. A rhythm in 4/4 time will be different than one in 6/8 time, so make sure you understand these values first, before counting or playing.
4. Watch out for rests, ties and dotted notes
More complex rhythms will have these components which will increase difficulty. Make sure to spot these tricky parts and work on them separately at first!
5. Start slow
Any new rhythm should be practiced slowly, giving full value to all notes, rests and any other markings in between. Start as slow as needed so there are no unwanted pauses between sections or phrases – and challenge yourself to go faster once you have mastered a lower speed.
6. Listen and play along
Listening to the piece before attempting to count, clap or play it will help your ear identify if you are doing it correctly or not. For another challenge, try playing along with the recording and see if you can match the rhythm, once you have a good grasp on it!
Not sure where to begin with your rhythm practice? Download the exercises below!
Exercise 1: Rhythms – Beginner
Exercise 2: Rhythms – Intermediate
Exercise 3: Sixteenth Notes
Exercise 4: Triplets
Exercise 5: Dotted Rhythms
Exercise 6: Syncopation