How To Play Guitar In Time - Rhythm And Timing

Fix Your Rhythm And Timing On The Guitar With Just 5 Minutes A Day!

By Simon Candy 

Knowing how to play your guitar in time is absolutely crucial to your musical development. It may not be the “sexiest” topic, but the improvement you will achieve with your guitar playing by working on your rhythm and timing is huge!

Can you relate to the following situation?

You have a song or riff that you want to play on your guitar. You have the notes down, yet it doesn’t sound right. Maybe you aren’t playing it fast enough, so you try playing it faster, and most likely messier too, but still it doesn’t sound right. You throw the guitar down in frustration and walk away.

The above scenario is all too common with many guitar players. It certainly was with me when I was first starting to learn. I would sit there and spend hours getting the notes and chords down to a song or riff, and still not have it sounding right. It was very frustrating to say the least.

What I discovered, however, was that my rhythm and timing on the guitar wasn’t very good. I was playing all the right notes, but a lot of them were in the wrong places, and this is why what I played didn’t sound like the song or riff.

In a nutshell, I didn’t know how to play my guitar in time. 

Improving your rhythm and timing will instantly make everything you have ever learned on your guitar sound better!

In this article I want to show you exactly how to do this and it won’t take any more than 5 minutes of your day. 

But first . . . . .


Why You Struggle To Play Your Guitar In Time And What Will Happen If You Do Nothing About It

You can think of timing as the glue that holds everything that you play on your guitar together. It will make or break your playing and many people struggle with it, sometimes not even aware that it is a problem.

The reason why playing your guitar in time can be a struggle, is because far too often your focus tends to be on what notes to play, and not WHEN to play these notes. 

The Rhythm and timing of a song tends to be something that you think will happen by default once you have the notes and chords down. This is not true, and as a result it is the cause of many guitar playing problems and frustrations.

There is nothing worse than spending hours and hours of your time on a song, only to have it fall apart when it comes time to play it either in a band situation, jamming with friends, or just on your own. This can be extremely frustrating, and unfortunately, this will always be the case if you ignore timing and rhythm. You can learn as many songs as you like, but they will never come together and sound any good without you having a strong sense of time.


The Rewards Of Having Great Rhythm And Timing

The exercises presented in this article are simple, but very effective if you do them regularly. You will find that your sense and awareness of time will get a lot better as a result. Time will be something that you start to “feel” more rather than something you have to “think” about. 

And that is it!

We want to go from having to “think” where the beat is and where the notes we play on the guitar go, to “feeling” where the beat is and where our notes are played.

This is the ultimate aim. If you can do this then you will love playing your guitar that much more! No longer will playing in time be a stumbling block for you. You will play the songs you love with far greater ease, not to mention getting them down a lot quicker too. 

You will feel a great sense of freedom and satisfaction in knowing that you can attack any song without timing being an issue. You will feel really confident when jamming with friends or playing in a band as well, knowing that your timing is strong and won’t get in the way of your otherwise great guitar playing. 


Put Your Guitar Down. You Won’t Be Needing It

Rather than working on something specific, I want to focus on how you can work on your rhythm and timing in a more general sense. Doing this will give you the freedom to be able to play the riffs, licks, chords or whatever, to any song you wish with ease. 

In other words, the aim is to increase your overall sense and awareness of time.

Learning how to play your guitar in time can actually be done away from the guitar itself. In fact it’s better to not have a guitar in your hands at all, that way you won’t be distracted. We need to think like a drummer, with only rhythm to work with and no pitch.

Another advantage to working on your rhythm and timing away from the guitar is that you can do it anywhere, anytime. If you have a 2 minute pocket in your day, you can use it to improve your sense of timing and by extension your over all guitar playing.


Warning:The following drills may seem very simple, and you may think that you are above this and don’t need to do them. This is a common and very costly assumption that people make time and time again. No pun intended :) Don’t be one of them. Whether you are new to guitar, or you have been playing for a while, the following exercises will help your rhythm and timing and by extension, your guitar playing in a great way. 


Seeing that 4/4 is the most common time, I am going to use it in the exercises below, but know that you can use other time signatures if you wish. Also, I highly recommend using a metronome when working on your timing. You will still benefit doing the following exercises without one, however using a metronome will dramatically improve your timing by making sure that you keep a consistent tempo and don’t speed up or slow down. 


So to start simply count  1,  2,  3,  4,  1,  2,  3,  4  etc

If you are using a metronome it would be one count to each click.

Once you have a steady count going, start to tap on the “1” beat only. So it would be one tap to every 4 beats (clicks). Here is the count with the beat you are tapping highlighted:


1,   2,   3,   4,   1,   2,   3,   4   etc



Next, tap once to every two beats like this:


1,   2,   3,   4,    1,   2,   3,   4   etc



Then one tap to every beat like this:


1,   2,   3,   4,   1,   2,   3,   4   etc



Make sure you are counting each beat aloud when doing this. This is vitally important in developing great timing and rhythm. 

If you count aloud now, you won’t need to down the track. It is a means to an end as you will start to “feel” the beat instead.


Time To Divide The Beat

Next, lets divide the beat you are counting into some common divisions that you will come across in your everyday guitar playing.

You can divide the beat into two by tapping twice to each click of the metronome and counting:


1   +   2   +   3   +   4   +   etc 



or you can tap three times to each click of the metronome and count:


1   +   a    2   +   a    3   +   a    4   +   a   etc



and finally, four times to each click of the metronome and count:


1  e  +  a    2  e  +  a    3  e  +  a    4  e  +  a    etc



These are the basic divisions of the beat in music. Counting and tapping them out, especially to a metronome, will provide you with a very solid foundation for your rhythm and timing skills.


Mixing Up Your Divisions For Better Rhythm And Timing

Once you have a good hold on each division of the beat in the above exercises, you can then start to create some variety in your rhythms by mixing them up. Realistically this is how it will be. Most rhythms that you come across in your music will be combinations of different divisions of the beat.


So for example you could count and tap the following:


1   +    2  e  +  a    3   +   a    4   +   etc



or how about this one:


1  e  +  a    2   +    3  e  +  a    4   +   etc



Get the idea?

There are many possible combinations, and to develop a great sense and awareness of rhythm and timing you should create your own and count and tap them everyday. 

In fact, you only need to dedicate 5 minutes a day to doing this and you will see great results! Remember too that you can do it anywhere, anytime because you do not need your guitar.


Learn how to fully maximize your new found rhythm and timing skills by turning your acoustic guitar into a drum using these essential Percussive Guitar Techniques