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In this lesson we are going to be learning about how to start reading guitar rhythms. This is a great place to start learning how to read music or chord charts. A solid understanding of how to read rhythms will make reading music on the guitar much easier for you. It is also easier to just concentrate on learning how to read rhythms without having to worry about which notes to play.
First we need to know what different notes look like. Here is a small graphic that shows what whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes look like.
Before we get in to what these notes mean, you need to understand what a time signature is. At the beginning of a piece of sheet of music you will see some kind of fraction or a C. This is a time signature. A time signature tells us how many beats there are in a measure and which note gets the beat. Four-four time, notated 4/4, is the most common time signature. In fact, common time is another name for 4/4 time. The C is short for 4/4 or common time. The first 4 in 4/4 is telling us that there are 4 beats per measure. The second four is telling us that the quarter note gets the beat.
Now you might be wondering what a measure is. When you look at sheet music you will see horizontal lines that divide the music up in to what we call measures. If you are in 4/4 time, each measure will receive 4 beats and the quarter note will be the beat. If you were counting quarter notes in 4/4 time you would count, 1 2 3 4 for one measure.
Think about a dollar when you are reading whole, half, and quarter notes in 4/4 time. A whole note is like an entire dollar it takes up all four quarter notes, or quarters, in a measure. You could also say that a whole note gets four beats. In 4/4 time one measure can hold one whole note. Half notes are like fifty-cent pieces. They take up two quarter notes, or quarters, in a measure. You would be able to fit two half notes in one measure. In 4/4 time the quarter notes are the beat or pulse of the music. Each quarter note gets one beat. With that in mind, you would be able to fit four quarter notes in one measure, if you were in 4/4 time.
When you get to eighth notes the dollar analogy kind of falls apart. You can’t split quarters into two equal coins but you can split quarter notes in to two more equal notes. Eighth notes are what you get when you divide a quarter note in to two equal parts. If you can have four quarter notes per measure in 4/4 time you could have eight eighth notes per measure in 4/4 time. You would have two notes per beat. Counting eighth notes in 4/4 time is a bit different than counting quarter notes in 4/4 time. Instead of counting 1 2 3 4, you would count 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and.
This may seem like pretty simple stuff, but understanding this will give you a great foundation for learning how to read music. It is great that you, as a guitar player, are learning how to read music. Few guitarists put the effort in to learning how to read, and even fewer are proficient at it.