Can you learn rhythm?

Oxidao

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I see two different issues regarding rhythm. First is to understand a particular structure, and then to play it. Sometimes I think I know how a rhythm works, but it takes a while playing (and listening again without playing) before I can see the real rhythm. It happened on 'Cissy Strut' e.g.

I gotta get that in my head first, then right hand movement (chaka-chaka), and then look for sound.
I don't care don't getting sound-notes at the first shot, I'm pretty happy if I get the overall rhythm vibe in my head, and play play play combining playing along music and solo.
My approach is always to play on real Tempo if I can. (*)

Right hand movement is crucial as we all know, and that is my first target. I play unplugged and muted mainly until I get the movement (upstrokes, downstrokes, silence, emphasis, muted/open strokes), then I go looking for the right strings-notes, increasing volume.

Most of the times, playing along doesn't work for me (I don't enjoy that as much as playing myself either). I would say more, it disturbes me from doing the real thing, maybe because when playing along, the backing sound actually fills and emphasize the whole thing, so you can't hear your naked rhythm.

I'm not very interested on leads, they are nice, but I think those are absolutely secondary and prescindible (more on the arrangement side) of the song.

Open chords played along with hammer-ons, pull-offs, open strings, muted strums...Upstrokes and downstrokes.
There's A LOT of rhythm stuff around a single E Major open chord.

* Edit: sacrificing the harmony, just strum.
edit2: Funk and Bluegrass is my humble recommendation, I know nothing.
 
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Tele-friend

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Sure, you can!
However, I guess learning is not the best term or word. It is more of a FEEL for rhythm, something that comes naturally for some players or by practicing for others.

Anyway, with practice you can do it!
 

Grateful Ape

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you know who is good at rhythm? (hopefully ;) ) - your drummer
start beginner-beginner drum exercises - drum with your hands or feet, to a metronome. yes you can also use your strumming hand and practise with that (following Jusitn/Marty/all other instructors on youtube), but the exercises are really similar.
I did that for a year when I started out drumming on a practise pad and snare drum. Only after a year of rudiments on snare / practise pad I got a full drum kit from my parents. Long long time ago, but I still benefit from that. You have to spend lot's of time on it and you will learn.
Or... if you don't have the time, you won't. Now that you mention it, it's also time for me to revisit, my rhythm/feel became kinda sloppy over the years.


Drummer? I wish....

You can't rely on this. I have been in situations where I realised that the drummer was using me to keep time ..which was mildly worrying...ha ha
 

Grateful Ape

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Thanks! I was waiting until someone would do the usual drummer bashing, always amusing :)
Anyway, point was not to rely on your drummer, point was to copy from beginner drumming exercises ... they are all about understanding rhythm
Peace.

Glad to oblige :D No, I take your point.

The broader point I was trying to make - which clearly, you're aware of - is that drummers aren't infallible (there are plenty with awful time) and that the idea that only drummers have to worry about time is a common fallacy.

As an aside, it's great that this is being discussed here.
 

thesamhill

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For me, rhythm is more connected to my butt than my brain, so to speak.

I don't know exactly how possible it is to "teach" or "learn" a sense of rhythm, but if I had to give it a try, I'd start with something like this:

- Create a video with a simple, catchy, upbeat rhythm and chord progression.
- Have the video switch to green on the 1 and 3, and to blue on the 2 and 4.
- Then say, listen to the music and shift your butt left when it's green, and right when it's blue.
- Do that until you're really good at anticipating when to shift your butt.


I'm a guitar player primarily. I tried to play a bass part and I honestly could not do it to anywhere near acceptable until I started bopping my head while I was playing. Just listening and thinking wasn't cutting it for me but once I was moving my body I played it just fine.


Embrace the notion of swing.

This is really interesting comment. I don't know about rhythm overall, but I'd think that depending on the person and what they've grown up listening to, this is either:

A) the fastest way to develop a sense of rhythm or
B) a roller coaster straight to frustration and insanity.

There's a guy I play / internet-record with who just does not do swing. He's got an insanely tight right hand and is rock solid on the beat, like no one I've ever seen.

If you try to play a swing tune with him, he just keeps pushing it back toward a straight time. But when we play things in straight time, he gets irritated because I can't play on the beat.

I sent him a song of just me playing a song on my acoustic- no metronome, just sat and played it.

His comment was, "well, I dropped it into Logic and you're at exactly 104bpm the entire way through, but you're never actually ON the beat anywhere except the 1. You just keep getting slightly slow and then having to catch back up to hit the 1. Why don't you just play on the beat the whole way through the measure?"

For me it was like, "huh. I dunno. I sort of thought that was YOUR job, and MY job was to make YOU interesting..."
 

Beachbum

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My parents were professional ballroom dancers and I grew up in and around their dance school. As a child I remember them talking about their students rhythm abilities. The method of teaching dancer rhythm (same as with an instrument) is to count. 123 back step, 123 side step etc. Some students didn't even need to count from day one and others were still counting after weeks and even months. Most who didn't get it fairly soon simply gave up. At 15 the day I first picked up a guitar and learned some simple chords I had the rhythm down right off. I didn't need to count or even think about is. Was that because I had a talent for it or because i was exposed to it so early in life? Is talent, meaning a natural ability even a real thing? I don't know but I think that like everything in life some things come easy for us and some don't. I'll quote my own signature here.

"Practice guitar for hours each day. Do that for years on end and one day you will make it look so easy that people who have never done any of that will say that you were blessed with talent."
 
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mkdaws32

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I don’t know - I used to be a firm believer that anyone could learn anything with enough patience and perseverance. Then I tried to teach an uncle that had an incredibly good voice both timing and the ability to sing harmony. He worked at it for about three years solidly and came to me for advice, practice tapes (cassettes at the time) and I saw absolutely no progress - and the guy was really trying like he wanted nothing more in the world. So now he sings melody with his golden voice with an accompanist that will follow his pauses and rushes and the ils small churches and seniors home where he sings absolutely love him. And there’s no nicer guy in the world than him.
 

oldunc

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Of course you can, though a natural feel for both times and numbers help. Everyone has heard the syllabic rhythm exercises that trained Indian musicians use to get a handle on complex rhythms at impossible speeds- they've even started appearing in ads (sounds way neater than your average exercise).
Western musicians train in complex rhythms and combinations- 7 against 12 doesn't come natural to many of us. But if you're having trouble, say, hanging on to a basic rockabilly beat you may have a tough road ahead of you.
 

hepular

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put the click on 2 and 4, record yourself, and then look at the waveforms on the grid

Miles Davis said most guys drag the 3

I went through a phase once where I'd just listen to a 118 bpm click in the car for minutes at a time to burn in dance tempo

related, maybe. saw a video recently where someone said that the amazing thing about Steve Gadd was that he never EVER rushed the 4.

& there's a difference between rhythms where you just know because you've already learned (or think you learned) & the struggle of figuring out how to work with a new-to-you rhythm pattern. Takes me HOURS of 1&2&3&4& (& screwing up--especially . . .)

well, for example: Moondance. You can probably bash it out in your sleep. But figuring out how the piano parts fit together--& how some phrases end on the 2&, which sets up the other phrase starting on the 3. Took me Hours, especially since I can barely count 2 bars together the right way.
 

medic_90

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Taking a break from guitar and learning the bass has really helped my overall sense of rhythm. Now I go back and forth between learning songs on the guitar and bass. I can't really explain how but learning a new songs rhythms just click a lot faster now.
 

Old Deaf Roadie

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Some folks simply can't keep time, a major alloying element of rhythm, which I believe cannot be taught. I know more than a few drummers who lie to themselves on a daily basis about this.
 

ndcaster

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look I'm just a hack, but the best clinic in learning rhythm was learning to program James Brown rhythms into an Alesis SR-16 by hand

that was fun, and I learned a ton

try it!
 

matrix

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Working with a metronome - A LOT - has taken my rhythm (both in accompaniment and melodic playing) from "challenged" to "solid". Maybe even good on a very good day.

-There is no substitute for a metronome. Drum tracks and jam tracks are great, and great fun. But the naked, sharp "tick" of a metronome is where you will learn. A jam track covers up a lot of slop. Can you make the tick disappear? can you make it sound fractionally ahead of your note? fractionally after? move from one to the other?

-Getting better is incremental - you can't run before you can walk. There are many things you will not hear or feel at first that you WILL get if you put in the time. You need to identify your basics and add complexity.

-You will improve at your pace. I have friends who could do and feel at the age of 20 what I could only grasp after 25 years of practice. C'est la vie.

-Drum tracks and jam ARE important. I think a lot of good rhythm is listening. Finding your place in a jam track is important.

-I found getting into the basics of drum programming really helped me hear the drum parts and understand rhythms intellectually in a way that seeped into my guitar playing incrementally.

- Al Di Meola talks about spending his time in high school tapping out polyrhythms. There is a lot to be said for that. Back when I spent too much time waiting to get on or off planes I would set my foot going on a steady beat, and practice tapping out increasingly involved rhythms.

-Some of western approaches to teaching rhythm may not be working for you. Another player on this forum hipped me to Konokol, which is an approach used by players in India. I wish I had hear about it earlier. It is much more intuitive to me.

-If I practice an hour, the metronome is probably going for at least 45 minutes.

There are some people with neurological problems that leave them rhythmically impaired - they can't learn, they can't improve. I have no way of knowing if you are one of those people or not. But the vast majority of us can. It is innate - in our heartbeat, in our breathing, our language, our environment. It can flow through you.

There is a lot of mediocre instruction out there, that can leave you thinking that you can't improve.
 

wulfenganck

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Taking a break from guitar and learning the bass has really helped my overall sense of rhythm. Now I go back and forth between learning songs on the guitar and bass. I can't really explain how but learning a new songs rhythms just click a lot faster now.
That's actually sound advice. I learned a lot when I started playing bass with a concert band back in 2012. Not only reading notes (I'm still only "okay" reading notes in F-clef), but learning about the general function of bassparts as a connecting rhythm and harmonies.
I'm also often writing the bassparts for our songs in my main band. Our bassplayer is solid, but kind of....hesitant to develop his own ideas - maybe because he started learning bass rather late.
I usually try to keep it rather simple and leave enough space for him to develop his own approach with fills and rhythmic variations. That also taught me a good lesson of how to have rhythmic accents.
 

dkmw

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If I can do it, just about anyone can. I was horribly time impaired when I returned to guitar seven years ago. Now I’m only slightly time impaired lol.

What helped me was playing things with a steady driving beat; like Chicago blues. And then I went off into Keef stuff and found a home. Whatever “my” style is, it’s a lot more like Keef’s than my og hero (see avatar).

So I’m both pounding the beat and dragging it around like a dog. But I can get people to stomp their feet now - and I never thought I’d say that.
 

Telenator

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Stop playing guitar solos for a while. Too many guitar players get stuck in the guitar solo rut where timing is anything but, "on the beat." If you play guitar solo stuff all the time, you are actually training yourself to play out of time whenever you pick up the guitar.
If this is you, make a promise to yourself to not play any solos for 4 weeks. Rhythm only. Everything about your playing will change and you will better understanding of what you're doing.
 

kristen

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No you can't. Either you have it or you don't.
But you can become a music critic expert.
We all love hearing what they have to say.

K
 

Djangers

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I agree with the use of metronome while studying. While in the initial learning phase of a tune you tend to go free, and just concentrate on the memorization, you must get to a point where you challenge yourself to play the whole piece in time with the metronome. Otherwise it's like being a runner who doesn't ever run, but only trains his legs in a gym.
Second, my personal take is that practically anything is cool for practicing rhythm, from tapping your fingers on the table to read the rhythmic value in the music sheets. That said, it's necessary to play it in order to build a real coordination between your mental timing and your hands: there are no workarounds that I know of in this regard.
The metronome is a decent substitute for a band, in my opinion, which can only compensate so much the fact that you play alone. But if you don't ever play in time, it's not surprising that you find it difficult.
Good news is that it's quite easy, all you do is making it a daily habit and your brain will handle the rest.
 

Tweeker

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Can you learn rhythm?
For everyone who's said it's innate, that's kind of how I feel and what I'm afraid of.
For everyone who's said you can get better, I'm going to do my best to try...
... Is talent, meaning a natural ability even a real thing? I don't know but I think that like everything in life some things come easy for us and some don't....
To be clear: for my money, metronome practice is not to make you play metronomically; it's to deeply install a sense of the pulse, so you always know where you are, can be consistent in relation to it, etc....
For me, rhythm is more connected to my butt than my brain, so to speak..."

Rhythm is feel, so yeah, it's more butt than brain. Some people just "feel it" more than others, but most can get better by working the brain to free the body.

And a good sense of rhythm means you can play metronomically if it's called for, or let it ebb and flow to the tune.
 




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