Many new musicians have a problem with learning to play in time with the music. This is an understandable problem that comes from playing very slowly. We all stumble when we first start playing.
But it is one of the most important parts of being a musician, that you learn how to play in time on guitar from the very beginning.
This is a skill you need to learn! When you play with joy, it shows!
I’m going to show you two ways that I have used in all my 40 years of playing the guitar. To create a beat and maintain it throughout a song.
Play along with Your Favourite Music
I can’t stress this enough. Find a song you want to play and put a YouTube of it up on your computer, get the chords and play along. Yes, you will stuff it up the first couple of times. It will sound terrible but you will learn very quickly how to keep the beat.
You will also be learning a heap of other musical skills at the same time.
- Coming in on time at the beginning
- Learning the structure of any song
- Noodling during the instrumental
- Staying steady as the rhythm guitarist
- Finishing on the beat
- Strengthening your hands
Tap your foot, stay on the beat, listen, listen, listen!
Why is playing in time so important?
If you can’t keep the beat than no one else can play along with you. Your audience will start talking and drift away. Is that what you want?
I have only met a few guitarists over my lifetime who can’t maintain a strict tempo and it was horrible to listen to them play. I’ve had to play along with them and it was a nightmare. Fast, slow, fast, slow, Yuck! Never again.
Make it a priority to nail this skill at the beginning of your playing career. Whether, you are playing solo for yourself, friends or family or together in a band or orchestra. You need to be on time. If this is hard for you, stick at it, no one likes to be the one person no one wants to listen to or play with.
I have heard solo guitarists who can create such a strong beat that they can play the melody line in between strumming the beat and you don’t notice. Your mind and heart keep the beat. We are geared by our own heartbeats to maintain the tempo, that is why it is so distracting when someone misses the beat. If people are jarred out of your performance by a bad tempo, they will miss how amazing your music is.
Use a Metronome
I guess you knew I was going to suggest this but let me clear your mind a little. A metronome is just a convenient drum beat. There are digital beat machines with lots of tempos to mess around with.
There are many to choose from and you will have fun finding the one that works for you. I’ve provided a link here to browse a range of metronomes.
You will be helping me support my family and my website this way.
There are beautiful wooden metronomes with a history dating back a 100 years.
Little plastic boxes from the local music store and apps on your phone.
There are many metronomes you can use, check out this article on more metronomes.
Choose one, that you think is cool and use it every time you practise. 5 minutes, that’s all. This is not a big deal. This is a sneaky secret that all great musicians use to perfect their playing. When Tommy Emmanuel was asked by Charlie Wallace (ace guitarist) what his one tip for a new guitarist would be, he said; “Use a metronome.”
Play like a Professional
So here you have two rock-solid ways to learn the perfect beat and it can be fun. I suggest that you use both methods. Play along with your favourite music and use a metronome for 5 minutes a day. You will see awesome results in a very short time. Consequently, if you want to sound like a professional guitarist you need to learn how to play in time on the guitar, today!
One other suggestion. Start your metronome at about 60 beats per minute and add a beat every day, just one extra beat a day. 60, 61, 62. You will not notice that you are getting faster. If 60 beats a minute is still too fast, start at 30 or 20. Who cares!
You need to be able to stay on the beat and not make a mistake or stumble. Be kind to yourself. You are in the learning phase of playing the guitar. Every awesome guitarist was a beginner at the start.
If you need some encouragement you might enjoy my post of being a beginner guitarist, check it out!
I hope you enjoyed this review and if you have any questions about metronomes or the use of one please feel free to leave a comment.
Enjoy the journey!
4 thoughts on “How to Play in Time on Guitar?”
This article so accurately reflects my own inadequacies as a guitarist ): haha i can play a bunch of songs, but I am SO guilty of sucking when it comes to one of the most important aspects of music………………..timing!
I do like the idea of playing along with music though!! It’s so simple, yet I’ve never thought about doing it….hmm. But it really is my goal to get to the point where I can play arbitrary jam sessions with strangers lol you know, on a whim, improvising with no preparation…. I would love to be able to do that!!!! I know all the chords, I just need to get down all the timing with other instruments and the percussion :S
Great article! Makes me want to practice harder!!!!! 😀
Hi Koda, really understand what you mean. The first time I jammed with other musos I sucked big time. You get better with experience but nailing the timing will really help your confidence. Start practising with those songs you know. At least then you will be about to jam using them.
I’m teaching my husband to play the bass at the moment and I count as he plays each bar and I notice he is tapping along. I thought this would annoy him but he says it is helping heaps. Using a metronome is the same as having a teacher count for you, just more accurate.
I have an app on my phone with drumbeats to practise to, it’s called Drumgenius! You get to download 3 beats for free and try them out before downloading. This will help with playing with a drummer in the band.
Hope this all helps.
Make that dream come true.
Thanks for your great comments
Thank you so much for sharing your 40 years of experience and help everyone get better sooner. Your website is awesome! I love the part where you say that we are meant to keep time like our heartbeat. It is such an awesome feeling when everyone in the same group and the audience can feel the same groove and we can actually play with the invisible metronome of living beings.
What an experience when everyone anticipates the next beat at the same moment. This is engaging, connecting and fun.
You are so right about playing with people who can’t play in time. It is an aweful experience and not music at all. Keeping time and playing in tune should be part of a musician’s everyday practice from the start! That’s what makes it fun in the end,
Best wishes and thanks again,
I’m so pleased that you understand how a musical group can move with the same beat and the audience follow along too. It creates magic moments.