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Lesson #15: Rhythm and Motion

by Tyler de Witt posted on 1999-10-17
Topic: Technique Subtopic: General
Level: Beginner Number of Readers: 73786

Rhythm and Motion

To help keep the rhythm steady, we can use a natural rhythm of our arm or wrist. We will keep this motion constant, so that it is always in time with the beat. By swinging our arm to the beat, we can pick out which of these 'swings' will actually result in hitting the strings, and because the motion is already in time with the beat, we know that that when we actually hit the strings, it will be in time with the beat.

For example, if we were in 4/4 time, and we wanted to play this rhythm repeatedly:

4 h   q q|
4        |

Instead of just using one downstroke for every note, and doing nothing inbetween except waiting or counting, we can use the technique described above to help keep our rhythm steadier. To do this, in each bar, we would swing our arm down and up 4 times. Each time the arm goes down, it corresponds to the beginning of beat 1, 2, 3 or 4. So to execute the above example, we would hit the strings on the downstroke of beat one, then swing our arm back up. Then we would swing our arm down and up _without_ hitting the strings. This will acount for beat two when nothing is happening except the ringing of the chord. The on the downstroke of beat 3 we would hit the string and on the down stroke of beat 4 we would hit the strings.

It might take a little practice to keep your arm in motion and only hit the strings on the beats that you want. But remember, once you can do this, you can be sure that when you do hit the strings, it will on the correct beat. It's the constant, rhythmic swinging of you're arm that regulates everything and insures that you are in time with the rhythm.

It also insures something else. Take this for example:

4 q   e e q   e e|
4		  |
  1   2   3   4

This this example, the numbers of the beats have been written below to help you out. If you set your arm in motion and strum this rhythm, you'll find that the some of the strums will have to occur on the upstrokes to keep your arm in a steady motion. This is fine, it's actually the point I'm trying to make. If you analyse the rhythm, you'll find that your downstrokes occur on the start of each beat. The other two strums that occur on the upstrokes are called 'offbeats'. An offbeat is a note that doesn't start directly on the beat. In this example, there are four beats that begin 'on' the beat, and two of them are 'offbeats'.

What we want is for the 'onbeats'(notes which begin on the beats) to be slightly louder or more stressed than the offbeats. They will be slightly 'accented', or so to say. The offbeats on the other hand, should be more discreet, and not as accented. Because our onbeats occur on the downstrokes, they will naturally be accented because a downstroke is usually more powerful than an upstroke. Similarly, the offbeats occur on our upstrokes, and this will allow them to be less accented than the rest. Isn't it great how it all works out? That's why it's good to keep a steady motion of the arm, because the physical rhythm of your body will keep you in time with rhythm of the song.

Now I will introduce you to 'rests'. A rest is simply a note that is not played. The reason we have them is to indicate how long this absence of sound will last. The values or rests are exactly the same as the values of notes. A whole rest will last the time of a whole note. A half rest will last the time of a half note. To indicate rests, I will add the suffix 'r' to each note name.

Let's take a look at an example:

4 q  qr  q  qr|
4             |

In this example, we would only strum on beats 1 and 3. On beats 2 and 4, nothing is happening, because these are rests. Remember that during this time, your arm should still be in motion, to account for the time when there is no sound. This means that we would strum on the downstroke of beat one, and then bring our arm back up. That accounts for beat 1. We'd then swing our arm down and up without hitting the strings. That accounts for beat 2. We'd then perform a downstroke and bring our arm back up. That accounst for beat 3. Finally, we'd swing our arm down and up without hitting the strings, accounting for beat 4.

Here is one more example that makes use of rests:

4 q    e e  er e q |
4                  |
  1    2    3    4

Again, the numbers of the beats have been written below to help you out. In this example, notice that the onbeat of beat 3 is a rest. That means our downstroke will not hit the string, and will simply pass them by. However, the offbeat of beat 3 receives a strum, so when we brought our arm back up, we'd hit the strings.

This type of rhythm takes a while to master. Once you have it learned well, you probably won't forget it, and you'll just do it automatically.

So the constant motion of the arm is a great tool to help you keep you in time. It also natually accents the onbeats, and doesn't accent the offbeats. In this lesson, we applied it to strumming, because this is when we use a full motion of the arm. In the next lesson, we'll look at picking, using a constant motion. You won't be using the full arm, but the same principles learned in this lesson will still apply.

Things to remember from this lesson:

1. A natural rhythm of the arm or wrist helps us to keep in time.
2. The motion remains steady and constant, and we choose which of these motions will actually hit the strings and produce a sound. We know that when we do hit the strings, they'll be in time with the rhythm.
3. The 'onbeat' occurs on the beginning of a beat. The 'offbeat' occurs after the beginning of the beat.
4. Offbeats should be weaker than onbeats. This is accomplished natually with the constant motion of the arm, which makes it so that the stronger downstrokes are the onbeats, and the weaker upstrokes are the offbeats.
5. These principals are applied in their greatest use when strumming a rhythm pattern, using the full arm. However, we can still use these principles when picking.

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