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Sam Bell Rhythm Guitar Concepts Part 3: Feeling 16th Notes

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 55 **


Welcome to my third instalment on Rhythm Guitar Concepts, in the last issue we dived into the world of really understanding and feeling 8th notes as a way of expanding our rhythmic knowledge. As mentioned in the previous column everything we look at from this point in the series I highly suggest is practiced using some of the concepts from the first instalment as this will really help you hone in on your ability to internalise and control your timing! In this column I am going to take a look at the next subdivision along from 8th notes: 16th notes or as your high school music teacher would have called them ‘Semi-Quavers’. In this series I am going to use the American system of ‘16th’ notes as I feel it makes a lot more sense in common time (4/4) to divide the bar up into these fractions making it much easier to visualise how our note sub-divisions work. If you are wondering what I am going on about, please first take a look at my previous column in the series ‘Feeling 8th Notes’ once you have done that, come back here for even more juicy info! If you don’t know what 8th notes are, then you are in the right place! If you already understand the basics of subdivision you may well be thinking ‘where are you taking this Sam?’ and you would be right to ask, you might notice you asked the same question in the previous column, however let me put the emphasis here on ‘being responsible’ for your 8th and 16th note sub-divisions, focusing how well can you feel them if they are displaced and how you can work your whole guitar vocabulary around them in order to create great variations and most importantly increase your ability to groove…

What is a 16th note?
Quite simply a 16th note is dividing the bar of 4 quarter beats into 16ths. This gives us 4 sub-divisions per beat now. We still count the down and up beats (8th notes) but now we have two extra and equal divisions either side of our 8th notes. We can count them like this…

‘One E and A Two E and A’

commonly this is shorthanded without sheet music like this:

‘1 e + a 2 e + a ’

As we learned  in the previous column, the numbered beats are the down beat quarter notes and the ‘ands’ are the up-beats dividing these downbeats into 8ths. With the addition of 16th notes we also have the addition of the ‘e’ and ‘a’. Being able to count these whilst playing will give you a matrix style view into the smaller workings of rhythm. 16th notes are were Funk Guitarists and Shredders alike feel time. This is where things get a little more syncopated than before, this is where groove really begins to reside.

How does this help me get better at rhythm guitar Sam you great looking Man? (Part 2)

Nice question mate, being weary of 16th note sub-divisions whilst playing is very important, you are probably playing a lot of 16th note strumming patterns or riffs already, these are the building blocks of so many styles of playing and groove. But by analysing what you are playing a bit deeper by working out where you are playing your 16th notes in a bar you can really dig into the timing and sound a lot more ‘locked in’ with the groove. You will also be able to focus in on details such as muted strums, ghost notes etc when deciphering sheet music/TAB. Not only this but your playing will also sound a lot stronger if you can sense where the 16th notes are through the measures of music you are playing. If you are improvising in a funk style or even soloing, you can use these syncopated ‘e’s and ‘a’s as a way of bringing some additional groove to your overall playing.

Feeling the 16th notes!

Much like I presented in the previous column on 8th notes, you can practice your 16th note time feel in the same kind of fashion. Treating each 16th in a bar of 4/4 as if it has its own house number, each one will create a certain cool syncopated groove and can really make simple parts with lots of space sound super funky! In the video example of this lesson I count through a bar and only play on certain 16th notes. A practice routine could be only playing on the ‘e’ of beat two, from here you could practice feeling the same division at different tempos, you could phrase licks or chord sequences starting on this note and finishing on the same note on the next bar, or you could slowly develop complex single note lines that build on only select 16h notes in the bar. I would love you to try to get to ‘know’ these places in the bar as well as you know your open C chord or first position pentatonic. It seems very basic and it kind of is, but its something all musicians of any level can benefit from practicing.


As with the last column, take riffs and chord strumming patterns that you already know, see if you can count through them. Even transcribe them if you can! Really work out what you are doing. Looking deep into things that come naturally to you can be a great way of really making sense of challenges that come down the line, but also help solidify your rhythm playing. Enjoy all 16 of your 16th notes and I will see you next issue for some tasty rhythm playing!

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