Monday, February 2, 2009

Rhythm Guitar Playing

"Get a rock n' roll feelin' in your bones
put taps on your tones and get gone
Get rhythm when you get the blues."  
Johnny Cash
Several of my current students are getting into playing rhythm guitar, mostly in a folkly, acoustic rock kind of style.  This is the classic strumming sing-a-long type stuff that uses a pick.  One of the biggest challenges of playing rhythm guitar is that whole rhythm thing.  In fact rhythm is very often overlooked in most music pedagogy.  This is unfortunate.  Rhythm is the foundation of all western music.  If a person hopes to play any instrument or sing, they've got to "get rhythm."  But how?
Well, I think anyone can get rhythm if they try to develop it.  I think listening often to music is pretty important.  I can't think of a time in my life when I didn't listen to all kinds of music.  Some of my oldest memories are of listening to records on my little kiddie record player.  Listen to all kinds of music and focus on the rhythm not the melody.  How do they do it?
Listen to Mozart, Chopin, Bach.  They get into all kinds of interesting rhythms.  Listen to Zepplin, The Who, The Beatles.  All these bands had the best rhythm sections in rock n' roll.  Listen to the drums and bass.  What are they on about?  Listen to the singer songwriter types.  Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Elliot Smith.  All great guitar players.  Listen to Big Band jazz, Gypsy Jazz, Bebop.  Try tapping along to all that rhythm.  How could you not?  Of course I'm only scratching the surface.  Hopefully you get the idea.  Actively listen to this music and try to understand the rhythm and you'll find its much more complicated than you might have imagined.

What's next.  The METRONOME of course.  Have you ever been to a concert and the crowd started clapping along with the band but they were out of time?  Don't be that guy.  If you can't clap in time without fail you've got some work to do.  If you didn't realize the crowd was out of time at that show you've got work to do.  Practice clapping along with the metronome at all kinds of speeds.  Slow 50-70 beats per minute (bpm).  Fast 80-120 bpm.  Really fast 120-180 bpm.  Try it.  Its harder than you think.  Learn to stay right with the metronome.  Solid.  Unshakeable.  If you can do that you're on you're way to getting rhythm.  

Of course, this is just scratching the surface.  Its a big world of rhythm out there.  Start tapping along.

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