Reading rhythms is not the easiest or the most enjoyable thing to do as a beginning guitarist, but there are some essential skills learned in the process. This chapter will help you understand the basics to prepare you for reading rhythms. View the strumming fundamentals lesson as well.
whole note = 4 beats
half note = 2 beats
quarter note = 1 beat
eighth note = 1/2 beat
sixteenth note = 1/4 beat
The rhythm is a repeating pattern of strong and weak sounds in relation to the beat. Every pattern you strum on guitar that repeats is a rhythm. Listen to your favorite song and see if you can find repeating elements within it that give the song its energy—the placement of those sounds are called the rhythms. So what is the beat then?
Pulse and tempo:
The beat (also called the pulse) is the steady, repeating place you want to tap your foot. The speed of the music (or speed that the beat repeats) is referred to as the tempo.
A measure (also called a bar) is a specific number of beats, a set amount of musical space. Each measure will always contain the same number of beats regardless of how many notes are being played within them (there are exceptions we will discuss down the road.) Measures are perfect measurements of musical space, a way to keep track of where we are within a song as it passes. Measures are separated from each other by what are called “bar lines.” Each measure will always contain the same amount of musical time regardless of how busy the music might appear inside it—a lot of quick notes in one bar will always take the same amount of beats as a few long notes in another bar.
A time signature is a quick, direct way to tell musicians what they need to know about the time structure of a piece of music. A time signature tells how many beats are in each measure, and also what type of note will receive the beat. The time signature sets a grid of how the music’s time will be divided, how things will flow to some extent, and how you will count and keep track of things as you play or listen. Sound mathematical? Well it is, but it’s quite easy actually.
Most music is in the time signature of 4/4, spoken “four-four” or “four-four time.” The upper number in the time signature refers to the type of note that gets the beat. The lower number tells you how many beats will be in each measure. In our time signature of 4/4 the upper number “4” means “quarter” referring to quarter note, which will be receiving the beat, or one tap of the foot. The lower “4” states that there will be 4 beats (quarter notes) in each measure. 4/4 time is very common. If you have ever heard a drummer count off a song “One, two, three, four…” then you have heard 4/4 time!
There are other time signatures, the second most common being 3/4, where we have 3 beats in each measure (using quarter notes.) It’s a bit easier to remember which number is the beat and which is the number of beats this way—this is how I remembered that the upper number was the number of beats.
upper number = note type
Lower number = # of beats
All content © Coire Walker 2009 - 2013