Talent Vs Practice

Do You Need A Natural Sense Of Rhythm To Play Guitar?

By Antony Reynaert

Why do some people have a good sense of rhythm and others don't?

And how exactly can you improve your sense of rhythm on the guitar, even if you feel you have no talent at all?

Fact is, there are many misconceptions about the concept rhythm.

In this video you will discover why a bad sense of rhythm happens and what to do about it:

Some of the tips covered in this video are actually very easy to apply.

For example, it may happen that if you want to improve your sense of rhythm, you shouldn't practice guitar more, but rather 'listen more'.

Therefore, make sure you listen to the original versions of the songs you want to learn to play!

It sounds very obvious, yet it is often overlooked when trying to make progress in your guitar playing.

Of all the sensations - auditory, kinesthetic, visual - that are required, the auditory is what will give you 'feeling'.

No Sense Of Rhythm?

Do you have 'no sense of rhythm'? A bad sense of rhythm can have several causes:

  1. Not 'understanding' the rhythm (time signatures, subdivisions, etc.).
  2. Having a problem with coordination.
  3. Not 'feeling' the rhythm enough in your head (this also has to do with the lack of listening to music).

Below I will discuss these 3 biggest causes so that you know what to do about it:

CAUSE 1) Not 'understanding' the rhythm (time signatures, subdivisions, etc.).

This problem is related to not studying time signatures, rhythms, and subdivisions (syncopation, etc.) enough. In other words it’s the problem of not being able to read the rhythm notation. Understanding rhythms is important, however, there are still musicians who have no knowledge of such things at all, but still 'feel' these rhythms (see point 3 below).

CAUSE 2) Having a problem with coordination.

This problem occurs when you don’t practice slowly and focussed enough so that each individual movement can take place 'one by one'. There is no single drummer who can play a basic drumbeat as it should on day one. This is because new neurological pathways have to be created that were not there before. This takes time and especially awareness about each individual movement. Just as a drummer has to train every limb to perform his movements (both individually and together), guitarists can also practice every movement separately before they start playing them in a certain rhythm.

CAUSE 3) Not 'feeling' the rhythm enough in your head.

This phenomenon has to do with not listening enough to music. As mentioned above, this can be a major limitation in your development as a musician and guitarist. If you are practicing a song, listen to the song a lot and try to play along with it.

Do You Need A Natural Sense Of Rhythm To Play Guitar On A High Level?

When we talk about rhythm, it is also important to talk about the following myth:

"Rhythm, you either have it or you don't."

Everyone has heard this old adage, but it is simply not true…

So why do some people have a developed sense of rhythm and others don't?

In addition to the three main causes mentioned previously, some have a better sense of rhythm than others.

But is this sense of rhythm 'innate'?

The answer is yes and no.

No, if you use the term 'innate' in the sense in which many use this word, such as in 'innate talent'.

Yes, if you count in the time the fetus develops in the womb as 'congenital'.

There are many scientific studies that indicate that the time in the womb is actually very important to a human being’s future life (for example, here an article about how children learn to recognize words in the womb and here an article about how a human's health is already affected by the experiences, stress levels, eating patterns, etc. of the unborn child).

Of course you can’t crawl back into the womb and ask your mother if she wants to listen to a lot of music, but it gives some perspective to the myth "Rhythm, you have it or you don't".

Why Do Some People Have A Better Developed Sense Of Rhythm And Others Don't?

The previous myth goes hand in hand with this one:

"African Americans have a better sense of rhythm"

If we were to test this, then objectively more people of African origin might be able to keep a 'steady beat' than Westerners.

However, what is important to realize, is that these African Americans aren’t just more rhythmical developed because they simply 'have' this gift.

They developed this ability because they were more exposed to rhythm, usually from a very young age.

When we in our Western world expose our children to simple melodies, African children have usually been dancing for a long time.

The mistake we make in the West is that we miss out on this crucial window of time where a sense of rhythm is developed very quickly by our children.

How Can You Train Your Sense Of Rhythm?

Rhythm, like many other skills, is NOT an innate skill, but an acquired ability.

Everyone has a sense of rhythm, it's just a matter of some people having a more developed sense of rhythm and others haven't developed that sense of rhythm yet.

It is a shame that most of us were confronted with rhythm far too late in our youth (or hardly ever encountered it), but this does not mean that growth is no longer possible.

If rhythm is a skill you can train, this means that you can still improve your sense of rhythm at any age.

If you feel like improving your blues rhythm skills, download your free blues rhythm guitar playing eBook.

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