Beginner Guitar Lesson #6 - Time and rhythm basics

Every song has a pulse.    It’s like the heartbeat.  You don’t always hear it but you feel it because all the instruments are played with the pulse as a reference.   Listen to a song and try to feel its underlying pulse.  Tap your foot , clap your hands  or nod your head by following the pulse.  To make it simple for now, we can think the pulse of a piece of music is the “beat”. 


Beats are grouped into small, manageable chunks called “bar”.  Grouping beats into bars allows you to measure and count them much more easily. 

Take the simplest way of grouping as an example - the four-four time.  In the four-four time, there are four beats to the bar.   The best way to learn a four four time is to count one two three four against a song. 

Time Signature

Each piece of music begins with a time signature to indicate how the beats are grouped.  It is always written as two numbers, one on top of the other, in the form of a fraction.  The top number determines how many beats there are in one bar, and the bottom number determines the time value of each beat. 

The 4/4 time is a common time signature in rock and pop music.     The 4 on the top  means 4 beats to a bar, while the 4 at the bottom means that each beat is a quarter note.  The quarter note is represented by a large dot called the notes head, with a plain stem. 

In a four four time, a quarter note is the basic unit of a beat. 


Tempo of a song is the speed of which these underlying beats are played.  In modern music such as rock and pop, we often use the unit “beat per minute” or BPM to indicate the tempo of a song.   A song with 120BPM has 120 beats per minute. 

A piece of music can be speeded up or slowed down by changing the tempo. 

A metronome is a device that plays a steady stream of click sound to a given tempo. 

Time value of notes

Time value of a note indicates its relative duration.  There are many types of notes and their duration are expressed relative to each other.  

A rest is a direction not to play.  It is designed to create silence in between separate notes or chords. For every note symbol there is a rest symbol with an equal time value.

A quarter-note is one beat, which is the most basic time value of a note . 

If we shorten the length of the quarter-note by half, it’s an eighth note.  try playing steady quarter-notes and count one two three four .  

We add a little flag on the top of its stem .  Eighth note is half a beat .  

8th notes can be further shortened by half to become a sixteenth note in other words, each beat can be subdivided equally into four 16th notes. A sixteenth note has two flags. 

See this example for the most common time values of notes and rests you need to know.


A beat can also be subdivided by three, or triplets. 

Any group of three notes, in which each note is played with the same time value, is called a "triplet".  The three notes are linked with a curved line called a slur.  Triplets are usually used to describe the effect of three notes played in the space of two.  See this example

We count triplets as "one-tri-plet two-tri-plet" and so on. 

Beat subdivisions exercises 

We should get ourselves familiarised with these subdivisions of a beat we just gone through.  let’s practice the subdivisions exercises using muted notes. 

We dont need to fret any note. Just muted the strings so that when we pick. It produces a nice percussive sound good enough for our best subdivision exercise here. 

Go to beat subdivision exercise (quarter, eighth and sixteenth) and beat subdivision exercise (triplet)



A tie combine two note values into a longer one.  Here are some examples. 

2 tied quarter-notes = 1 half-note 

2 tied eighth-notes =  1 quarter-note 


Dotted Notes 

If a note is followed by a dot, its time value is increased by half.  So, 

Dotted quarter-note = quater-note + eighth-note 

Dotted half-note = half-note + quarter-note 

See these examples for tied and dotted notes



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