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  1. #1
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    Improving Rhythm Basics

    Hi, can anyone recommend a good approach to learning basic rhythm. I am a very new player. Been working on 2&4 stuff but would like to improve and extend the limited understanding I have at the moment. I listen to loads of jazz (Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Grant Green and Kenny Burrell at the moment) but would be grateful of some suggestions (books with audio, youtube etc) to help my development, many thanks, Simon

  2. #2
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    You can play chords with all quarternotes accenting 2 and 4 over swing drums backing or/and

    set a metronome half speed and count the click as 2 and 4

    try simple polythytms 2 over 3, 3 over four and opposite:



    Learn to clap basic clave rhytms.


    do everything that also without a guitar, clapping, tapping etc.


    Enjoy feeling the groove within your body.


    LumBeat
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  3. #3
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    Re-post of Pat Metheny giving feedback to a student - @6:50.
    Last edited by destinytot; 09-13-2017 at 06:05 PM.
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  4. #4
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    Work on your upbeats. There's a lot of space between them clicks.

    Get them straight, get them swung. But get them consistent.

    Samba is good for this....

  5. #5
    I think the most important skill to have in improving your rhythm is being able to hear rhythms accurately. If you can't hear when your eighth notes are and are not even, you'll always be frustrated; and I say that from my personal experience. When I was young, I badly needed to work on my time and didn't really know how to fix it, but now I have really, really good and accurate time.

    The first step to my own improvement was to really listen to my own playing, and others playing, and really start to hear where things were grooving and where they were not.

    A great book/cd set that covers this is Stanton Moore's "Groove Alchemy". it's for drummers (playing drums is a great way to improve your time), but he also covers straight 8ths, swung eights, and practicing the spectrum of everything in between, with great audio examples so you can hear for yourself how corny it sounds when you turn a triplet based swing into a dotted 16th, and how hip straight eighths can sound when they are just south of perfect.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by jockster View Post
    Hi, can anyone recommend a good approach to learning basic rhythm. I am a very new player. Been working on 2&4 stuff but would like to improve and extend the limited understanding I have at the moment. I listen to loads of jazz (Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Grant Green and Kenny Burrell at the moment) but would be grateful of some suggestions (books with audio, youtube etc) to help my development, many thanks, Simon
    A few years ago, a much respected member/teacher/blogger posted a response to some question re "what you wished you'd have practiced more in the beginning" etc with this: "Subdivide, subdivide, subdivide." I really took notice of this and it's profoundly important - and in jazz, it's profound in very special ways. If you didn't ever do the school band thing, you've got some work to do on basic counting and hearing every subdivision of the beat. Really young kids without much talent learn this stuff in school, but it's 40 minutes per day, 5 days per week, with a loud instructor screaming counts while banging on a music stand. If you haven't put in some work on basic rhythm stuff, you can't just skip ahead to sophisticated jazz feels IMO, not without sounding like a typical "guitarist".

    8ths and 16 note rhythms are kind of basic to western music. You should be comfortable with these and polyrhythms associated with them. Check out Bellson's percussion book or similar percussion studies. People will blow this off, but only guitarists skip this stuff. Think about that.

    Anyway, 8ths and 16ths aren't really the "currency" of jazz as much as triplets are. So, I'd spend some serious time with triplets and all associated polyrhythms of them. Listen, listen, listen to recordings for sure, but also learn how to count them like a legit musician. You really can't know what you're hearing on recordings if you don't do some real work towards learning to count as well. The rhythms are too complex and too far removed from traditional western rhythmic structures. In the beginning, most of us, hear jazz rhythms as variations of basic swing 8th rhythms, while they're actually more often like variations of 8th and quarter note triplet rhythms (and their double-time counterparts). At higher tempos these are feels which are uncountable, but at slower speeds you can hear more of what's going on. Speaking of which...

    I really like the blues influence in the above mentioned artists. I would especially check out the really slow blues stuff where you can really hear more subdivisions of the beat. Hearing slow blues as 12/8 rather than simple swing with occasional triplet is the beginning of understanding swing at a deeper level.

    Learn to subdivide, and subdivide the crap out of things in the beginning. Just a dude on the internet, but that's my 2c.

  7. #7
    I think it's a great question.

    I'm not aware of any books or materials which helped all that much.

    I have heard the following:

    1. Always practice with a metronome. Start with 2 and 4, but use it in various ways, eg as a click on 4 only

    2. Use timeguru app or similar. it drops out random clicks, forcing you to internalize the time.

    3. Don't use a metronome (not everybody recommends using one).

    4. Play with the best players you can find, especially bass and drums.

    5. Make time the most important thing. Specifically, more important than trying to execute a particular melody or sound. In jazz, simple material can sound great with great time. Nothing sounds good with bad time.

    Here's my current thought. You have to be able to feel the swing in a rhythm. When somebody with a great sense of rhythm does something as simple as a fingersnap or a shaker, you can feel it. It's the sensation that you want to dance to it.

    It seems to me that, if you can't do it with fingersnaps and/or singing percussion licks, then it's not likely to be better when you pick up the guitar. So, I think that focusing on the sensation of wanting to dance (or lack thereof) might be helpful. And, you have to be able to maintain it for an entire tune. I'm not sure what to recommend to develop it, other than constant attention to the issue.

    If you're performing any kind of groove based music, you can tell that it's working if the audience is tapping or moving along with your beat. If the feet aren't tapping to a groove, then you know you've got work to do.

    If you have a chance to play with great players, pay attention to how you feel. With great players I sometimes have the sensation that I can't play a bad note or bad rhythm -- everything just seems to work. But, with weaker players, I sometimes feel like I can't play the guitar at all.

    It's all about attention to feeling.

  8. #8
    Yea get Louis Bellson's Modern Reading Text in 4/4... there is another one ...Odd Time Reading Text also by Bellson... they're only a few $ used etc...

    Feel comes from being able to understand and play rhythms right. Feel is created by accent patters and where on and off the beat you play with organization. You need to be aware of rhythmic figures to be able to recognize rhythmic phrases... patterns that can lockin, they repeat

    Adding to Matt... subdivide is being aware of the pulse of the tune while being aware of the smallest subdivision being use to create the Feel.

    Feel is the accent pattern of a rhythmic figure... that repeats.

    you need to practice rhythmic patterns and develop the skill to recognize them, just like you practice changes, chord patterns, melodic patterns etc... so you recognize and can hear the phrase as compared to one attack at a time.

    Don't feel bad... guitarist generally suck rhythmically and harmonically. Disclaimer, no one on this forum.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reg View Post
    Yea get Louis Bellson's Modern Reading Text in 4/4... there is another one ...Odd Time Reading Text also by Bellson... they're only a few $ used etc...

    Feel comes from being able to understand and play rhythms right. Feel is created by accent patters and where on and off the beat you play with organization. You need to be aware of rhythmic figures to be able to recognize rhythmic phrases... patterns that can lockin, they repeat

    Adding to Matt... subdivide is being aware of the pulse of the tune while being aware of the smallest subdivision being use to create the Feel.

    Feel is the accent pattern of a rhythmic figure... that repeats.

    you need to practice rhythmic patterns and develop the skill to recognize them, just like you practice changes, chord patterns, melodic patterns etc... so you recognize and can hear the phrase as compared to one attack at a time.

    Don't feel bad... guitarist generally suck rhythmically and harmonically. Disclaimer, no one on this forum.

    +1 to all of it. I used to go to the beach sit in the sand with a metronome and my copy of the Louis Bellson's Modern Reading Text in 4/4 and clap rhythms. People thought I was nuts until they came close enought to hear the click and see the music.

    Also early on I would leave metronome on even when not practicing something, I would sing or clap grooves to the metronome, sometimes establish one and just feel the 1,2,3,4. Making up rhythms and groove to a metronome helps get you comfortable with a click. Also when listening to album focus on the 2 and 4 become aware of the time. Listening is important for melody and harmony, but rhythm even more.

    Last time is like playing in all 12 keys. You might of mastered playing at 120 on the metronome, just like you can shred in key of E, but that doesn't mean you have good time at 130 on the metronome. Practice at a variety of tempo all the time.
    No, I'm not going to give you the answer to your question. I don't want to deny you the pleasure you'll receive when you figure it out yourself. -- Bill Evans talking to his brother.

  10. #10
    I've always considered rhythm to be a given, primary importance, has to be there. I think most agree totally with this. But this tends to suggest that rhythm is a general attribute. I wonder how people might think... that perhaps most rhythm problems may stem from some lack of total committed confidence in the objects of execution (chords and lines)?

    For example, if you were to sit down with the guitar to woodshed some rhythmic development, you would select some chords or lines with which you had total grasp and confidence so as to exclude them as a confounding issue, right? You would use your best executed stuff so you would get a "clean test" of what was going on and a clear indication when things started improving, right?

    This all just to suggest that rhythm troubles might actually be traced back to uncertainties, hesitation, second guessing, etc. Maybe rhythmic issues are not so intrinsic but more arise in certain situations of execution, certain songs, certain techniques, certain styles... one's personal grey areas?

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    I've always considered rhythm to be a given, primary importance, has to be there. I think most agree totally with this. But this tends to suggest that rhythm is a general attribute. I wonder how people might think... that perhaps most rhythm problems may stem from some lack of total committed confidence in the objects of execution (chords and lines)?

    For example, if you were to sit down with the guitar to woodshed some rhythmic development, you would select some chords or lines with which you had total grasp and confidence so as to exclude them as a confounding issue, right? You would use your best executed stuff so you would get a "clean test" of what was going on and a clear indication when things started improving, right?

    This all just to suggest that rhythm troubles might actually be traced back to uncertainties, hesitation, second guessing, etc. Maybe rhythmic issues are not so intrinsic but more arise in certain situations of execution, certain songs, certain techniques, certain styles... one's personal grey areas?
    I would agree with much of this . Usually the "aware player" realizes that this is a lot of the root of rhythmic problems. The problem is that too many are not aware in the first place rhythmically. Don't really know what the problems are in the first place or how does solve them. That's what I hear among guitarists that really separates us from other instruments : just have not done a lot of the basic.

  12. #12
    In drum study, it is not unusual to first execute a rhythm on a single drum before integrating all available
    drums and cymbals. Makes sense to keep it simple, perhaps even a single note. Once the rhythm is understood
    it can then be distributed amongst our proverbial drum set. Stumbles and hesitations trace back
    to our limitations of execution and or an over focus on notes and fingering. etc. Whether complex or simple,
    good rhythm demands commitment and confidence. Rhythm or the need to be in certain places at certain times is
    one of the best generators to develop technical basics and beyond.

  13. #13
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    When I was taking lessons, I was always instructed for the purposes of sight reading and internalizing rhythms, to concentrate on two beat chunks, such that the goal is to completely internalize and see everything contained within any discrete to be a pattern as one entity . The way that one sees the word "cat" as "cat" and not "C-A-T",

    Here is a very nice summary of many of the common permutations and combinations , of the Two Beat rhythmic chunks-- simply in terms of quarter notes, 8th notes, and rests

    2 BEAT Rhythmic Cells

    1. Jingle bells 8th + 8th + quarter
    2. Jingle bells -downbeat 8th rest + 8th + quarter
    3. Jazz ride cymbal -reverse jingle bells quarter + 2 8ths
    4. Charleston dotted quarter + 8th
    5. Staccato Charleston 8th + 2 8th rests + 8th
    6. Reverse Charleston 8th + dotted quarter
    7. Reverse Charleston (staccato ) 2 8ths Rest
    8. Reverse Charleston -downbeat 8th note rest + dotted quarter
    9. Ragtime 8th + quarter 8th
    10. Ragtime staccato 2 8th + 8th note rest + 8th
    11. Ragtime minus downbeat 8th note rest plus quarter note +8th
    Navdeep Singh.

  14. #14
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    Thank you all for the very generous advice you have given, it is very much appreciated. I have ordered the Louis Bellson book and will start to work on some of the excercises that have suggested, many thanks again, Simon

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by NSJ View Post
    When I was taking lessons, I was always instructed for the purposes of sight reading and internalizing rhythms, to concentrate on two beat chunks, such that the goal is to completely internalize and see everything contained within any discrete to be a pattern as one entity . The way that one sees the word "cat" as "cat" and not "C-A-T",

    Here is a very nice summary of many of the common permutations and combinations , of the Two Beat rhythmic chunks-- simply in terms of quarter notes, 8th notes, and rests

    2 BEAT Rhythmic Cells

    1. Jingle bells 8th + 8th + quarter
    2. Jingle bells -downbeat 8th rest + 8th + quarter
    3. Jazz ride cymbal -reverse jingle bells quarter + 2 8ths
    4. Charleston dotted quarter + 8th
    5. Staccato Charleston 8th + 2 8th rests + 8th
    6. Reverse Charleston 8th + dotted quarter
    7. Reverse Charleston (staccato ) 2 8ths Rest
    8. Reverse Charleston -downbeat 8th note rest + dotted quarter
    9. Ragtime 8th + quarter 8th
    10. Ragtime staccato 2 8th + 8th note rest + 8th
    11. Ragtime minus downbeat 8th note rest plus quarter note +8th
    That's very similar to way I teach rhythmic units, Navdeep. I extended them to a 4 beat pattern for a lesson a while back and allied it to a descending bebop major scale along with standard jazz vocal syllables and alternate picking to help delineate the divisions and syncopations:

    Improving Rhythm Basics-r1-jpgImproving Rhythm Basics-r2-jpgImproving Rhythm Basics-r3-jpg

  16. #16
    The following may seem only indirectly related, but Hal Galper's book Forward Motion brought some major revelations in that Hal highlights the importance of the One (or the Three) as the point(s) of harmonic resolution in the bar, with strong (chord) tones landing on the 1s and 3s. He says Dizzy Gillespie would count on the 1s and 3s, not 2s and 4s. He recommends counting in half time. I started to listen to everything, from Anita O'Day to Joshua Redman to Van Halen, from the perspective of what was happening at the One and Galper's "rule" - which he says is in reality a constant in Western music - is almost always verified. Fascinating, and easy to do - much easier, and more rewarding than any kind of other analytical listening I've tried - at least to me, it's like the music falls into place more logically and naturally heard that way. The chapter on Rhythm in the book is great too.

  17. #17
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    @jockster:

    Go to Youtube, look for a channel by a guy called reg (yes, it's the one posting in this thread earlier) watch his videos over and over and over.... play with them, try to copy his phrasing (you can't), play with them again, download them and play them half speed (he's sometimes a bit fast) and so on and so on.

    Well that was what I did and it where the best jazz guitar lesson(s) I got in my life, at least regarding rhythm and groove.

    While I'm at it: Reg, a big THANK YOU to you!!!! Can't praise you enough for the help I got from these videos. IOU!


    PS. Jockster, ignore his mumbling, you wont understand too much anyway, at least until you get used to it.
    But his playing!!!!
    Last edited by DonEsteban; 09-15-2017 at 09:00 PM.
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  18. #18

    Improving Rhythm Basics

    Based on a recommendation elsewhere in this this forum (I think) I bought a book by Peter Erskine called Time Awareness. Lots of exercises to practice subdivision.

    In fact, it's been several months and I am still working on one of the very first recommendations Erskine gives: vocalize subdivisions as you're playing. It helps keep time, especially on slower tempos, and it helps reinforce swing feel and accents. It's tough. Real tough for me. You're basically making a noise for every offbeat. This might be saying "uh" for the ANDs of 1, 2, 3, and 4. Or, even trickier, saying ki-tah for the 2 and 3 of each 1/8 note triplet.

    You can work on it away from guitar, too. I will sing the offbeats while listening to music. Every once in awhile I'll notice a cool accent or syncopation that I probably wouldn't have caught on to before.
    Last edited by wzpgsr; 09-17-2017 at 01:54 PM.

  19. #19
    Yea Erskine's book is great.... and that leads to the point....... practice rhythm like you would work on any technical skill... as a skill in itself.

    If your trying to develop rhythmic skills for guitar performance, your going to eventually need to be able "play" what you hear and understand in your head. Clapping etc... helps you be able to realize rhythmic patterns.... Once you understand rhythm, the spatial organization of time, once your able to recognize patterns well enough to be able get ahead of time, be able to see what's ahead and the possibilities of what being in the moment is and can be. Then you'll be able perform music... with rhythmic freedom, be able to feel music etc...

    We can all recognize and feel half notes in 4/4 straight time at a med. tempo. Right, 1 2 / 1 2 / etc. We recognize the pattern, can relax and look and feel ahead, be in the future while also being in the moment. So how did you recognize and feel that simple pattern, did you count 1 + 2 + , or did you just hear it instinctively, no thinking required.

    So when you practice and become aware of more rhythmic patterns, eventually understand how subdividing works.... then transfer that rhythmic skill to your guitar while also using your melodic and harmonic skills... well... you'll be able to play in the moment as well as... be ahead of the moment and be aware of the possibilities.

    I talk a lot about Form and Targets.... when your able to be ahead of time, you can have rhythmic targets, which help shape the music, without having to have what your playing... memorized. Your composing, or at least composing rhythmic targets ahead of time.

    Generally one needs to get their rhythmic skills together first....

  20. #20
    I think if you're counting all the time, you're dead. At least I am, I can't make music like that. Internalize as much as possible...I try to find a "clave" in everything.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Of what use is a dream, if not a blueprint for courageous action?"

    --Adam West, as Batman, 1966.

  21. #21
    Counting is bad. It seems to take a lot of work to get away from it. Erskine's whole thing seems to be moving away from counting into feeling the pulse with different subdivisions. Then again, I'm still adapting to the material presented on page 1 and there's a whole lot more to follow. I find myself generally tapping on the one and singing offbeats in what I guess you could call a clave. Usually just one per measure and not according to any formula, just where I'm feeling it. Otherwise I tend to get distracted and can't keep it all together along with the other things ya gotta do while you're playing.

    I think scatting complex and interesting jazz rhythms full of accents and syncopation comes pretty naturally after a lot of listening. Honestly, I think the theoretical discussions, while helpful to an extent, probably get in the way of discovering the rhythms that we're feeling naturally just from a lot of listening. The lifelong project, I think, is letting your fingers become the vehicle for the rhythms that are already ingrained in dedicated jazz listeners.

  22. #22
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    To piggyback on what's been said: one exercise to internalize rhythm is too take a rhythmic pattern, e.g. take the first bar of PMB's pattern 7d, and improvise for a long time over tunes whose harmony you know well, at different tempi, *using only that rhythm* on every bar, with all your mental focus on getting the rhythm exactly right. Do both swinging and straight 8th notes. Use a metronome (or a drum machine to get a slightly more realistic accompaniment) but also without any assistance to make your playing stand on its own . Think of this as a counterpart for rhythm that learning scales is for pitch: you are learning "rhythmic scales" one at a time. Then do the same with 2-bar and 4 bar patterns. There are too many to list them all, but a few choice ones will help you internalize.

    It seems to me that poor time typically comes from the focus being on pitch rather than rhythm (think of that student in the Metheny lesson). When your list of available internalized rhythm patterns is limited, you end up either playing floaty poor time lines, or unhip things like playing endless streams of 8th notes.

    To convince yourself that this might be right, try it in some odd meter you are not used to, say 11/4. If you work on two or three 1 or
    2 bar rhythmic patterns without too many notes per bar, after a few minutes of repeating you pretty soon start to feel the meter.

  23. #23
    Interesting discussion, but IMO goes a bit beyond OP's question about 'basic rhythm' ideas. A lot of what's being discussed seems to me to be a stylistic thing, where emphasis is placed on breaking up boring eighths to the point where it kind of becomes an obsession. For me the perfectly executed swung melodic eighth notes is what I strive for, and deviations from it, whatever form that might take, creates contrast and adds interest, but is not an end in itself. Metheney is plays flawlessly so can afford to play around with rhythms. It's his things. To get back to 'basic rhythm' ideas, a good place to start may be learning tunes, especially bebop or modern tunes. There's a wealth of rhythmic ideas in melodies. If you learn enough of them, the rythmns should rub off. Just my tuppence worth.

  24. #24
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    Dexter Gordon played lots of 8ths

  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Dexter Gordon played lots of 8ths
    Extra credit for anyone who could actually notate Dex's feel for those 8ths...
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Of what use is a dream, if not a blueprint for courageous action?"

    --Adam West, as Batman, 1966.

  26. #26
    Yea... anytime we verbally discuss music, it becomes technical.

    Some like to copy and memorize... eventually develop their personal style. Understanding through experience.

    Some like academic performance, cognitive development... the technical approach etc... Understanding by developing cognitive skills and organized physical activities etc...

    Some like combinations etc... I guess what works best would be based on what your goal is.

    Personally when we as musicians get into rhythm.... there are musicians that have time and musicians that can follow time. Most tend to be followers. By that .... I mean most can feel time when there is a framework to feel time within.

    Subdividing is simple technique that helps musicians have time, and the skill of developing feels of time within frameworks.

    Generally there isn't a magical skill of feeling the pulse. It's a developed skill.

    Depending on your early experiences etc... some need to work on developing rhythmic skills more than others.

  27. #27
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    Hi, thanks to all the posters for your replies. They are very useful and will help me (.... for years to come). I have bought a book/cd called Rhythm First (Rhythm First!: A Beginner's Guide to Jazz Improvisation: Tom Kamp: 9781883217860: Amazon.com: Books).

    I am finding it really good, it goes back to very fundamental basics and, associated with the advice in the thread, I think will get on the path to better rhythm,

    Thanks once again, Simon

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