1, 2 ,3, 4...
We are not going to look at tablature or learn any songs today. We are going to learn an approach to developing a foundation skill in an area that all players must be mindful of. Timekeeping and rhythm...
please don't leave yet.
Time keeping and rhythm are a real difficulty for beginners and intermediate musicians, usually because this an area that is ignored at the early stages, never fully explained or explored by a tutor, or something that most people do not prioritize because all the focus is on the fretting hand making the spidery shapes on the fretboard.
Rhythm is one half of music making. it is the sole responsibility of the other hand, the playing hand, and if you don't have a drummer you need to create the rhythmic drive necessary to get other people's feet tapping but more importantly your own.
Which brings me to the heart of the problem. Why is something that is so involuntary and enjoyable, feeling rhythm, hearing music and responding in time to music so difficult to impose on your own playing?
First I want to make a distinction between 'the beat' and 'rhythm'. Rhythm is the pattern of musical events that decorates the beat, like a repeating morse code that never loses it's interest. Indeed the longer it goes on the more intoxicating it can be.
Think of the rhythm of the opening guitar line from 'smoke on the water' It is possible that if you clapped this rhythm out someone listening is going to start imitating the guitar without knowing how that song suddenly leapt into their mind. Rhythm is as much a defining feature of the music that gets us hooked as the melody.
Now think of a ticking clock. Not very musical is it. This is 'the beat'. Without it you have a group of musicians playing at different speeds (or 'tempo'. Italian. it means flight) or you have a solo musician lost in a piece of music with no way of measuring where they are. The beat is like the grid lines on a map. it organizes the musical landscape. You know where you are when you make the beat the foundation of your playing.
If you are accelerating you are making things harder for yourself. You will not even realise you are doing it. On that day you start thinking that you're getting worse with practice not better... STOP! Take a few deep breathes and start again.
you started too fast again.
this time count to 4. not once. not twice. but as long as it takes to slow things down. count out 1, 2, 3, 4. and tap the foot to this beat. This is the cheapest and quickest way of getting the beat into your body and reinforces the beat in your playing. Everything that happens hangs on this beat. Take a breathe between each count, You'll suddenly realise how tense you are. How hurried you are playing. You are not getting worse. You are just making the task more difficult by giving yourself less time. Count yourself in next time. Get the foot tapping evenly, without haste and without putting a boot through the floorboards. That foot tap will be your timekeeper, your metronome. Which brings me to metronomes.
Please do not buy a metronome. They are depressing. I know people who have returned metronomes to the shop time and time again because they appear to be faulty, getting faster one minute and slower the next. Such is the perception of time. A summer holiday that disappears in an instant and a wednesday afternoon meeting at work that lasts for eternity.
If you've ever heard a drummer count the band in that's it. THAT is the beat. 1 and a 2 and a 1, 2, 3, 4. THERE IT IS!
What can I do today to improve my timekeeping today?
Listen to your favourite music and tap your foot to the beat, like a ticking clock. For this you want to ignore the things that normally draw your attention. What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians? The singer. Someone like Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Joni Mitchell are painting the music with their poetry. They don't need to be tight or come in on time. The musicians however are locked in to something else. each other, yes, but they are all sharing and locked in to 'the beat'.
You will find it difficult because the result is deceptively simple. You don't even need to be playing to practice this. Let yourself become distracted by the music and let the count sink into your mind. Just
doing this for a few minutes without the distraction of making chords, thinking about the progression and when the chorus is coming up.
For the next lesson I will be looking at the rhythm hand itself and how to synchronise the rhythm with the beat.
Thank you for your timekeeping.