In the last lesson, we learned how to count and play basic rhythms in 4/4 meter and subdivide beats into eighth notes by counting “one and, two and, three and, four and, one and, two and, three and, four and,” etc. We also learned how to create syncopation by using ties to combine rhythmic values in order to emphasize the “weak” parts of the measure—such as the eighth-note upbeats (the “and” counts). This time we’re going to expand our rhythmic repertoire and learn how to count and read 16th notes, rests and dotted rhythms.
When sight-reading any transcription for the first time, it’s always a good idea to first focus on reading and trying to master only the rhythms before picking up your guitar and attempting to deal with everything all at once (rhythms, notes, fingerings, repeat signs, etc.). To do this, simply clap the rhythms of the notes or chords while counting and tapping your foot on each beat, subdividing your count only when necessary. Doing this rhythm-only sight-reading drill will make it easier to concentrate on counting and hitting the rhythms correctly because you’re not simultaneously processing and reacting to all of the information. Once you’ve gotten the rhythm of the notes in your mind’s ear, pick up your guitar and attempt to play the song. You’ll find that it will be much easier to sight-read the music after having first done the rhythm-only drill because you’re already familiar with the timing and phrasing of the notes.
16th notes, rests and dotted rhythms
A measure of 4/4 time can be subdivided into sixteen 16th notes, as illustrated in bar 1. Counting “one e and a, two e and a, three e and a, four e and a, one e and a, two e and a, three e and a, four e and a,” etc. enables us to keep track of each individual 16th note while maintaining a steady pulse. (You may find it helpful to visualize a measure of 4/4 time as being an inch on a ruler, with each quarter-inch mark representing a quarter-note beat, and each 16th-inch mark representing a 16th note.)
Music is a combination of sound and silence. Every rhythmic value (whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, etc.) has a corresponding rest that represents a moment of silence of the same duration. Bars 2-8 show all the rhythmic values we’ve covered thus far and their equivalent rests. Notice that when rests are used, eighth notes and 16th notes sometimes stand alone, in which case they’re indicated by flags instead of beams. When playing through bars 2-8, be sure to silence your instrument during the rests and to count and tap your foot in a steady rhythm as indicated, even while resting.
A dot placed to the right of a notehead or tab number means that its rhythmic value is increased by one half (multiplied by 1.5). Thus, a dotted half note is held for three beats; a dotted quarter note is held for one and one half beats; and a dotted eighth note is held for three fourths of one beat (see bars 9-11).
Syncopated rhythms can often be expressed using dotted notes instead of ties, as depicted in bars 12-13. As you can see, this form of notation is more economical because there are fewer items to read. As this example also shows, rests can be dotted as well.
Keep in mind that in any measure of metered music, every part of every beat must be accounted for by some kind of note or rest. For example, in a measure of 4/4 time, the total value of all the notes and rests must add up to four complete beats. This may seem like a trivial theoretical point, but it’s a useful axiom to remember because it can help you figure out, by process of elimination, the correct timing and placement of a complex or unfamiliar rhythmic figure: First, subtract the rhythms you do know from the beginning and end of the measure, then calculate how many beats or partial beats are unaccounted for. This will enable you to isolate the unknown rhythms and determine where they begin and end relative to the underlying pulse. If you’re still unsure of the rhythm, listen to a recording of the song, if one is available, or ask a music teacher or drummer to count it out loud and play it for you.
Next time, we’ll begin exploring the world of triplets and learn how to create exciting syncopation effects and build gut-wrenching rhythmic tension using hemiola.
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