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Lewis Turner - Back To Basics Part 4: Rhythmic Sub-Divisions

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 28 **

Over the last couple of guitar lessons we have been getting deep into the basic rhythm and timing side of guitar playing and we continue on this path in this guitar lesson by looking at how to sub-divide rhythms. If we think of “standard” music, then most of the time it will be in 4/4, also known as common time. 4/4 is a Time Signature and means there are 4 quarter (crochet) note beats in one bar. You can use any rhythm within that bar, but it must add up to 4 beats.

There are many different time signatures in music that we will look at in the future and the same rules apply, but for this lesson we are just concentrating on common time. Cast your mind back to music lessons in school, where you were probably taught, Semibreves, minims, Crochets etc. These still apply but in contemporary music the American terminology tends to be more common place, here is a list of terms and what they mean:

Whole Note or Semibreve = 4 beats, one note per bar

Half Note or Minim = 2 beats, two notes per bar

Quarter Note or Crochet = 1 beat, four notes per bar

Eighth Note or Quaver = 2 notes per beat, eight notes per bar

Eighth Note Triplets = 3 notes per beat, twelve notes per bar

Sixteenth Note or Semi-Quaver = 4 notes per beat, Sixteen notes per bar

There are others but the above are by far the most common. On the video and the tablature you will find the lesson is devoted to the use of, Quarter, Eighth, Triplets and Sixteenth notes, but you should also familiarise yourself with playing Whole and Half notes too. Why is all this important to you as a guitarist? Well there are many different reasons. As we have looked at in the past, rhythm and timing are essential skills to work on and develop as it’s the very root of all music. From a timing point of view you should be able to set a metronome to any tempo and be able to play through all of the above sub-divisions without going out of time, or pausing when going from one to the other, (You will find various exercises for this on the Tab and also demonstrated on the video). Certain styles of music base themselves or predominately use certain rhythms, Sixteenths are common place in Funk for example. Therefore in order to play certain styles convincingly you need to have these common rhythms ingrained into your playing. When reading music you need to know how each of these rhythms sound and feel in order to play a written piece. People have various ways of counting and remembering these rhythms including words such as “Tea” or “Coffee”. It’s vital that you always know where all the solid beats in the bar are, in this case the 1,2,3 and 4. Therefore I would recommend counting them the following way;

Quarter Notes; 1  2  3  4

8th Notes; 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  (+ = and)

8th Note Triplets; 1 + a 2 + a 3 + a 4 + a

16th Notes; 1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a

Keep in mind that most of the time you won't have a situation of one bar all 8ths then the next bar all 16ths etc., many different rhythms can exist in one bar. I can't tell you how many times counting the above way has saved me on a sight reading gig! A good exercise is to take a piece of music and just try to count through and tap out the various rhythms, there are many good books out there that just deal with the rhythm side of playing. Eventually with time and practice you will be able to look at any of the above rhythms and instantly know how they sound, before you play it. Having a good grasp and understanding of Rhythmic Sub-divisions will also make your improvising and general playing far more interesting. If you can play really inside the beat and swap effortlessly between rhythms that's when you can start to add rhythmic interest and excitement to your playing. As with all things I talk about in these columns, your ultimate goal should be to make everything musical not mechanical, once again with time and practice you will naturally swap between these rhythms and many others without thinking about it. However, to get to that stage you need to go through the process of learning them. A couple of good ways to try and make them musical from the get go, is to improvise either over a backing track or to a metronome restricting yourself to just one rhythm. For example only using 8th notes, not running up and down scales but improvising. Then try combining or swapping between rhythms, until you really feel confident that you can throw any of the above rhythms into your playing without thinking about it.

Have a look at the video that takes you through the Tab examples, try them for yourself, then try using and developing them in your own playing. Next time we will look at how to find notes on your fretboard. Good luck!

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