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Sam Bell Rhythm Guitar Concepts Part 1: Internal Time Keeping

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 53 **


Hello! Sam Bell here, bringing you my latest column series for Guitar Interactive Magazine. This is a big step in a different direction from my previous shred guitar, extended range, technique-based columns. This column series is designed to focus upon perhaps the most important element of music, rhythm. I realised that 90% (maybe) of columns and tuition in guitar focuses on using the guitar as a solo/main focus instrument. However, 90% of music, the Guitar is a tool to create ambient layers, double up funky bass lines, or provide some rhythmic yet harmonic elements to music.

In the Beginning:

The Guitar is a percussive instrument, a tambourine with strings, a drum kit with notes and a triangle that turns out to be a guitar. Its main purpose in the whole ensemble/band world is to play accompanying parts for a vocal/melody instrument, perhaps alongside other instruments which take up a similar frequency range such as the piano.  And in these lessons, I am going to share with you different ways of working on your Rhythm playing and hopefully inspire some fresh ideas with some simple concepts that will make rhythm your world!

Timing and you:

Timing is key to everything in music, life, and science. (In this case I am going to be talking about music, however...) The meaning of a note or chord can be changed by the slightest fluctuation in timing, deliberate or not. As Guitarists, it can be very common to rely on other band members (the drummer!) or a click track to keep in time. And this is certainly not a bad thing if you’re a listening and reacting to the musical elements outside of your own physical and conscious being. However exercising your internal timing (your ability to keep track of a steady tempo with no click/outside influence) will allow you to gain even more control over how tight you can play with a band, how consistent you are to a click, your ability to comp for someone in a duo setting, and also wholly transform your technique in other areas of your playing.

Internal Time Keeping Exercise 1:

For this example and all following examples in future columns, we will need a metronome, “wait I thought you were talking about not relying on an outside source of time!” I imagine hearing you say in the near future when this column is published. We are going to be using the metronome not for increasing speed or seeing how fast we can play flight of the bumblebee; we are going to be using the metronome at such a slow tempo that we have a nice bit of space between each click. The first thing I would encourage you to try is finding a straightforward riff/chord sequence that you enjoy playing. Now decrease the tempo, you will find it’s VERY easy to rush (a very common issue for guitar players), and THIS is the exercise that will help you with controlling your rhythmic steadying. Because the click is so slow, you are forced to really hold back and relax. You can almost see through time itself! While there isn’t much music that will be as slow as the tempos required on the metronome to reach the speeds needed for this exercise, you will start to be able to apply the same level of rhythmic control and awareness at higher tempos. You will be in charge of your own internal time while also being aware of others in the band, creating a really tight sounding band that is happy because you’re playing in the pocket!

Internal Time Keeping Exercise 2:

This one may require a drum loop of some sort (if you have Garage Band or something similar you can do this) The goal is to create a 4 bar long loop and play a rhythm part over the top of it. Take out the last bar but keep the space left by that omitted bar there, so there is silence for 4 beats. Then see if you can play through this gap and be in time for beat 1 of bar 1. You can change this up by either slowing the tempo down (like Ex1 combined with Ex2) or creating multiple loops that drop out for different amounts of time. If that gets easy, see if you can drop out for the omitted bars and come in on beat 1 after not playing through. This really gets your ear and brain involved in the timing process.

In Conclusion:

So there it is, my first instalment of my rhythm column, how am I doing? Hopefully, these two unique rhythmic exercises should get you thinking about your rhythm playing a bit more. It’s very common to find out sooner rather than later we all rush a bit too much at slow tempos, but it’s so rewarding nailing it, and hopefully, you will see and hear the benefits it brings to your playing and how you get on in band situations. It’s not about being perfect, but more in control and aware. I’d like to think of these as one of the ultimate chop workouts, no matter what instrument you play or how long you have played, it’s still going to be challenging, you can take it further in many imaginative ways, and it is a very productive thing to practice in your musicianship. That’s all for now, I shall see you in the next instalment!

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