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Developing Timing And Feel

Welcome to the tenth video of the Rhythm Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson, we’re going to continue to focus on your strumming by developing your timing and feel. This is a critical area of musicianship that is important for you to develop. If you have good timing, people will enjoy listening to you and they’ll enjoy playing along with you. If your timing isn’t good, people won’t enjoy listening to you as much and they’ll be frustrated if they play with you too.

One of the key elements to developing your timing is practicing with a metronome. You can use the jam tracks I have supplied here as well, but it’s important to have a constant beat to help keep you on track. Sometimes guitar players don’t realize they have timing problems until they get into a situation where it’s really obvious and embarrassing for them. Don’t let that be you! Work on your timing and really get it down.

I’m going to teach you a great exercise for developing your timing and feel, and you need to be familiar with note subdivisions to play through the exercise. The subdivisions I’m talking about are quarter notes, eighth notes, eighth note triplets, and sixteenth notes. For this lesson we’ll use a jam track that is just drums at 70 beats per minute. If you want to use a metronome instead, that’s okay too.

This loop is in 4/4 time and you’ll be able to count along with it the same way I do in the video. Those numbers are the quarter notes, which are the basic beat and pulse. You can strum along with the quarter notes using all downstrokes or alternating down and upstrokes. Either way, being able to follow a beat is the first step following this exercise and developing your timing.

Quarter Notes

Listen to the drumbeat in the jam track, try to lock in to be right on beat, and have all your strums spaced evenly. Check out the video to see me play a sample, and then work on this exercise until you feel very comfortable staying on the beat. You can also pull out a metronome to practice locking in on the beat at different tempos. One tip for you here is that moving another part of your body like nodding your head or tapping your foot can help you stay in time.

The next step in our exercise is to switch from quarter notes to eighth notes. If you’re not familiar with eighth notes, you’re essentially taking quarter notes and doubling the amount of strumming you’ll do. Quarter counts are counted by ‘1, 2, 3, 4,’ where eighth notes are counted by ‘1, and, 2, and, 3, and, 4, and,’ which doubles your strumming.

Eighth Notes

When you transition from quarter notes to eighth notes, there’s a chance you’ll start dragging behind or rushing ahead of the beat, so make sure to keep listening for the beat. Keep yourself locked into the beat and make sure your strumming is still evenly spaced.

When you start playing eighth notes, I’d recommend alternating upstrokes and downstrokes as it’s easier to keep up with the beat. In the video, I play an example starting with quarter notes, switching to eighth notes, and going back to quarter notes. As you try it, you can stick with each subdivision for as long as you like.

If you’ve made it this far with me on this exercise, you’re doing a great job. Now we’re moving to the tricky part of the exercise, eighth note triplets. Eighth note triplets are three evenly spaced strums per beat. If you’ve never counted triplets before, it can be a bit tricky. It’s counted as ‘1-trip-let, 2-trip-let, 3-trip-let, 4-trip-let,’ meaning there are three syllable for each beat.

Eighth Note Triplets

If you’re having trouble playing eighth note triplets, you can spend some time just tapping it out like I do in the video. Another thing you’ll need to watch out for is not accidentally playing two short notes and a long note, but still keeping your strums spaced out evenly.

Since you have three strums per beat, note that you’ll start with a down up down on the first beat and the next beat will up down up. Because three is an odd number, one beat will start on a down stroke and the next beat will start with an upstroke.

Let’s add this triplet to our exercise. Go through quarter notes for as many measures as you like, switch to eighth notes, and then go to eighth note triplets. When you switch to the triplets, you’ll probably have some rushing or dragging, but that is normal at first since the triplets have a much different feel from the other subdivisions. In the video, you can check out how it will sound from my example.

The final subdivision in our exercise is sixteenth notes, and you’ve probably already guessed that sixteenth notes are four evenly spaced strums per beat. Sixteenth notes are counted as ‘1-e-and-a 2-e-and-a 3-e-and-a 4-e-and-a ’ giving us four distinct syllables for each beat.

Sixteenth Notes

Again, if this is tough for you to play at first, just try tapping it out like I do in the video. Once you’re comfortable with these sixteenth notes, we want to add them to the exercise. Play through quarter notes, eighth notes, eighth note triplets, sixteenth notes, and then work your way back down to quarter notes. Remember that moving your head or tapping your foot to the beat will help you keep time. Check out the video for my sample of this exercise with sixteenth notes added in.

The point of this exercise is to help you be aware of the beat and be able to switch between subdivisions in a moment’s notice. If you can get this down, it will sharpen your rhythm and set you apart from a lot of other guitar players.

I know this is a lot of information, so don’t feel pressured to have all these subdivisions down in one exercise. You can start out with just quarter notes and eighth notes, and after you’re comfortable with those you can add in eighth note triplets. Once you’re comfortable with eighth note triplets, then you can add in sixteenth notes.

Thanks for watching this lesson. In the next video, we’re going to talk about tools to embellish your strumming like single bass notes and muted strums. See you in the next lesson: Dynamic Strumming Tips.