THE RHYTHM SECTION©

 

THE RHYTHM SECTION©

Hello, and welcome to THE RHYTHM SECTION! I have compiled over 100 different rhythms that are commonly used in popular music on the guitar, with video samples and notation of each. In addition, I have listed several songs per sample in which the corresponding rhythm is featured. This list is by no means comprehensive, but I think you will find most of the rhythmic patterns heard in popular songs are represented here. In order to get the most out of THE RHYTHM SECTION, I offer a few guidelines to make it easy to navigate and use.

WHY?

The main purpose of THE RHYTHM SECTION is to help players strum the guitar better, although it can also be useful for lead players and anyone who wants to expand their rhythmic skills. The vast majority of my students want to play music that, while not complex in form, requires keeping good tempo and developing a variety of rhythm patterns with the right hand if they want to play it well. Many guitarists who start at a very young age learn exclusively by ear, and while they often cannot read music, are able to assimilate a sizeable repertoire of rhythm over time this way. Those who begin at a later age may struggle somewhat. I often see the opposite in classically trained musicians. Many of them can read very well from a page, but cannot necessarily play even simple music by ear. So much traditional beginner method is focused on sight-reading single line melodies. This is a good introduction to sight-reading, but does little to instill the modern rhythm skills needed for most popular music. What we know as “popular” music is derived from a number of forms, all rich with rhythmic variety. A lot of this music is basically “folk”, in the sense that it has traditionally been learned not by reading from a page but by imitation. My greatest desire in presenting THE RHYTHM SECTION is to combine an aural and visual guide with standard notation added, to better help with both reading and playing “by ear”. You will need to read music at a basic level to benefit from the notation, but even if you do not presently have it, the videos should be very helpful. Cross-comparison between the two is encouraged and suggested!

If you already read music, you may be familiar with the following terms and descriptions, but I suggest looking them over anyway, since together they form a guide for playing patterns on the guitar specifically.

LET”S GET STARTED!

WHY READING RHYTHM WORKS

 

Do not be afraid!  We all know people, usually ourselves included, that were compelled to take music lessons as a kid. Most of us quit as soon as possible. Two big reasons for this: 1, We were playing music we had no interest in, and 2, we had to read music, which is hard! However, unless you have been playing popular music since you were very young and can reliably play what you hear, some basic reading is for you! Think of it as you would an outline of a book or story.  It’s a way to keep “notes” of what you are trying to do. Tablature, a special notation system for guitar, has become very popular over the last 20 years or so, but it provides NO RHYTHM. It only shows fret numbers on lines, which represent the strings of the guitar.

INTERNET TRANSCRIPTIONS, TABLATURE AND SONGBOOKS ASSUME YOU CAN PLAY THE RHYTHM YOU HEAR!

EVEN VIDEO LESSONS DON”T DETAIL THE RHYTHM, YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO “PLAY WHAT YOU SEE”

 

One of the biggest reasons beginners get frustrated on guitar is the inability to reproduce the phrasing, or rhythm, of the notes or chords they are playing. All that is ever offered, it seems, is either this “tab”, as it’s called, or a lyric sheet with chords above the words where they are played.

 

LET”S HAVE A LOOK AT WHAT IS TYPICALLY OFFERED, AND WHY IT”S INCOMPLETE!

 

EXAMPLE #1: Lyric sheet with chords

 

Here I am playing and singing the first verse of an imaginary ‘song’…              

 

Now here is the transcription you typically get:

 

G                                              am

You brought me hope where there was none

C                                  D

You baked me a pie, and cleaned my gun  

     If you’ve ever seen a songbook or internet transcription, this type of thing is familiar. So where is the rhythm I was playing on the guitar? You are “supposed” to know, to be able to “hear” and copy it. But what if you can’t? TOO BAD FOR YOU! This is no good.

Example #2: Complete score

 

This is a “complete” score, with words, chords, and notation. Note that the notation is for PIANO! I cannot count the number of books and sheet music with piano scores of recordings that contain NO PIANO. Trust me, I have nothing against pianos or piano players. But if there is no piano in the recording, why is a piano score the only thing available? Guitar players get the chord symbols, sometimes even chord diagrams if we need them.  But again, we are supposed to hear the rhythm…how did this happen?

 

A.  FEAR OF READING

 

A:   As I said, most of us are familiar with formal lessons, and found that reading music was painful!  Reading complete scores is painful, especially in the beginning. But we are only talking about reading RHYTHM, same as notation for drums. It is MUCH easier than reading a ‘complete’ score.

B: THE BELIEF THAT READING IS NOT  NECESSARY

 

Most of us also know very good guitar players that have never read music. Nearly all of them started very young. “Playing by ear” is great, but it’s only as great as our ears.  Developing a good rhythmic ear takes years, just as developing a good tonal ear does.

 

Maxim:

If your basic rhythm skills on the guitar are not good, you have NOTHING.     BUT… If your rhythm skills are good, you can play solo arrangements or parts of countless songs, and, even if your parts are spare, you are usually welcome in almost any musical situation.

 

THE SOLUTION

 

So there are 2 parts to the ear you need to play music, rhythmic and tonal. But for now let’s concentrate on the rhythmic ear. Why? Because, when you sit down to play a song, you are playing chords that are GIVEN to you. Every piece of song sheet music has them. All have chord symbols, sometimes even the boxes to show you how to play them. For the rhythm you get nothing. So we want to play the rhythm well. If we follow directions, we can play any rhythm guitar parts we want.

IF YOU CAN COPY THE RHYTHMS YOU HEAR, YOU DON”T NEED TO READ,  BUT…

IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE, WHY NOT HELP YOURSELF WITH IT?

 

Reading music is challenging, and takes years of practice to do well. BUT WE ARE ONLY READING RHYTHM! No harmony, no chords, not even more than one note at a time. In fact, we are not even reading notes, only time, with chords.

HERE WE GO!

 

To start, we need to understand a few terms. If you’ve ever read music, these may be familiar. If not, don’t worry about it. This is very basic, very easy.

NOTE VALUES

The most common type of note is a QUARTER note. Play down strokes and count 1,2,3,4.

  (D= Downstroke)

For strumming the guitar, the most common type is an EIGHTH note. Let’s play them with alternating up and down strokes:

By learning a few simple rhythm patterns well, you can play through hundreds of songs. Once you get it, it’s easy and a lot of fun.  Then all you have to do is learn to change between chords in time—tough at first I know, but that is nothing more than simple repetition. If you can already move between chords, there are dozens of interesting rhythms in the archive, including some that may be unfamiliar. The more rhythms you know, the more you can mix them up and be a much better, more interesting player.

 

HERE’S THE HIT

 

The following section contains a library of rhythms. Each is displayed in a video clip, with notation. Many guitarists, beginner and otherwise, have an aversion to reading music.  Since much guitar music is not formally written by the composer, it is assumed that reading is unnecessary for it, that the music is “handed down”, like folk art. Therefore, transcriptions for popular music are almost always lyric sheets with chord symbols. That’s it! Plenty enough if you can hear the rhythm and play it. If you can’t, you lose. I aim to help those who need a little help in this regard, and I know from many years experience that this is a LARGE NUMBER of players!

 

 

Consider this excerpt of an internet tab of the popular song by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Learning to Fly”:




You can see that there is nothing here but chord symbols over the lyric.  You are assumed to be able to hear and play the rhythm correctly. This is a BIG assumption!

Now let’s look at the rhythm detail. It’s a very simple song, 4 chords throughout. The rhythm is also simple. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to document the rhythms you hear? The same tab, with notation, would simply include this little box:

OR THIS ONE: 

    (the exact rhythm)


The box would instruct you to play the progression like this:

In the beginning, you might use instruction for strum direction and numbers for counting, like this:

 

Notice that this song starts with a combination of acoustic rhythm guitar and a companion electric guitar figure. The electric guitar part, which sounds like this:

 

…and is paired with the acoustic guitar part to create the sound.

 

 

Although I can create a replica of them together, like this:

…the actual part is essentially the one from example 15. It is a simple, yet vital and complete rhythm in its own right.

Here’s another example:


Song example: “Angel Mine” (Cowboy Junkies)

Chords: C am em F C G                                   

This rhythm is very similar to the previous example. Just one note different in fact, but a small difference means a lot. The intro and verse sections (about 80% of the song) use this rhythm.  In this example, the rhythm part I demonstrated stands alone at the song intro.

 

Naturally, there is more, sometimes much more, than simple rhythm parts in music. However, the foundation of good rhythm parts provides the basis for adding other elements. In popular music especially, the chord forms and melody are often very basic and repetitive. It’s the vocalist, the story being told, and the RHYTHM that creates the magic. And what creates rhythmic magic is called syncopation. A few words about syncopation and then onto the samples!

SYNCOPATION

 

Syncopation is generally defined as shifting the emphasis from a strong beat to a weaker one. In classical music, there is less syncopation than in modern music; in many modern rhythms emphasis often falls slightly ahead or behind the beat. In some cases, grace notes, very short notes (32nd, 64th) and similarly short rests are sometimes necessary, but they can be very difficult to read. Music scores will sometimes have stylistic instructions such as “with a beat”, “with drive”, or “a la calypso”, but these terms assume the reader is familiar with the feel of the particular style of the piece. Listening to and copying as much rhythm as you can is essential. For simplicity, although many of the samples include ties, I have not written rests, or notes shorter than 16ths, in any of them. Keep this in mind when comparing the notation to the sound samples. In some cases the notation is not exact, or a slight alteration may bring a different rhythmic flavor. I encourage you to experiment, but make sure you can play the original accurately first.

CHECK OUT THE RHYTHM SAMPLE ARCHIVE NOW!