Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt
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Come sit in with
The Rhythm Section

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Specialized Rhythm Training for the Classical Guitarist

THE FOCUS

This free training is focused on two essential elements of rhythm and tempo:

  1. The ability to "Play in the Pocket" or Groove.
    You know it when you hear it. When a performer or ensemble is in the groove, the effect is magical.
  2. The ability to "Hold a Tempo".
    In other words, being able to play accurately and steadily in time, maintaining an even tempo over the course of a piece.

THE GOAL:

The goal is to help you to deeply internalize a sense of steady time.
You will learn to feel and maintain a steady pulse internally, so you can stay in the pocket and hold the tempo.

PRACTICE:

These are not one-time exercises. You will not "finish" these exercises.

  1. Working on internalizing the pulse is a lifelong process,
    just like mastering the guitar.
  2. Early on, when the learning curve is steep, you might want to work on the exercises 30-40 minutes every day.
  3. Eventually you can settle into a maintenance schedule of 5-15 minutes daily.

For warmups: Use these exercises as part of your daily warmup to get
"in the zone".

For maintenance: Just as you practice certain exercises every day to keep your hands in shape, you should keep your ability to stay in the pocket and hold the tempo in tip-top condition.

Below is an overview of the topic. Be sure you take the time to read through it and try the exercises before moving on. Otherwise, you are wasting your time.

Okay, if you just can't help yourself, go on and take a peek. But make sure you come back here and do your homework. No one wants to hear you play out-of-tune and no one wants to hear you play out-of-rhythm!

If you have already read the overview, go here to access the FANTASTIC AND FREE training exercises.


HOW TO PLAY IN THE POCKET.

Musicians talk about playing "in the pocket" or being "in the groove". When a performance of any style of music in a steady tempo sizzles or swings or seems to have a certain magic or drive about its rhythm, you can be certain the musician is playing in the pocket.

The ability to play precisely in the pocket with the metronome requires a guitarist to relate to the time of the metronome clearly and precisely at the millisecond level. The guitarist must be able to intentionally play right on the beat, slightly ahead of the beat, and slightly behind the beat.

The goal is not to play like a metronome, but to use the metronome to help internalize a precise sense of time in oneself. Smart practice with a metronome does no harm to musical expression in timing and rhythm. When practice with a metronome is done correctly, we become more sensitive to nuances of time and rhythm and we feel them more strongly internally.

When we have a precise sense of the passage of time, we can then choose for ourselves how to use this in our musical performance. We will have the ability to play in a musically expressive fashion with a continually changing tempo and beat if that is what we desire. And, as a result of our work on the precision of our timing with the use of a metronome, we will always be aware of what we are doing.



THE VANISHING CLICK

Robert Walker, inventor of the Bounce Metronome came up with the term, "The Vanishing Click". When practicing with a metronome, it is a very interesting phenomenon and fun to experience.

Walker writes that the metronome click may seem to vanish when we hit the click exactly. The paradox is that the further off we are from the click, the more clearly we hear the metronome!

When we are playing the guitar, it can be described as a sweet spot where the sound of a plucked note and the click of the metronome are exactly in sync. The click disappears into the plucked note. We only hear the plucked note, not the click. The only time we do hear the click is when our plucked note is ahead or behind the click!

It is a strange but wonderful sensation. We are playing, and we see that the metronome is still working, but we are not hearing any clicks because we are in the pocket, precisely in sync with the metronome.

But it can be frustrating. If we play several notes in a row exactly in the pocket, there is a natural tendency for our brain to help us hear the clicks, causing us to drift out of time until we hear the clicks more clearly again. It is difficult to keep our playing so exact that the clicks vanish for more than a few clicks. No one can "bury the click" all the time.



How do I improve my ability to play in the pocket?

Begin WITHOUT the guitar.

EXERCISES:

First, we are going to learn to play ahead of and behind the beats.
All of the tapping video exercises use a square click. It is much easier to hear when you are ahead or behind the beat with this click. It is also easier to make this click vanish than other types of clicks.
Some people find they do better if they listen to the clicks and do NOT look at the video.
Step #1: Avoid the Clicks

To achieve a relaxed state, you will begin by NOT trying to tap on the clicks.
Alternate your taps with the metronome clicks.
Tap anywhere between the clicks.
Do not try to play on the "ands" that fall precisely between the beats.
In other words, do not think "1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &".
Instead, tap out your hits very freely and simply stay away from the metronome clicks.

Step #2: Intentionally make your hits AFTER each click.

The metronome is set at 60.
Hear the click, then tap. Hear the click, then tap.
Not too close, and in no recognizable rhythm.
This should feel effortless, no big deal.

Step #3: Now reverse it. Make your hits BEFORE each click.

The metronome is set at 60.
Make your tap, then hear the metronome click. Tap, then hear the metronome click.
Again, this should feel effortless, no big deal.

Step #4: Alternate between tapping before the click and after the click.

The metronome is set at 60.
Do four or five hits BEFORE the clicks. Stop.
Let the metronome keep ticking. Breathe.
Do four or five hits AFTER the clicks.
Keep alternating.
Effortless, no big deal.

Step #5: Alternate between tapping before the click several times and then after the click several times without stopping.

The metronome is set at 60.
Again, stay away from the clicks.
You want to feel confident that you can tap before the click or after the click at any time you choose.
Effortless, no big deal.

You have now learned to play ahead of the beat whenever you want to, and behind the beat whenever you want to. In this way, you are developing a clear sense of where the beat is. In other words, you have learned to play on either side of the beat—before and after.

Now we need to learn to merge our tap and the click into one, producing the vanishing click.

We will use the idea of an echo to play IMMEDIATELY after and IMMEDIATELY before the clicks. Then we will zero in to play precisely ON the beats, making the clicks vanish.

Play closer and closer to the click, before and after. Keep the metronome at 60. Some people find they do better if they only listen to the clicks and do NOT look at the video.

All of the tapping video exercises use a square click. It is much easier to hear when you are ahead or behind the beat with this click. It is also easier to make this click vanish than other types of clicks.

Zeroing In, Step #1: Make your hits IMMEDIATELY after each click.

The metronome is set at 60.
Hear the click, then tap IMMEDIATELY.
Hear the click, then tap.
Think of your tap as an extremely fast echo of the click.

Zeroing In, Step #2: Make your hits IMMEDIATELY before each click.

The metronome is set at 60.
Hear a click, then tap IMMEDIATELY before the next one.
Tap, then hear the click follow immediately.
Think of the metronome click as an extremely fast echo of your tap.

You are now tapping milliseconds ahead or behind the clicks!
Now, we are going to begin to make some clicks vanish.
Turn the volume of the metronome down.
If the volume of the click is too loud, it will be difficult to make it vanish.

Experiment with subdividing the beat into two, three, or four parts. For example, say you are hearing the metronome clicks as quarter notes (crotchets) and counting 1, 2, 3, 4. Subdivide into eighth notes (quavers) and count 1 & / 2 & / 3 & / 4 &. Or, use the syllables: "tah kah / tah kah / tah kah / tah kah".

Or, subdivide into sixteenth notes (semiquavers) and count 1 e & a / 2 e & a / 3 e & a / 4 e & a. Or, use the syllables: "tah-kah-dee-mee / tah-kah-dee-mee / tah-kah-dee-mee / tah-kah-dee-mee.

By breaking the rhythm into smaller values, the larger values become more precise.

I also recommend that you tap your foot or use body language such as head nods, tapping your leg, tapping your foot, shoulder movements, etc. to physically feel the rhythm and internalize it.

Subdivide the beat
Zeroing In, Step #3: Tap ON every other click.

The metronome is set at 60.
Listen to a click, tap ON the next click, listen to a click, tap ON the next click.

Zeroing In, Step #4: TAP ON EVERY CLICK.

Soon, every one of your taps will be within a few milliseconds of each click. You should experience a vanishing click with every 5-10 taps or even better. You may also experience the wonderful phenomenon of several vanishing clicks in a row where it seems as if the metronome has stopped clicking. It is disorienting, and there will be a strong pull to make you play a little behind or ahead of the click to hear the metronome again.

Now, let's do the exercises WITH your guitar.

For the click to vanish, the volume of the metronome must be lowered because the tone quality of the guitar is very distinct from the click of most metronomes. To make the metronome click vanish more easily, you will need to experiment with different playing styles to see what works best with your metronome's click tone: single note rest stroke, single note free stroke, what note to play (higher or lower pitch), or even plucked chords.

In the next practice video, I have chosen a Clave Click which blends really well with the guitar if you play the high C# on the first string at the 9th fret. With practice, it is not too difficult to make the click vanish. Some people find they do better if they only listen to the clicks and do NOT look at the video.

Practice the exercises from the preceding two sections. Do exercises 2-5 from "Learn to Play Ahead of and Behind the Beats" and all four exercises from "Zeroing In".

Practice the preceding exercises WITH your guitar.

For best results, play the high C# on the 1st string, 9th fret.

HOLDING A TEMPO

Another important skill is to be able to stay in tempo. Some call it, "hold a tempo". In other words, you must develop the ability to play with a steady beat (maintain the same speed) over the course of several measures or an entire piece.

When used correctly as in the second set of exercises below, the metronome truly shows its strength as a partner to help you develop and internalize a conception of steady time—your inner pulse.

Here are some sample videos from the "Hold a Tempo" training. The complete training includes exercises for beginners-intermediate and advanced in duple and triple meters.

In these exercises, you will tap/play along with the metronome clicks for several measures. The metronome will go silent and disappear as you continue to tap or play the beats at an unwavering, steady tempo. The metronome will reappear after one or more measures of silence. If you hold the tempo successfully, your ongoing tap and the first re-entry click of the metronome will be perfectly in sync. If your tap and the metronome click are not together, you failed to hold the tempo.

The purpose of the exercises is to develop your ability to maintain an inner pulse when the metronome goes silent. Some people find they do better if they only listen to the clicks and do NOT look at the videos.

Tap only, WITHOUT the guitar.

Try this one in 3/4 meter WITH your guitar.

I have chosen a Claves Click which blends really well with the guitar if you play the high C# on the first string at the 9th fret.
Hold a steady tempo throughout AND try to make the click vanish.
Some people find they do better if they only listen to the clicks and do NOT look at the video.

THE ULTIMATE TEST. Try it WITH your guitar.

The exercise becomes progressively difficult as the tempo is slowed.
I have chosen a Claves Click which blends really well with the guitar if you play the high C# on the first string at the 9th fret.
We are in 3/4 meter. Good luck.

One more! Changing note values.
Try it with or without your guitar.

The metronome changes from ticking quarter notes to half notes to whole notes to tied whole notes.
Continue to tap or play the beats with your guitar at an unwavering, steady tempo as the metronome changes note values. In other words when the metronome changes, do not change with it. Continue your own steady tap of 1, 2, 3, 4.

THE FANTASTIC AND FREE TRAINING EXERCISES

LESSON #1: Subdivision and "Playing In The Pocket"

These exercises are the essential basics.
They are the foundation for both finding the pocket and holding the tempo.
You must master these to do well on the rest of the exercises!

I have three sets of Subdivision Training to teach you to "Play in the Pocket".

  1. Duple Subdivision. This means you divide each beat equally into two parts.
    In addition to precisely subdividing the beat, try to make the metronome vanish!
  2. Triple Subdivision. This means you divide each beat equally into three parts.
    In addition to precisely subdividing the beat, try to make the metronome vanish!
  3. Quadruple Subdivision. This means you divide each beat equally into four parts.
    In addition to precisely subdividing the beat, try to make the metronome vanish!

LESSON #2: "Holding the Tempo"

These exercises will help you develop and internalize a conception of steady time (your inner pulse). This will give you the ability to "hold a tempo"—to maintain the same speed over the course of several measures or an entire piece.

Remember, as you read in the overview, you will tap/play along with the metronome clicks for several measures. The metronome will go silent and disappear as you continue to tap or play the beats at an unwavering, steady tempo. The metronome will reappear after one or more measures of silence. If you hold the tempo successfully, your ongoing tap and the first re-entry click of the metronome will be perfectly in sync. If your tap and the metronome click are not together, you failed to hold the tempo.

I have four sets of Play-Go-Silent Training to teach you to "Hold the Tempo".

  1. Play, Then Go Silent. Beginner and Intermediate. Duple Meter.
    Use the subdivision skills you learned above to hold the tempo.
    And, go for the gold—make the metronome vanish!
    The exercises at the slower tempos are the most difficult.
  2. Play, Then Go Silent. Beginner and Intermediate. Triple Meter.
    Use the subdivision skills you learned above to hold the tempo.
    And, go for the gold—make the metronome vanish!
    The exercises at the slower tempos are the most difficult.
  3. Play, Then Go Silent. ADVANCED LEVEL. Duple Meter.
    Use the subdivision skills you learned above to hold the tempo.
    And, go for the gold—make the metronome vanish!
    The exercises at the slower tempos are the most difficult.
  4. Play, Then Go Silent. ADVANCED LEVEL. Triple Meter.
    Use the subdivision skills you learned above to hold the tempo.
    And, go for the gold—make the metronome vanish!
    The exercises at the slower tempos are the most difficult.

These are really fun. You can actually practice your pieces along with these videos to check/test if you are holding your tempo. Or, start out by practicing your scales with these.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Find the Play-Go-Silent video exercise with the tempo and meter (duple or triple) that most closely matches the tempo you are currently playing your piece.
  2. Play your piece at that tempo with a regular metronome first. Be sure you feel comfortable and solid at that tempo.
  3. THEN go back and play along with the Play-Go-Silent video.


LESSON #3: Practice Mixed Note Values with Visual Subdivision to Hold the Tempo and Play in the Pocket

These exercises use your visual subdivision skills as the metronome clicks notes in mixed values. The notes are a mix of quarter notes, half notes, whole notes and whole notes tied over several measures.

Keep tapping a steady stream of quarter notes as the metronome clicks and note values change. As the notes lengthen, subdividing the beats is crucial to successfully holding the tempo. Always try to make the clicks vanish!

I have four sets of Mixed Note Values Training to teach you to "Hold the Tempo" and "Play in the Pocket".

  1. Mixed Note Values With Visual Subdivision. Beginning and Intermediate. Duple Meter.
    Be sure to subdivide the beats to successfully hold the tempo.
    And, go for the gold—make the metronome clicks vanish!
    The exercises at the slower tempos are the most difficult.
  2. Mixed Note Values With Visual Subdivision. Beginning and Intermediate. Triple Meter..
    Be sure to subdivide the beats to successfully hold the tempo.
    And, go for the gold—make the metronome vanish!
    The exercises at the slower tempos are the most difficult.
  3. Mixed Note Values With Visual Subdivision. Advanced. Duple Meter.
    Be sure to subdivide the beats to successfully hold the tempo.
    And, go for the gold—make the metronome vanish!
    The exercises at the slower tempos are the most difficult.
  4. Mixed Note Values With Visual Subdivision. Advanced. Triple Meter.
    Be sure to subdivide the beats to successfully hold the tempo.
    And, go for the gold—make the metronome vanish!
    The exercises at the slower tempos are the most difficult.

These are also really fun. You can also practice your pieces along with these videos to check/test if you are holding your tempo. Or, start out by practicing your scales with these.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Find the Mixed Note Values With Visual Subdivision video exercise with the tempo and meter (duple or triple) that most closely matches the tempo you are currently playing your piece.
  2. Play your piece at that tempo with a regular metronome first. Be sure you feel comfortable and solid at that tempo.
  3. THEN go back and play along with the Mixed Note Values With Visual Subdivision video.


Self-Evaluation of Your Ability to Hold a Steady Tempo

These exercises at three different tempos will help you assess how well you keep a steady tempo. Keep tapping a steady stream of quarter notes as the metronome clicks and note values lengthen. These tests were developed by master percussionist Malcolm ("Mac") Santiago.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Do the evaluation without looking at the musical notation. Keep tapping steady quarter notes as the metronome clicks lengthen in value.
  2. Do the evaluation at all three tempos. As with all the rhythm training, the slower tempo is the most difficult.
  3. Try the tests again, this time looking at the musical notation below. But instead of tapping steady quarter notes, use mental subdivision and tap only on the metronome clicks. The goal is to be perfectly in sync with the clicks to make them vanish.

The three SELF-EVALUATION TESTS are here.
Remember, the slower the bpm setting of the exercise, the more difficult it is to successfully hold the tempo.

If you wish, you may Download a PDF of the Click Chart.


Mac Santiago Self-Evaluation test of ability to hold a tempo


BONUS LESSON: Hemiola—Changing back and forth between 6/8 and 3/4 meter.

Do you play Canarios by Gaspar Sanz? Or other pieces that switch back and forth between 6/8 and 3/4 meter?
Then you MUST practice these exercises to make sure your hemiola rhythms are precise. Read everything you could possibly want to know about hemiola in my technique tip.

I have videos at seven different tempos. Start with the slower tempos.

Canarios by Gaspar Sanz is probably the most often-played example of hemiola in the guitar repertoire. It also gives countless guitarists nightmares when they try to learn it. Playing the notes is not the problem. With a fair amount of practice, most intermediate guitarists can play the notes accurately. The biggest problem is counting the rhythm correctly.

Canarios is a great piece on which to learn the hemiola effect with these training videos because it is filled with so many changes of meter. In the following examples, I am using John Williams' transcription. Your version will probably have different fingerings, notes, and ornaments. But the meter changes should be the same.

All the video training exercises begin with an introduction of two measures of 6/8 meter. The third measure in the video changes to 3/4 meter and coincides with the 3/4 meter of the first measure in the example below.



Canarios measures 8-19




Or, you could practice using this section of the piece which is a little easier to play. Again, your version may be different, but the meter changes will be the same.



Canarios measures 23-28




The hemiola training videos are here.