I have been playing guitar for about 15 years and one of the first things I learned was that most bands would rather have an alright lead player with good rhythm than an amazing lead player who struggles with rhythm. The musician who said this encouraged me to focus on rhythm and get that down before trying to learn lead. I’m so glad I did!
Improving your rhythm could be as easy or as complicated as you make it out to be. You could learn how to read sheet music, take music theory classes, and spend hours wrapping your mind around it.
You could put these four methods to work and hit two birds with one stone.
Here’s why spending hours trying to wrap your mind around it is a dumb idea…
You aren’t playing your guitar
The less time you spend playing your guitar, the less time you’ll be doing what you actually enjoy.
Think about it. You aren’t trying to improve your guitar rhythm because you want to pass a written test. You can know all about how to do something but the journey from head to hand can be a tough one.
Do yourself a favor by making your Head/Hand ratio 1/9.
For every 1 practice session you spend learning some theory, spend 9 sessions putting it to work.
If you don’t, chances are you won’t enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, then why the heck are you doing it in the first place?
Now to my methods…
Play with a Metronome
This requires a very small amount of understanding how music works. Every song has a tempo which is measured by beats per minute (BPM) and a Time Signature (Normally 3/4 or 4/4).
Pick the song you are trying to learn and search the BPM and Time Signature in Google. If the song is well-known, you should be able to find the information you need rather easily.
Download a metronome app on your smartphone, plug in the BPM and Time Signature, and then play along with it.
A word from captain obvious:
Make sure you can hear it over your guitar so that you can follow the clicks.
Why a metronome?
The BPM and Time Signature of the song are its skeleton. After all the other elements are added in, it can be very difficult to hear the rhythm.
After practicing with a metronome, you will start to hear it in your head and will learn to count out the beats while you play even when you play without it!
Doing this will definitely improve your guitar rhythm.
Play along with a Recording
After you spend a considerable amount of time playing with a metronome (9 sessions perhaps?), it is time to add in the recording.
You now know how to count out the beats in the song and have the means to figure out where your parts start and end. On top of that, you’ve spent time building up muscle memory and most likely can play your part with relative fluency.
Playing along with a recording will accustom you to band queues. You’ll learn to follow along with the drums. You’ll learn when your parts are being set up by another instrument or when you’re setting up a part for another instrument. Learning how it all fits together will help you to feel your way through a song instead of having to spend your focus counting through the whole song.
When you get to the place where you can feel it, you will be a much more reliable player as you implement the next tip.
Play with a Band
This goes for jamming, rehearsing, and playing live. All three are essential for growing as a musician.
As you play with other musicians, you will learn to synergize with them. Band chemistry is so huge! Some refer to it as being “in the pocket”.
Growing in chemistry refines your talent and reveals your weaknesses. You’ll be accountable to your band for your mistakes and that should make you practice with more focus and conviction.
The other reason this is helpful is because you’ll pick up on other people’s talents. Other guitar players will show you their tricks and things that they learned along the way. Because I am self-taught, this was the most influential piece of the puzzle for me.
Sure, I watched my fair share of YouTube videos and took Music Theory in college but most of what I use on stage I learned by jamming with other musicians.
The reason I specifically listed jamming, rehearsing, and playing live is because each adds their own value to your guitar playing. Since we already talked about jamming, I will explain rehearsing and playing live…
Rehearsing will help you improve your guitar rhythm by helping you nail your transitions.
Pro-tip: Dedicate at least one rehearsal to nailing your transitions before playing live.
Nailing your transitions will give you a more complete grasp on what you are playing. Instead of having a general uneasiness concerning your rhythm in a song, you will know which parts you suck at and be able to fix them individually.
Sometimes you won’t have it completely figured out before you go live, so you’ll find ways to compensate for it. Every musician does this at some point. Don’t sweat it.
Playing live is the most rewarding thing you can do to improve your rhythm. If I were to evaluate each time I picked up the guitar over the years measuring in terms of experience points, I would say practice is 5xp, rehearsal is 10xp, playing live is 100xp!
Playing live draws things out of you. It can be very daunting. It can be very stressful. But after you perform, you grow in confidence. It brings closure to all the work you put in preparing for it and it gives you a better idea of what you need to improve for the next time.
If you play live, it takes most of the guess work out of practice and rehearsal because you know what you’re getting yourself into. This lends focus to your efforts and takes you to levels in your playing that you’ll never go as a closet player.
I am a performer. I hate to practice because it just isn’t the same without people in the room. Call me crazy but I like the challenge of performing in front of a room full of people. I vibe off their energy and I bring it in ways I can’t bring it when I practice. I wish I could explain it but it’s probably not something you can really grasp until you do it.
Play live and watch yourself grow.
Play for a Guitar Coach
This is something that I haven’t seen anybody write about. I wish more people knew how much having a coach adds value to their lives. The world would be a much better place!
As I look back on my life, the times I had a coach I learned guitar so much faster than the times I didn’t. It is because I was able to have help to break through whenever I was stuck.
You don’t have to piece this together all on your own. Learning guitar to boost your pride is a grueling and joy-sucking process. Nobody likes this kind of player because prideful players are all douche bags. Do yourself a favor. Don’t be a douche bag!
Instead, learn guitar because it is fun and makes your life more enjoyable. Do it because you’re passionate about it and it feeds you. The moment it stops feeding you is the moment you need to move on to something else.
Now it’s time to get started!
You now have your next steps in improving your guitar rhythm. Trust me, you don’t want to wait on this. Pick up your guitar if you haven’t already and put them into action. You could spend the rest of the day watching useless YouTube videos and, searching blogs, read yourself into oblivion. Don’t waste your time.
In learning guitar, there is no substitute for putting in the work taking what’s in your head and transferring it to your hands.
Don’t forget. Once you’ve done nine practice sessions implementing what ‘s in this blog, come back and comment. I’d love to hear some feedback on what worked (or didn’t work) for you!
Thanks for reading!