When it comes to differences between good and great guitarists, we often can't tell what exactly sets them apart. Sometimes it's difficult to explain, it's more the feeling than anything else. In this article I will not be telling you about the obvious things, like phrasing for example, but a bit more hidden thing - being "dead on time".
First of all, you have to be able to tap your foot in rhythm of what you are playing. For this, you have to know very well what you are playing. At first, this might be difficult, but it should become natural after a while. This, of course, doesn't mean that you're playing in constant rhythm, but it helps you to build your internal rhythmic feeling. To be able to play in rhythm you should practice with metronome. Before we dive into that, I want to express one important thing:
- Practicing with metronome and practicing with drum track is not the same thing. A drum track has way more time marks(all the hi-hats, ride cymbals, bass drum hits etc.) that you can hang onto. In the end this prevents you from improving your internal rhythmic feeling. The more the time marks are divided, more you have to rely on your internal rhythm. With all that being said, playing with drum track can help you to keep your playing in time, but that's about all it does.
While you're playing with metronome on the other hand, you have to fill the time between the two clicks relying solely on your own feeling. This might not be hard if the metronome is marking you eight or even sixteen notes, or if the speed is high. In this case it's easier to play fast than slow. But also with faster songs or exercises, you can make it more difficult if you divide the speed. This is actually a very good exercise for improving your internal rhythmic feeling:
For example, you're going to be playing a riff at 120bpm all the time. It's important to keep tapping your foot at 120bpm no matter what the metronome is marking.
- At first, the metronome will be beating eight notes, so in this case the metronome will actualy be beating at 240bpm, but the count goes like 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &. You should tap your foot on every quarter note in this case. It's almost hard not to keep playing in time.
- If you divide the speed of the metronome in half, it starts to beat at every quarter note, so now it should be synchronized with your foot. This is considered to be "normal" most of the time and it should feel natural.
- But when you divide the time in half, it gets tricky. Now the metronome is beating only on every 1st and 3rd beat (playing at 60bpm), but you still have to play at the same speed. If your internal rhythm is decent, and you remain tapping your foot at "normal" 120bpm, you should keep playing in time. (Just a hint: There is one more way to practice your groove at this speed. Set the metronome to mark you only 2nd and 4th beat, instead of 1st and 3rd. This will feel very interesting, because you will have to accent the notes where there's no beat on the metronome:)
- When you divide the time in half, the metronome beats only at every 1st note (playing at 30bpm). Now there is a lot of time between two beats, leaving you without marks you can hang onto. If you have developed a good rhythmic feeling, accompanied by your foot tapping, you should remain being in time. Every time the metronome clicks, it should be synchronized with your playing.
- If you're (already) able to play like this, you should keep dividing the metronome speed. Next step is that metronome beats only on every second 1st beat (playing at 15bpm), then every fourth 1st beat (playing at only 7,5bpm),... Anything more would probably be already too slow.
This exercise is working best if the metronome or tempo track in your DAW is set to divide the time by itself. This way you can keep playing during the changes, which makes it much easier for you to preserve the feeling and keep being on time.
About the author
This article was written by Nejc Vidmar, a professional guitar teacher from Slovenia. He has years of composing, recording and playing live experiences with a progressive heavy metal band, that's considered as one of the more complex in Slovenia.