Developing a Natural Beat
The following tutorial is designed to help you develop the most foundational musical skills. Beat and rhythm. Many beginner musicians find that developing the coordination between the beat and rhythm is the hardest thing to do. To develop a sense of smooth-flowing rhythm you will need to have a sense of smooth-flowing beat. Learning to keep a steady beat is the best place for beginners to start their musical training. It is however the most often overlooked. Be aware that you will need to know the basic break down of rhythm structure and I’ve included it in this tutorial.
The Beat Is A Moving Target
Many of you have already discovered that keeping time with a metronome is a lot trickier than it seems. One reason this happens is that some beginners will tend to try to hear the beat first as a reference before tapping their foot on it. Naturally this will make you ‘late’ or behind the beat. Another reason it’s difficult is because of the perfect accuracy of the metronome’s beat. Though the beat is perfectly distanced apart, it is still a moving target. The natural tendency for beginners then is to ‘attack’ the beat with the foot-tap in an attempt to hit it accurately. This of course affects the mechanics of the motion of the foot which should be smooth and easy-feeling. In effect many people tend to tap their foot too quickly trying to ‘pounce’ on the beat. Naturally then the foot quickly ‘recoils’ back to the up-position where its held until the next beat. You will never keep a steady tempo like this. Instead you need to set the timing of the foot so that it stays on the floor as long as possible between beats. Just before the next beat arrives the foot should lift and fall on the next beat effortlessly. This produces a relaxed steady beat that is both accurate and fluid. In other words a nice ‘time-feel’ that is musical. I also refer to this as having flow. I’ve built into this tutorial specific exercises that work with this.
Mastering Foot Control
The foot-tap is your “musical- governor” because it helps you to keep the beats even. When the foot taps the beats in a relaxed manner it keeps your tempo moving along evenly. For many beginners the ability to keep time with the metronome just isn’t there yet. In fact some beginners just stop listening to the metronome while playing. They just keep marching on to their “own beat” oblivious to the accurate pulse ticking away in the background. You need to get a metronome or download one in an app to try it for yourself. Use a metronome app that has a tap-tempo function for your touch screen. Listen to some songs you like and tap with your finger along with the beat on the metronome. The metronome will tell you what the tempo of the song is. This is excellent practice that will also help you develop your sense of beat and tempo. The exercises to follow will help you to develop your ‘internal clock’ by learning how to accurately control your beat.
Working With Tempo
The number of beats that occur in sixty seconds is the tempo or speed of the music. This is referred to as BPM’s which means ‘beats per minute’. 60 bpm’s set on the metronome will be exactly one second intervals. When we tap our foot to the music or to a metronome we are tapping quarter notes. Each quarter note is one beat and most commonly there are four quarter notes in each bar. This is referred to as “Common Time” and is what we call a ‘time-signature’. In this case the time signature would be written as 4/4 in the music. The top number tells us the number of beats in each measure. The bottom number informs us that quarter notes get one beat each. Alternatively this time-signature can be also indicated with the “C” symbol at the beginning of the music. Before we proceed to the exercises you can review the breakdown of basic rhythm structure below if you don’t know it already.
Basic Rhythm Division
Here is the basic notation with the equivalent rhythm slashes shown for the strumming exercises.
Whole Note Rhythm
Each chord is strummed and held for four beats so one whole note in each bar.
Half Note Rhythm
Each chord is strummed and held for two beats so two half notes or two strums in each bar.
Quarter Note Rhythm
Each chord is strummed and held for one beat so four quarter notes or four strums in each bar.
Eighth Note Rhythm
Each chord is strummed and held for a half beat so eight eighth notes in each bar. Typically in down up fashion but eighth notes can also all be played with just down strums. Here the eighth notes are shown with alternating down/up strums.
Sixteenth Note Rhythm
Each chord is strummed and held for one quarter of one beat so potentially you can have sixteen sixteenth notes in each bar.
Sixteenth Note Subdivisions
Now were going to look at the possible subdivisions of each beat. As you will see we can use a combination of sixteenth, eighth and dotted note figures. These rhythm figures will be practiced with clapping as well as strumming and single note exercises. If any of these rhythms are confusing to you don’t worry about it you will get a chance to hear how they sound.
Musical Coordination Exercise
Watch the video to hear the count set at 40bpm’s. By counting to four evenly between each beat click you are subdividing the beat into four. These are the sixteenth notes – one quarter note divided by four is four sixteenth notes. Try to tap your foot to the first click of each beat and lift on the 2nd sixteenth of each beat. This exercise shows us what happens if you lift too soon on the second sixteenth note. The foot will be waiting in the up position for the next beat to fall. This should feel quite awkward holding your foot up for 3rd and 4th sixteenth notes of each beat though many people do this.
Now give it a try without the video setting your metronome to 40bpm’s
If you lift on count 2 this is how the actual rhythm of your foot movement would be written as at this tempo.
Hearing the hi-hat closed on the down beats and the open hi-hat sound on the foot-lifting up will help to feel the motion of the foot lifting on the 2nd sixteenth note. There is a four beat count-in in the video.
This exercise has you lifting the foot right in the middle of the beat on the 3 count. Lifting on 3 feels like a see-saw effect and is way too mechanical or robotic feeling at this slow tempo. This is tapping precisely on the even division of the beat.
Now set your metronome to 40bpm’s and try it for yourself!
If you lift on count 3 this is how the actual rhythm of your foot movement would be written as eighth notes at this tempo.
Now try this one see how much better your beat feels leaving the foot on the floor until the 4 count.
At this tempo it is much more musical to lift your foot on the 4th sixteenth note of each beat! Try it on your own.
If you lift on count 4 this is how the actual rhythm of your foot movement would be written as at this tempo.
Rhythm and Beat Keeping Exercises
Try clapping the rhythms while tapping the beat and lifting on four!
Clapping on the quarter notes.
Clapping on the eighth notes
Clapping sixteenth note divisions. Two sixteenths and one eighth note. Sounds like ‘short short long’ ‘short short long’ etc.
Clapping sixteenth note divisions. One eighth note and two sixteenths. Sounds like ‘long short short’ ‘ long short short’ etc.
Clapping sixteenth note divisions. One sixteenth one eighth one sixteenth. Sounds like ‘short long short’ ‘short long short’ etc.
Clapping sixteenth note divisions. One sixteenth one dotted eighth. Sounds like ‘short long’ short long’ etc.
Clapping sixteenth note divisions. One dotted eighth and one sixteenth. Sounds like ‘long short’ ‘long short’ etc.
Clapping sixteenth note divisions. All sixteenths!
The next part of this blog will continue translating these rhythms into guitar rhythms! Stay tuned!