Regular readers of this blog – both of you – along with my students, will know how much of a (for want of a better word) fascist I am about rhythm. I make no apologies for it – rhythm is what makes music music, what binds the notes together the notes and permeates everyaspect of music.
Basically, rhythm is The Force.
Learn it well, let it flow through you, turn off your guidance systems.. oh you know the drill.
But all this is just drivel without some solid reference points to back it up. If you're going to learn to “feel” rhythm, you have to start somewhere. Now this is an area where us grownups/ old gits have an advantage over you younglings – we've been around longer, we've had much more opportunity to absorb rhythm, to learn through osmosis even if we weren't trying to. Kids don't have that luxury. Kids have to concentrate and count.
So – where to begin. Start with simplicity itself, simply tapping your foot to the beat. Next up, using your pick hand (because after all, that's the one that does the most work channelling rhythm) start tapping out the rhythms on top.
First the semibreve (whole note) – once every four beats
Next, the minim (half note) – once every two beats
Third, the crotchet (quarter note) – once per beat
Then, the quaver (eighth note) – two evenly spaced taps per beat.
Once you've got those, try the triplet – three evenly spaced taps per beat. Think “one and a, two and a, three and a, four and a” - or if you're a fan of Family Guy “Giggity, Giggity, Giggity, Giggity”!
Now we get into the next level of rhythm – the semiquaver, or sixteenth note. This is a note that's worth a quarter of a beat, so we're going to need to space out four taps evenly within one beat. Think “one-e-and-a, two-e-and-a, three-e-and-a, four-e-and-a”.
Once you've grasped these patterns, grab your guitar. Set up a semiquaver pattern muting the strings – you'll notice the distinctive “wakkachakka, wakkachakka” sound, just begging for a wah pedal and a chorus of backing singers belting out “Shaft!”.
Next up, we'll start getting used to some of these rhythmic ideas. Pick a chord – I've been using dominant 9ths with my students as they embody the distinctive sound of James Brown era funk, but any barre chord will do (open chords aren't a good idea here as you'll need to mute the strings completely).
We'll begin simply – put the chord on the downbeat, the 1,2,3,4 – release the pressure for the “e-and-a” and just hit the muted strings. Then when you're ready, move over to playing on the “e”, then the “and”, then the “a”. As you do, try and conjure up an image in your mind for each rhythm – for example, there's something about playing on the “a” that makes me think of swimmers doing the butterfly stroke, that chord sounding like a gasp of breath before diving back under water for the next stroke. Try it, you'll see what I mean!
When you get the hang of them, see if you can condense them down into two bars of each rhythm, played consecutively as an eight bar exercise. When you can do this consistently, you'll be well on the way to mastering what I like to think of as HD Rhythm Guitar – being able to recognise and reproduce more sophisticated syncopated rhythms by ear. And trust me, there is NO style of music where that ability is not an advantage!
So – until next month, go forth and get your grooves on!