5 Simple Ways to Become a More Rhythmically Grounded Musician (with Exercises!)

When I started learning, I didn't have anybody stress the importance of solid time, rhythm, and groove. I envied players that could come in perfectly on time and could play more complicated things than me.

They were more grounded "feel" players.

In my experience with teaching and listening to beginners and intermediates, rhythm and timing is something that gets overlooked more than technique, learning songs, etc., but feeling time at a deep level is probably the most important thing to work on as an improvising musician. It distinguishes the advanced level players from the intermediates. On another level, it separates the masters from the could-be musicians. That may be a little harsh, but the great part is that everyone can become a more rhythmic and groovy player - it just requires a little attention and patience.

If you listen to all of your favorite musicians, there's one thing they have in common - an impeccable groove.

It's definitely what makes me favor one musician more than another. Tony Rice and Bela Fleck are two of my absolute biggest influences and despite all of their amazing melodies and incredible technique, the way they place notes in time is the ultimate attraction.

I think one of the reasons time-feel, etc is overlooked is because it's an underlying element in the musician's playing.

We tend to listen to the notes more than anything else, which is obviously important, but try these 5 ways to better rhythmically ground your playing:

#1

Shift your focus to the way in which the master musician shape the individual notes, phrases and solos. Listen objectively to where the melodies lie in relationship to the beat is placed by the rhythm section. This is a great way to start training your ears so you can develop your own rhythmic style.

A couple musicians really stick out to me in terms of the way they feel the time.

Jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon lays way back on the beat, almost to the point of where it feels like it's dragging.

Jim Mills is a banjoist that exemplifies the sound of "drive", or playing on top of the beat. This creates a push-pull tension commonly heard in bluegrass solos. All of the master bluegrass musicians create drive in their solos to a more or lesser degree.

As I've said before in posts, listening to music is the number one way for you to improve. It's the way to activate certain connections in your mind to do with how you play, and it's the best way to study music.

#2

Another thing you can do in your practice to improve how you feel the beat is work on subdividing the quarter note into eighth notes, eighth note triplets, sixteenth notes.

I've attached some incredibly useful exercises at the bottom of the page. These are some great warmups to do at the beginning of your practice session.

#3

When you learn a song, practice playing it straight and swung with the metronome and solo. By doing this, your placing a different perspective on the way you're feeling the time, ultimately strengthening the way you feel both, preparing you for different playing situations, and it'll help you internalize the song you're working on in a deeper way.. It's also just a fun exercise that you can get a little goofy with :).

#4

Start to think of yourself as the rock. Take on some of the responsibility of holding down the groove. You want to be the most supportive you can be for people you're playing with, so focus some of your practice efforts to becoming a better back up or rhythm section musician.

You'll see that your fellow players will love you for it :).

A good way to start doing this is to listen to master bass players and drummers, and imitate things that they do.

#5

Hang out or take a lesson with a drummer.

Drummers listen and think about everything with a different perspective than the melodic based instruments, and it's so great to learn about music from their point of view. They'll probably want to learn from you as well.


CLICK HERE FOR SUBDIVISION PRACTICE MATERIAL

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For more resources about developing your rhythm, groove, and feel, check out Rhythmic Training by Robert Starer, and Polyrhythms by Ari Hoenig.