Reading Rhythms
Shakespeare may have said it best: “How sour doth sweet music become when not kept in time” -that’s a good one and oh so true!

Reading Rhythms

Rhythm is the heart and soul of music. It makes us dance. It makes us sing. It’s what most people feel and focus on when listening to music. Rhythm and understading how to read and write rhythms is what unites you with and puts you on the same playing field as other musicians. Rhythmic notation is an essential and critical vocabulary to all musicians. Attempting to become a musician without understanding rhythmic notation is like visiting Paris but not eating the food and skipping the tour of the Eiffel tower. To me it sounds like the perfect empty experience.

Beat vs. Rhtyhm

First let’s clear up two bits of terminology so you will better understand the course material to follow. The beat is the study pulse of music, like the click of a metronome or the tapping of someone’s foot. The rhythms are the combinations of long and short sounds played against the beat. Study the interactive illustration below.

The Most Common Time Signature

Each and every piece of sheet music starts out the same way, with a clef, treble clef in our case, and something which resembles a fraction call the the time signature. The time signature tells you to count out the beats in specific groupings. Well-known time signatures include 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 to name but a few. The most common time signature by far, is called “Four – Four Time” often referred to simply as common time. Study the diagram below by taking special notice of the treble clef, and the time signature. This drawing also makes it easy to understand why it is called “Four – Four Time”: four beats to the measure and the quarter note, a 1/4 note, receives one beat. If this doesn’t gel for you immediately, giving you an ‘a-ha” moment don’t worry about it it will make more and more sense to you as you progress through your studies.

time signature

The piece of music below is identical to the one just above it. The time signature in this case is not written as the two numbers 4/4 but rather as a capital C standing for common time telling you that the song is written in the most common time signature, or 4/4. Each group of four beats is separated into measures. The lines between the measures are called the bar lines.

time signature2

Rhythm Tree

Below you see an interactive drawing of something called a rhythm tree. For the first part of the site reading course, we will be talking about4/4 or common time which has four beats per measure as you can clearly see in the illustration just above. Play this rhythm tree file at least three or four times looking at the music and counting the beats. If highly suggest that you perform those rhythms,doing them yourself, start out by sight singing the music, using one note such as ‘LA”, to sing in time along with the recorded guitar in the exercise.

The Invaluable Habit Of Sight Singing

Hopefully, you have found sight singing and enjoyable experience. In your life as a musician you will often find it extraordinarily helpful to sound something out with your voice, in order to get a clear and immediate concepts of the music. Try to focus on developing this skill as you continue through your studies of sight reading. Next, let’s return to the animation above and playing along with it, in time, with your guitar using only the thin string: open “E”, or string number one.

The High “E” String

readE1

In the exercise below I am going to walk you through playing some rhythms on your hiking string. Make sure your guitar is tuned up and that you listen carefully to both the music and verbal instruction.

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

To conclude this lesson we are going to make a bona fide attempt at actual sight reading, I am not going to narrate or walk you through them as I’ve done in the previous exercises you’re simply going to click the play button, count in and read the music using your high “E” string. As you can see, the count is indicated clearly above the staff and I preserved the red arrows to show you on which specific number of your count will correspond with the striking of your “E” string.