Rhythm is a vital aspect of learning music. But, often rhythm can be the hardest bit to learn! Students usually enjoy playing the chords, but it is the rhythm of the melody that most of them struggle with the most. More so, reading rhythm and feeling rhythm are two separate things. So, we’re going to look at four techniques you can start using today to improve your sense of rhythm and timing when you play music.
Wednesday, June 23rd
1. Counting and Slow Tempo
When you want to perform specific compositions, you have to remember that they have been written with a specific tempo.
If you don’t have sheet music (e.g. you’re playing by ear) you can Google the original song and figure out what BPM it was recorded at. Set up your metronome to that particular tempo and count along with the particular time signature. Most common time signatures will count up to four in each bar, but you might find some counting to 3, 5, or 6 for example.
When you are familiar with counting, leave the metronome ticking and try to play along your instrument. You may find it helpful to tap each beat with your foot, so you can continue “counting” even as you play.
If you are finding the rhythms challenging to play in time, reduce the tempo on the metronome.
2. Record and Play Back
When you feel you are getting better, try to play your instrument without the original song or metronome on. If you still feel you need some rhythm reference, try to tap your foot quietly or gently move your head just to feel the tempo better. You have probably seen many professional musicians do this when performing live. It helps you keep a sense of accurate timing even when you aren’t playing frequent notes.
Now take a sound recorder and record your performance. When you are finished, enable the metronome again and play back your recording in synch with it. Pay attention to the parts with complex rhythms and their timing, as those are usually the ones which will take time to master.
If you identify any inaccuracies or sections which sound “loose” or unsteady, don’t ignore them! Go back and practice those sections in isolation, using the “slow tempo” approach described above.
3. Divide the Beat
Professionals who want to make sure their rhythm and timing is perfect use a simple technique called “beat dividing”. This time no metronome is involved, because as name describes, the regular tempo of the beat is simply divided further.
What it means is that even if the beat is a simple “1, 2, 3, 4” you instead count (in your head) something like “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and” or even “1 e and a, 2 e and a, 3 e and a, 4 e and a”. These represent dividing the beat in half or in quarters, respectively. Or you might count triplets as “1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 and a”.
What’s the advantage? Without subdividing the beat like this, you just have a big empty space between each beat and it’s difficult to be accurate about placing notes. With subdividing you are essentially creating a lot more markers during each bar which let you place notes in exactly the right places between beats.
Important: keep Rhythm and Timing in Mind!
Rhythm and Timing are so fundamental to music that they are skills you will be continually honing and developing as you improve as a musician. Don’t expect overnight mastery, but do keep them “front of mind” whenever you practice music.
Depending on their rhythmic complexity, it may take several months to master some compositions. Although rhythm and timing are considered basic skills, you must adapt to different compositions and their unique rhythmic challenges.
This article is a re-post, with minor modifications, of “How to Improve Your Rhythm and Timing,” published on musical-u.com by Mardars Biss