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Keeping time comes naturally for one musician, and can be a challenge for the other. While a lot of musicians think they can keep time, a lot of them might not be as tight on the beat as they would like to think. The tips in this post will get the job done.
If you’re sure and confident you can keep time, you still might want to read on. For many guitar players this skill can still be improved and perfected.
Whether you are playing with a fellow guitar player as a duo, accompanying a singer or playing in a band, it is really important to keep a steady beat.
It’s not the first time a guitar player joins a (new) band, and will be confronted with his or her lack of timing when playing with more experienced musicians. The guitar player will have a hard time locking in with the groove and keeping things tight. To avoid such an undesirable scene, it is wise to master this skill while we’re at it.
Let’s dive in.
1 – Clap to the metronome
Let’s start with one of the most effective exercises for those who have trouble keeping time. If you think you can keep time, try this exercise to make sure you do. Set the tempo of your metronome at around 70 BPM. Listen carefully to the click a few times and now start clapping on the click. If you clap precisely on the click, the sound of the click will disappear. If you still hear the metronome you’re probably slightly ahead or behind the beat. This exercise can be a bit tricky at first, but after some practice you will get the hang of it.
If this is well to do, try to clap along at a faster tempo and a slower tempo. A slower tempo might even be more challenging. Practice this a few minutes a day to develop and improve your internal clock.
2 – Tap and strum to the metronome
The next step you want to learn is tapping your foot along with a metronome. Set the metronome at 60 BMP and tap your foot along with the click. Practice this for a few minutes until it feels comfortable.
Now pick up your guitar. Tap your foot and play a down strum simultaneously on each click. Make sure the tap and strum is right on the click. We’ll play an easy 4/4 time strumming pattern. Count: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. Again, practice until you have it under your belt.
c = click, t = tap, ↓ = down strum, ↑ = up strum
c c c c
t t t t
↓ ↓ ↓ ↓
1 2 3 4
Next, play a down-up-down-up strumming pattern. The down strum has to fall on the click and the up strum falls between the click. Count: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. When counting, the “1, 2, 3, 4” falls on the click and the “and” falls between the click.
c c c c
t t t t
↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓ ↑
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
Now practice one of most common 4/4 strumming patterns (down-down-up-up-down-up). This is where everything has to come together. Note that some strums fall on the click, some strums fall between the click and sometimes there isn’t any strum on the click at all. Just tap your foot to the beat (1-2-3-4) while strumming the pattern.
c c c c
t t t t
↓ ↓ ↑ ↑ ↓ ↑
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
Also try other strumming patterns. Feel and find the pulse / beat of the song. Tap with your foot while strumming along to the click of the metronome.
3 – Count or tap along
Now listen to a song on YouTube (one you can play along later on your guitar) and count and/or tap along to the beat all the way through the song. When the song is finished, put it on again and now play along with your guitar while tapping your foot to the beat.
4 – Tap your foot while you’re playing
If exercises 1, 2 and 3 are all going well, it’s time to play a song on your guitar, and tap your foot to the beat… without any musical backup support of YouTube (or any other music player). By now you have developed a good sense of timing and you can apply it to your own guitar playing to keep a steady beat.
Most practicing musicians all tap along to the beat. Make it a habit to tap your foot throughout each song you play to keep your rhythm on track. Tap your foot on each beat of the song or maybe you feel more comfortable to tap your foot on beats 1 and 3 or beat 2 and 4, whatever your internal clock tells you.
5 – Tap to every song
Tap your foot every time you hear a song on the radio, wherever you are and whenever you can. This is an efficient way to practice and improve your sense of timing some more. Listen and try to determine what the beat is of the song. The beat is usually a straightforward, steady and successional pattern all the way through the song.
6 – Practice with a groove
Another great way to develop and improve your timing is to practice with a drum-track. You can download a drum app or get a drum machine for your guitar to play along with. You can choose one of the many drum grooves that matches your favorite song and set the tempo to your liking.
Some drum machines can even add bass tracks or other instruments. You can also download complete backing tracks for guitar and play to your favorite songs so it really gives you a sense of what it feels like to play with a real band.
7 – Play with a band
Once you’ve done all of the previous exercises you are ready to lock in to the beat of a real band. The same rules apply here. Listen with focus to the drums, bass and other instruments. Feel the beat and get your groove to lock in with the band.
You are an awesome guitar playing individual, but you want your band to sound as a whole, a unity, one solid groovin’ rock. If you or any other band mates can’t keep time and lock in, your rock will fall to pieces and your band will sound like garbage. We don’t want that. Make sure every one is up to the task and give the music what it deserves. Timing is everything.
Have a great one!