Playing Guitar in Time

Do you have trouble keeping time?

 Here’s some simple but very practical helpful hints. 

Keeping time when playing guitar can be caused by a number of things, sometimes people just can’t feel time, this is not usually the most common cause but if it is, and this will sound a bit crazy to some people but in that case I recommend dance lessons.  But a word of warning, dance teachers, although they can dance in time, their way of counting the beats is often very bizarre and is not the same way as a  musician would count…. But the main issue here is develop a feeling for time, a feeling that moves through the whole body and is not just a mechanical rhythm count in the gray matter above your shoulder region.

Often the issue of timing is about poor or should I say yet to be developed guitar technique, the problem can come from three specific areas (yes there are more but I’ll keep this simple).  

One is the co-ordination of the right and left hand.  This lack of co-ordination is because in the beginning stages of learning guitar your brain sort of has to split in two and multi-process the fingering of the left hand and the rhythm of the right hand.  (Left hander’s I mean the other left and the other right), while you are concentrating on one hand the other one temporarily goes on vacation.

Two, it can be from the left hand (fretting hand); an underdeveloped ability to play chords correctly will cause the player to pause for a moment while they get the fingers lined up.  This can be easily fixed by paying greater attention to the movement of the fretting fingers, in fact one of the best ways that I have used many times with students is to get them to play the chords on only the first beat of every bar, totally forget the picking/rhythm hand and just play one strum on the first beat.  Use simple chord patterns.  If you watch your hand very closely and look at the pathway between one chord and the next you’ll notice there is very little movement required to change chords, the secret to it is to relax the hand for a fraction of a second between chords, and in that moment of relaxation, visualise where the fingers are moving to.   At some point I will create a tutorial on this technique.

Three, the third issue is that the right hand (rhythm) is totally disorganised and has just ended up playing rhythm the best way it new how.  I recommend strumming simple down strokes on very simple chord patterns, or even one chord is fine.  

Count 1 2 3 4 and just play slowly on the beat counting as you go. 

Then use Up and Downs,  1     2 &    3    4 &   1     2 &    3    4 &   etc, the &’s are up strokes and then vary the pattern to 1     2 &    3 &   4 & etc and work through lots of variations SLOWLY, work with a drum machine or computer loop, not too loud, just something that you can hear.

If you work systematically with the ideas above, I guarantee that your rhythm will improve.  The main issue is that most players train and do everything at once, but it is far better to isolate aspects of guitar playing such as right hand and left, rhythm and fretting and develop these areas without have to concentrate on what the other hand is doing.

I’m reminded of the Flamenco player Paco Pena, in an interview he said “I wasn’t good looking enough to be a dancer so I took up guitar instead”.

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Filed under Acoustic Guitar, guitar tips, learning guitar

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