Almost everyone understands that Rhythm is one of the essential parts of music; what is not appreciated is how difficult learning and developing rhythm is. Most people have some idea of Rhythm, but very few who are new to playing music can hear if they are on time or not, which is fundamental to its development.
Rhythm is also tough to learn as you must learn to hear it and play it. If you can’t hear it, you struggle to play it; if you can’t, you struggle to hear it. The teacher must work out what skills you have and assist in getting both to improve. Often a source of struggle as when your ability to hear rhythm improves, your playing sounds worse even when you are getting better!
The main aspects of learning are
The physical aspect of playing rhythm on the guitar is keeping the strumming/ picking hand moving continuously in time with the beat while the other hand keeps in sync with it. Sounds obvious, but most learning guitarists approach it the other way around, with the fretting hand controlling when the strumming hand can play. It is impossible to keep time with the hand’s priorities the wrong way round. Developing techniques to keep the strumming/ picking hand in time with the beat is essential to ensure the student can play along with music or other musicians.
Most people can hear and feel the pulse of the music they are listening to, but understanding what they are hearing and feeling enhances the enjoyment of music. The pulse of music falls into the dynamics of a musical piece and is about which beats are emphasised, which are quieter, and what the feel should be as we play. Because we are training how to feel and express feelings, it isn’t easy to measure and for the student to know their successes.
Knowing where the “1” beat lies is one of the best phrases I have heard from a drummer to describe how to keep in time. Musically, most performers move away from the beat or pulse to add tension and dynamic to their performance and resolve it back. When they move away, they instinctively come back on time and in sync with everyone else. This is knowing where the “1” beat is at all times. It is developed by listening and playing along with music, a frustrating practice method that the tutor often continually encourages.
We all think we are good at playing in time until our sense of time improves. The metronome is essential for this practice. It is a torture device for musicians as it removes any feeling from the beat and forces you to play like a robot. However, it has been used for hundreds of years to develop a sense of timing and still has its use today. Using it to focus and get our automatic synchronisation with the beat works very well, but it is not a satisfying way to practice. When the metronome is being used to develop speed, we can measure and record and see an improvement. When we use the metronome for improving timing, it is either in time or out of time, depending on how good our ear training has been. Creating the enthusiasm to practice with a metronome is a must.
Reading rhythms brings about an understanding of musical language and expression that is not usually developed from listening alone. The rhythmic marks in music are an artistic expression of how the beat of a piece of music should go and how it should feel. Learning to read, understand, play and feel helps the conversations between musicians about rhythm in a started format that they all should understand. I prefer the notes to be called a quarter, eighth, sixteenth, etc. It is all an expression of the division of a beat. The terminology of minims, crotchets, and quavers can confuse those new to learning music.
Rhythm lessons must balance all these aspects together in a way that keeps the student’s interest there and minimises frustration. A difficult task, but very worthwhile and successful if the student does what the tutor advise and the Tutor listens to the student to keep the balance in place.
One of the most challenging aspects of learning the guitar is the discipline of splitting everything apart to work on each aspect of what we are playing individually to speed up our learning.
Once we are past the beginner’s stage of learning the guitar, we can often look at where our playing is not entirely correct and identify the central issue of what is causing the mistake. As we train this skill, we better analyse ourselves and identify more subtle errors leading to the mistakes. These can be identified easier with a teacher’s aid as it is challenging to observe correctly while playing. A great tip for this is to video yourself playing using your mobile phone, and you can take on the role of the teacher in spotting errors.
Once we have identified and planned to rectify a particular issue, most learners try to do it all at once. It is possible to improve this way. However, our brains struggle to learn more than one thing at a time. The solution is to take each item separately and correct it separately, then introduce all the pieces back together. This takes a lot of discipline as it appears to be a significantly more complex method of correcting mistakes. I look at this the other way; the only reason it is so challenging is we focus on one thing we cannot do and not play anything we can to give us respite.
Putting it all back together, we can utilise each box and create the correct chord. With a little bit of practice, we no longer are stuck when we see a chord that we have not played before.
When looking at a chord name, we should see how each part of the name identifies any variation from the Major Triad and how we can use that to create rather than try to remember every single chord shape.
Also, when we are given a chord shape, we can see how it is constructed and what the function of each note is and most importantly, how moving each note affects the sound of the chord and what the new chord would be called.
Only open chords were covered in the last few blogs. When we use chords like this, it is unlikely that we would use open chord shapes. However, it is best to start the understanding and sow these seeds of knowledge to get the foundations in place before rethinking how chords work.
In simple terms, the chord boxes have:-
This gives us 216 possible chords for each of the five shapes covered, not including the uncommon, special, or alternative strings for each box. Moving these shapes to each fret of the neck gives us another 11 roots for each of the five shapes. I certainly cannot remember this amount of knowledge as individual items, but I can remember a few shapes and how to vary them.
Just a parting note on this topic for now. It may seem like I use the CAGED system for creating and remembering these chords, but I don’t. It is often easier to explain systems like this related to chords most guitarists know and for this purpose CAGED works very well. Trying to fit this box system into the five “CAGED” chords doesn’t work very well, but fitting it into triad shapes, and tetrad shapes with their inversions works very well.