Introduction to Chapter 5: Building Rhythms

Now that you know about tempo, dividing the beat into note lengths, and grouping the beat into bars, it’s time to start building rhythms. Try for a moment to forget everything you know about rhythm, forget about what you read in the previous sections, and clap out a short rhythm. Clap without thinking about whether you are using quarter notes or 8th notes, or 16th notes. Now, remember the rhythm you just clapped. Clap it again. Could you now figure out how to write it down in terms of different note lengths? If you can, great. If you can’t, most likely your intellectual understanding of rhythm has not caught up with your natural sense of rhythm.

The exercises in this section are designed to continue building your intellectual understanding of rhythm. You will know this is happening when you can’t figure out how to play a rhythm by reading it, but you can play it when you listen to it and copy it. In learning how to identify the note lengths involved, you develop your intellectual understanding. The exercises are also meant to help you use your intellectual understanding of rhythm to expand your natural sense. You will know this is happening when you know how a rhythm should sound, but you have trouble playing it. In this case, you have to practice the rhythm to able to play it.

I would like to stress the importance of improvisation again. I recommend learning one exercise at a time, and then trying to use the concepts in improvisation. Improvising using these rhythms is the best way to tell if you’re fluent in them.

Try playing the exercises in this chapter at different tempos and in all of the time signatures you wish to play in. For simplicity, I’ve written all of the exercises in the time signature of four- four, but you should translate them into other time signatures unless you only want to be good at playing in four-four.