Musical Rhythm – 10 Tips for Superior Time Keeping

8 minutes read

Your lack of musical rhythm / steady beat / time keeping skills. Whatever you call it, sometimes it hits you slowly over time and sometimes it hits you straight out of your own recording. If you are being honest with yourself and not closing your eyes – you know that this is something that you need to address.

Good news are – developing a very good sense of time keeping is something that can be achieved very quickly and it is one of the relatively easiest things that will take your whole sound better by leaps and bounds very quickly if you just choose to dedicate a few minutes a day to working on it.
musical rhythm
Most of the guitar players I know who are in their first few years of playing are in some lack of time keeping and are unable to consistently stay in time – that means that this is an easy “hack” to put you ahead of the rest of the pack with little effort. Let’s start working on key points that will give your musical rhythm keeping abilities a great boost:

10 Tips for Superior Time Keeping

1 – First, Record Yourself Playing a Full Song to Get an Assessment of Your Current Musical Rhythm skills

This will give you a very honest assessment of where you are right now. Look for the parts where you’re “hurrying” or “choking” on the beat!

Listen closely and look for all the minor rhythm fuck ups. If you follow the other advice here, very soon your hearing will be much sharper and you will see even more room for improvement. This is great and it will make you a better musician, so don’t beat yourself up on it if right now you don’t sound very sharp – just use it as a motivator. Another thing you’ll notice is suddenly you will hear so many people around you who are somewhat out of time.

2 – Play Along to a Drum Machine App
Do this whenever you can. Here you can read about the best drum machines and metronomes. I do that every day as part of my daily practice routine and it does wonders. A metronome is sometimes not as fun to use in my opinion because it is too “dry” and boring so I prefer a full drum set beat like the ones you can get in apps like Drum Beats+, although the metronome has it’s advantages since it’s the most “stripped down” version of the beat so it trains you in a very clean way.
Also, there is a great Time Trainer metronome app on the app store that will train you to keep time in a few different ways. It’s more than a simple metronome, I am using it daily and it works great.
♣ Hippie Tippie: If a stereo system is available – plug your phone into it to make the sound of the beat much fuller and louder. With a good stereo system it is almost like you have a drummer in your room!
3 – Drum to the Beat of the Music

Count 1-2-3-4-1-2-3… when you do it. Whenever you come to think of it, start drumming your hands on your legs / clucking your tongue / snapping your fingers to the beat of music that’s now playing. Drum the steering wheel while driving. Slowly you will start getting better at noticing when you are “dragging” or “rushing” the beat and improve at being able to drum exactly on the beat. The effect on your music will be immediate.

* Hippie Tippie: When you are drumming just in time with the beat, you should barely hear the beat itself. This is a good sign so do not let it throw you off the musical rhythm.

best percussion instruments
Check out some cool percussion instruments that you can get for not-a-lot-o’-money and will help you practice your beat:
4 – Get a Small Djembe Drum and Jam with Friends

Djembe drums (or any similar kind of drums) are portable, have a great sound with an African feel, and they will serve your jam both as for rhythm practice and also obviously to add rhythm to any song. It’s a win-win. Check out this full article about all the cool percussion instruments that you can get for cheap and improve your time-keeping with.

5 – “Put Your Feet to the Beat” When You Play the Guitar

You have probably noticed a lot of times when musicians bounce their feet in time with the music. This helps immensely to stay on time. It might be easier to do so while playing in a standing position. If your foot gets tired, switch to the other one. And if you want to make this even more real and fun – use a foot tambourine…

percussion instruments foot tambourine
Foot tambourine – a challenging way to get you to keep a steady time with your feet – you can hear every stray out of the beat…
6 – Play Along to a VISUAL Metronome

“Guitar Tuna” is a good free metronome available for smartphones where you can see the beat. Play along to it while not only listening to the beat but also keep your eyes on the 1-2-3-4 “bulbs” that show you the beat – this way you engage a few senses in the time keeping mission and you’ll get a better grasp of it.

time keeping
Notice the 4 “bulbs” under the 161 writing. The first one of the four is lit in green on the left. This visual metronome can be of a major help to you. “The BEST Guitar Apps
7 – Play Around with Drumming the 1&3 Beats or the 2&4 Beats

This gives you a totally different sense for the beat that will help you get on top of it. Instead of counting 1-2-3-4, focus only on the 1 and the 3. Don’t drum / count  the 2&4. After a minute, switch things around – keeping the second beat and the fourth beat is actually more challenging since our “default” mindset is to pay attention to the first beat.

If you need help with understanding this, use the Guitar Tuna from above or any other visual metronome you can find, that will show you which beat is being played right now.

8 – Drum a Steady Beat with Sticks While Taking a Walk

This also applies to any other outside activity and not only with sticks. That’s free practice time and it’s my favorite drill! For example, when you are walking the dog, pick up 2 sticks and drum like a drummer that is marking the tempo before the songs starts. Then sing, hum or whistle along to it. Do it with your favorite songs for added fun. See photo below for example.

egg shaker guitar
The Egg Shaker Guitar Strum™ is another great way of practicing a steady beat while playing both guitar and percussion at the same time!
9 – Play Around with a “Tap Metronome”

“Tap metronomes” are those metronomes that you “tap” your finger to the button and they tell you the BPM (Beats per minute) in which you were tapping. So for example set the metronome for 60 BPM and then try to recreate that yourself as accurately as close as possible to the 60 BPM mark. Aim for an accuracy of at least 90%. Gradually increase the speed over the next days. Two apps I know that let you do that are Guitar Tuna and Tap Metronome by Dan Soper.

10 – Train Yourself to Identify Different Time Signatures

4/4 is definitely the most common time signature that we are used to hearing the most, but out there are also 2/4, 3/4, 6/8, 7/8, 12/8 and more. Here is a list of songs (with their videos) which have some odd time signatures to get your ears opened up a bit… Try to count the beats to find the time signature.

11 – Remember to Keep Your Rhythmic Independence When Jammin with Other People

This one is extremely important. You should get used to not counting on anyone besides yourself, even if your drummer slows down a beat, or the singer is rushing, remember to not follow along and keep following your INNER beat. This is a common mistake. Just keep playing to your own steady beat and people will follow back into the correct tempo.

musical rhythm time keeping 3
This is me keeping a steady beat with sticks while hiking in “Middle Earth” – New Zealand

That’s it for today. Musical rhythm is not an easy thing to develop but it is still far easier than developing other skills such as obtaining theory and instrumental technique that by themselves take years and years. Fortunately, with a sense of time – once you set your aims at it, you can get to a very proficient level that is way above the average and will make a huge improvement in the way you sound, and you can do it relatively quickly.

Thanks for reading. Peace & have fun working your musical rhythm and time keeping skills!

percussion instruments cajon
Getting the cajon was one of the best decisions I have done in my guitar life. After I became good on the cajon, the solid rhythm skills “transferred” themselves to the guitar, and now I sound much better on both! Check out some cool PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS you can get.
Alon Cooper

Alon Cooper

Hey! I'm Cooper, and I hope I can be a helpful friend on your musical journeys. I'm a music artist based in Austin & Amsterdam, playing venues with a band / solo, and trying to learn with the most inspiring musicians wherever I go. In the last 8 years I've lived in Australia, northern Europe, the US and more.

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