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"Rhythm is the earth."      -Jimi Hendrix

Rhythm is the foundation of music.   It defines the structure of each phrase.  It's the groove that makes you move.
Rhythm is a starting point for songwriting.  Other starting points include: lyrics, Notes, chords, melody

pointer  Rhythm exercises: every rhythmic possibility in 1 measure.    


is a series of steady beats
.   It's like a ticking clock.   The metronome is a pulse.
Meter is a group of pulses (measures).   Each measure has the same number of beats.  4 beats is the most common, followed by 3 beats. 
Time signature describes the measure.   The top number tells you how many beats.   The bottom number tells you the size of the beat.
     12/8 time has twelve 1/8th notes per measure.   4/4  or four 1/4 notes is most common.

pulse meter and time signature

Tempo is the speed of the song   
 It's measured in Beats per minute or bpm


Each beat can be divided or extended. 
The group on the left shows whole, half, quarter, 8th and 16th notes.
The group on the right shows half note triplets, quarter note triplets, triplets and sixteenth note triplets.

half and quarter note triplets

Don't worry.  We'll simplify it. 


Counting tracks your location in a piece of music.
Counting 16th notes.

counting sixteenth notes

Counting 16th note triplets.

counting sixteenth note triplets

Every measure starts over at 1.  

But, the measures are also numbered.  
Say the number of the measure instead of 1.

Measure 22 is counted   22 - 2 - 3 - 4    than   23 - 2 - 3 - 4   than  24 - 2 - 3 - 4    And so on. 

This shows measures notated on my free guitar tab.

counting measures

This shows measures notated on my color sheet music.
counting measures on sheet music

It's hard to count and improvise
If counting is interfering, stop counting. 
Count while listening to recordings.  Analyze what you did.  Slow it down if you have to.  Count when writing sheet music.    
Use a DAW like FL Studio or Ableton when improvising over drum tracks.  Always record your improvisation.  The DAW will count for you.


Music is made of notes and silence.
Silence is notated using rests.
Some people play continuously and never add silence.
Silence is half of music.
The notes you don't play are as important as the notes you do.

Counting rests

A whole rest is always under the 2nd line down (on sheet music)

whole rest
A half rest is always over the 3rd line down.

half rest

This chart shows whole, half, quarter, 8th and 16th note rests.

whole, half, quarter and sixteenth note rests

Notating Rhythms

Some guitarists always keep strumming.
They keep their hand moving with the pulse.
Sometimes they hit the strings; sometimes they miss.
This makes it easy to add a strum at any instant.

Other guitarists strum when they want to play. 
It's more economical.
It allows your pick hand to do other things.
But its harder to add extra strums.
Adding extra parts makes good players great!

Both styles are valid.

Practice the rhythm exercises both ways.

Basic strumming pattern

quarter vs sixteenth strum pattern

Note: when playing 8th notes.  And (+) is on an upstroke.
           when playing 16th notes.  And (+) is on a downstroke.

8th notes

You play down - up - down miss, up miss   |   down and hold, up miss  - down - up
Here it is in standard notation.

8th note strumming

16th notes

Figure out the 1/8 notes first.  
When playing sixteenth notes: And (+) is on a down stroke

You play:
down - up - down miss - up    down - up - down miss - up   |    down and hold - up miss - down and hold - up miss   |   down - up - down miss - up

I sense this first. 
down - up - down miss - up   |   down - up - down miss - up   |   down and hold - down and hold   |    down - up - down miss - up

sixteenth note strumming

Step 2: fill in the rest.
down - up - down miss - up   |   down - up - down miss - up   |   down and hold - down and hold   |    down - up - down miss - up

sixteenth note strumming 2

This helps you notate complicated sixteenth note rhythms.  

Drum charts 

If you're using a drum machine: notate the rhythm in advance
If you're using a DAW, you don't need to do this, but it will still help.

drum tab on guitar tab

Printout my awesome tab.
Choose a drumbeat.
Slow the tempo to 30 bpm (or less).
Listen and count along.
Notate the drum strikes.
chart         The most important drums are snare and bass.
         Bass is B     Snare is S
         / / / / are rhythmic scratching sounds 
         Light cymbals are c
         This provides a blueprint to start building.

The bass guitar works with the bass drum and snare.  
The guitar part can follow any aspect of the beat.  

If you improvise something cool, it'll be easier to count later.
You can also use the drum section of the guitar tab to notate guitar rhythms.

Rhythm notation helps you:

Avoid cliches when improvising.  Practice the rhythms.  
Write rhythms.
Share rhythms with another musician.
Analyze songs

Certain patterns are repeated.
You don't need to learn every rhythm. 
Some strumming patterns are identical.

quarter strums vs sixteenth strums

The difference:    
The eighth notes (on top) require twice as many measures to write a phrase.
This simplifies the music.

If these 8th notes are 80bpm, the 16th notes are 160 bpm.
All 16th note patterns are fast 8th note patterns.

8th notes and triplets cover every possibility in 1 measure.

When you understand basic rhythms, you'll be able to embellish them.  Mix parts together and create.

Rhythm exercises

Practicing rhythms helps you avoid cliches.

Start with 1/4 notes.  Play slow, follow the arrows.  
Do it all with down-strokes, then try upstrokes.

Focus on your muting.     Use your fretting fingers, picking fingers, or picking palm.
Use a metronome.             A 1/4 note is equal to one metronome tick.

1/4  onbeat     

1/4  onbeat        with 1/8th notes
1/4  offbeat        with 1/8th notes         

This group covers all 1 measure rhythm possibilities

Pretty much.  Triplet rhythms can be thought of as 1/8th notes with different base structure.  

1/8th  onbeat        in order and mixed (variations of the same thing)

1/8th  offbeat            in order    
1/8th  offbeat            mixed       

Advanced notation

Of course it can get harder.

Tied notes

Tied notes have a slur that ties them together.

tied notes

Dotted notes

A dot after a note extends it 1.5 times the original length.

tied dotted


1/8th Tied                       quarter notes                      
1/8th Tied                       dotted quarter notes      


A dotted 1/4 note = three 1/8th notes.
Ties are used across measure bar lines, instead of dotted 1/4 notes.

These patterns also repeat themselves.
Here's four examples of the same rhythms.  

same pattern


Triplets are divisions of three.  There are three triplets in a beat.  These can also be tied.

counting triplets

Strumming pattern

triplet strum
The numbered beats (1 2 3 4) alternate down-strokes and upstrokes.
If you're doing this, you're playing triplets.

Sextuplets are triplets played twice as fast.


Strumming pattern

The numbered beats (1 2 3 4) are all down strokes. 

To tell the difference between 1/16 notes and sextuplets.

sextuplet strum

Cut the speed in half,
If you're alternating strokes on the numbered beats, you were playing sextuplets   (now they're triplets).
If you're playing all down strokes, you were playing 1/16th notes   (now they're 1/8th notes).

Sextuplets and triplets follow the same patterns.  Practicing triplets allows you to play sextuplets later.

Indian rhythm system

"The whole Indian classical system is extremely vocal...There is a word for each rhythmic group.  Once you know the system you can easily work out rhythmic compositions.  It's superior to any other approach."   -John Mclaughlin

Syllables mark each beat.
     Use the syllables found in singing,
     Use the Indian syllables.
     Use your own.

Rhythms are divided into sections
    Its easier to count and remember.

Clap on the X's  and say the syllbles
Each syllables can be a 1/4 note or 1/8 note

4/4 or 4/8 time


X                                         X   
Dho   Din   Din   Din    :    Dho   Din   Din   Din 
1         2      3        4            1        2       3       4

Rhythmically      (however you like)

X                          X        X                X
Dho   Din   Din   Dho   Dho   Din   Dho   Din
1         2       3       4        5        6       7        8

3/4 or 3/8 time


X                                X
Dho   Din   Din    :    Dho   Din   Din
1         2      3             1         2       3


X                  X             X                 X              X       X                      X       X
Dho   Din   Dho    :    Dho   Din   Dho    :    Dho   Dho   Din    :    Dho   Dho   Din
1         2      3              1         2       3             1         2        3            1         2        3

5/4 or 5/8 time

This system helps you remember rhythms in any time signature.
Which suggests more of a beat?

Standard counting:
 1    2    3    4    5     :     1    2    3    4    5

Indian counting:

X                          X                      X                          X   
Dho   Din   Din   Dho   Din    :    Dho   Din   Din   Dho   Din ...   
1         2       3      4        5              1        2      3       4         5

X                 X                 X             X                 X                X
Dho   Din   Dho   Din   Dho    :    Dho   Din   Dho   Din   Dho
1         2       3       4        5              1        2       3        4       5

You can hear riffs and rhythms in the Indian examples.

7/4 or 7/8 time

The first example is hard to count, because of the four Dins in a row


X                                             X
Dho   Din   Din   Din   Din   Dho   Din
1         2       3       4       5       6       7

Use other syllables in place of Din

X                                          X
Dho   Din   Ta   La   Ma   Dho   Din  
1         2       3     4     5       6         7

And for straight 7/4 time:

Dho   Din   Ta   La   Ma   Din   Din  
1         2       3     4     5       6         7

12/4 or 12/8 time

Use any syllables you like.  These are my choices.
X                                         X                 X                 X    
Dho   Din   Ta   La   Ma   Dho   Din   Dho   Din   Dho   Din   Da         
1         2       3     4     5       6        7        8       9      10     11     12