How To Read Guitar RhythmPosted by Mike Schuck
When it comes down to it, reading guitar rhythm is just about knowing what notes go where in a song. You can read all the music theory you want, but nothing beats learning how to listen and recognize songs!
Reading chord charts is one of the most basic skills musicians must learn. By doing this, you do not have to worry about figuring out which strings contain which chords or whether there are wrong numbers used for a bass note.
Knowing some basics about meter and timing is also important when reading music. Meter changes occur at specific times within a piece, and timing refers to how long each measure is.
This article will focus mostly on reading simple bar-shaped rhythms. These bars typically start with an upbeat or quick tone and then move into a slow, steady beat that covers several steps of the foot.
Look at the meter
The first thing you need to do is learn your basic meters! What we mean by that is, how many steps there are in a song. A step is one simple note or pulse (like a verse-chorus structure). There can be three, four, five, or even more steps in a piece.
The easiest way to identify the most common types of music meters is by looking at the chart below. You will see here that there are songs with an ordinary metric place value system, like “And then I heard what seemed to be…” or “I could have danced all night.” These songs use a normal rhythmic pattern called a triplet rhythm which consists of two notes separated by a short break.
These rhythms usually feel natural and easy to play, so if you want to improve your guitar playing, this should be something you add into your repertoire.
Pay attention to the rhythm
A lot of people get stuck thinking that music is just about creating rhythms, but they miss out on one of the most important parts of learning how to read guitar chords.
Music isn’t really about having lots of cool rhythmic patterns- it’s not like dancing where you can be as random or crazy as you want!
It’s actually more like language in that there are certain rules you must know before you can truly call yourself fluent.
And reading chord fingering charts doesn’t quite make up for this missing ingredient.
So what are these rules? They’re called meter.
Meter is when you divide up time into chunks separated by a special pattern. In music, meters typically start with an accented beat followed immediately by an unaccented count. These two units combine to form a third unit, which becomes the next metric group.
This process keeps repeating until your song has several separate groups of three numbers (each a meter). Some songs use different types of meters, but no matter what type of meter a piece uses, it will always have at least one accentuated beat and one unaccented count within each trio of numbers.
These are the basic components of a meter. What makes them unique is their position in the song.
Practice identifying which beats are strong and which beats are weak
The next step in reading guitar rhythm is learning how to identify which beats are strong and which ones are weaker. This is called timing or meter!
In music, there are usually one or more main chords that make up the song. These chords are typically built around a tonal center such as A, B, G, or D. By thinking about the chord structure of a piece, you can determine where each beat falls within the song.
By doing this for several songs, you will be able to tell if a song has quick rhythmic patterns or not. Songs with faster rhythms may use short notes (notes shorter than a half-beat) to create an effect. Songs with slower rhythms may use longer notes to take their time to add intensity to the song.
You can learn how to read bass line, treble lines, and drum groove in our article here but adding timing to your repertoire is another way to improve your guitar playing.
Learn how to use the clock to your advantage
The first thing you should do is learn how to use the clock to your advantage! There are many ways to approach reading guitar rhythm, but most have you using the clock as their main tool or source of information.
The easiest way to begin reading music is by learning the notes and what position each note is in within a scale or chord. Once these basics are learned, you can move onto other modes like A major or G natural minor. Then, you can read either whole notes (only hitting the top part) or half notes (also only hitting the top part, but one bit longer).
Reading time with a metronome helps keep track of this and also gives you an average timing for songs.
Learn to read chord changes
Chord progressions are one of the most important things you can learn to play guitar. They occur when your song starts with an introduction (usually a tonal chord) that moves quickly into another, usually more dissonant chord.
The easiest way to understand this is by example. Say you want to play a popular rock song that goes D-A-D. That is the intro, transition, and final chords in the verse.
To practice reading these, start with the introductory chord, which in this case is A. The next chord will be the Bm major second interval from A, which is also called a mediant. So, A becomes Bm, then B as the dominant, and C as the destination chord.
Use chord charts to help you read
Chord diagrams are one of the most helpful tools when it comes to reading guitar rhythm. There are several types of chord diagram styles that can be used to identify which notes go into what bar or measure.
Some examples include circle-style chord diagrams, stacked chart style, table format, and list format. No matter how you choose to use them, make sure your chords are matched with the appropriate notes in the bass line or rest break!
You do not need to have advanced knowledge of music theory to use these diagrams, but it is very helpful to know some basics. For instance, major, minor, and harmonic form all rely heavily on chord shapes.
This article will talk about some easy ways to learn how to read guitar rhythm using chord diagrams.
Use a metronome
A good way to learn how to read guitar rhythm is by using a metronome. A metronome works by timing music, so as you learn how to read guitar rhythm, you will be learning how to use a metronome!
A basic beginner’s tip is to never press play on the device until after you have set it up. This could potentially get annoying if you don’t know what settings are.
Make sure that only one song position has “play” checked off, otherwise it may distract you. Once this is done, turn the timer on and start playing the notes of the guitar piece either slowly or quickly depending on whether you want to slow down or speed up the tempo.
Play along with recording
The next way to learn guitar rhythm is by listening to other people’s songs! There are many ways to do this, but you can also use YouTube to find song recordings and then listen to those carefully to see how the guitarist organized their notes and what patterns they used to make the music sound good.
You can even add in your own voice to determine whether the timing feels natural for you or not. This will take some practice as it may feel strange at first, but eventually you will get faster at determining if something sounds right.
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