A Great Way to Develop Better Rhythm and Time

When it comes to playing guitar, and playing guitar well, an unsteady rhythm and tempo just won’t fly.

Perhaps, you remember the video lessons on strumming patterns where I stressed over and over again (probably more than you had hoped for!) the importance of playing with consistent tempo and rhythm. You might know the sickest guitar riff or the most rockin’ strumming pattern, but if you’re timing is all off, then what good is that guitar riff or strumming pattern?

For some, a good sense of timing and rhythm comes very naturally to them. For others, this isn’t the case. However, no matter who are, we can all improve at keeping good time. Let’s look at some exercises we can do to improve our timing.

Meet the Metronome

First off, in case you don’t already know, a metronome is a nifty little device that sets a straight tempo to a click or a tick-tock. The picture on the left is an old-school metronome. Now days you can get an electronic metronome that looks just like guitar tuner. In fact, there are some guitars tuners that have built in metronomes.

Harnessing the Power of the Metronome

This might seem obvious, but simply setting the metronome to the tempo of a song you want to practice, and then playing along with the metronome, will definitely help you develop and further improve your sense of timing. 

Metronomes can also be very helpful with learning new strum patterns. This is because the metronome pushes you to create your strum pattern within the boundaries of good time. This is why on the videos about strumming patterns I counted out loud in my demonstrations.

If you haven’t, first start to simply play along with a metronome. This is a good starting point. But while just playing along with a metronome can be helpful, there are specific exercises we can put to practice with the metronome that will provide a further challenge. These exercises are focused on songs that are written with 4 beats per measure (4/4). (So if you are trying to apply this to a song or a strumming pattern with a waltz feel, this probably won’t work as well for a variety of reasons…)

Exercise #1
Once you find yourself comfortable practicing a song with a metronome, try this exercise.

First, find the tempo of a song you want to practice. Then, slow down the tempo to half of what it is normally (half time). For example, if your tempo is at 120 BPM (beats per minute), slow it down to 60 BPM. But while doing this, keep your “internal clock” beating at 120 BPM, but then make the clicks of the metronome at 60 BPM be beats 1 & 3 of the measure.

What you are essentially doing is removing beats 2 & 4 from the count of 120 BPM. So it’ll be up to you and your internal clock to keep in time with the beats you don’t hear.

Exercise #2
This is practically the same principle behind exercise #1, but instead of removing beats 2 & 4, remove beats 1 & 3 instead. So really you’ll only be hearing beats 2 & 4. I think you’ll find this one much more challenging.

Exercise #3
We’re going to take it a step further here. Let’s set the count of our metronome to 120 BPM and then cut that in half to 60 BPM (like the above examples). But then, let’s take it even further, and cut 60 BPM in half to 30 BPM (you’re metronome might not go that low!). This will only provide us with the first beat of the measure. It’s then up to you and your internal clock to stay on time with the other “beats” you don’t hear!

Metronome Alternatives

Instead of practicing with a metronome, you might also want to consider buying a little drum machine. I personally prefer this over a metronome because it’s not so boring! However, the above exercises are harder to do with a drum machine. Plus, drum machines will cost much more than a little metronome.

What Works For You?

How do you go about developing better rhythm and timing? What have I missed here?

About Brett McQueen

Brett McQueen is a musician, songwriter, and the founder and editor of Guitar Friendly and Ukulele Tricks. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @GuitarFriendly.