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I have absolutely no rhythm or ear - what are my options?

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Noble Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 1305

I have the basic mechanics down. I can switch from chord to chord but I play like a robot. As far as picking up a song from a CD - forget it. I can hear the rhythm but it simply doesn't translate to my hands - even if I have the sheet music in front of me. I'll start playing along and it doesn't long before I am playing to my own drummer.

Rhythm and ear have to be learned. It's that simple. Keep working and you'll get it

Playing guitar and never playing for others is like studying medicine and never working in a clinic.

Moondawgs on Reverbnation

Reputable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 323

My father once said to me "Son, if you keep playing with yourself- you will become blind." I said, "Dad, I'm over here". BTW, I play my guitar everyday.

LOL Excellent, I have heard the call before....
"Son, if you keep playing with yourself- you will become blind."
But not the response
"Dad, I'm over here".

Good Stuff


I know a little bit about a lot of things, but not a lot about anything...
Looking for people to jam with in Sydney Oz.......

Active Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 7

:D Great advice here from everybody - here's my two cents:

My brother and I started playing music together when we were kids. Him on guitar, me on drums. Playing with another person forces you to lock into a rhythm, even if the tempo varies. This musical relationship was beneficial for both of us, as we learned to 'listen' for dynamic changes in the combined 'music' that we were making.

Before I get carried away, my belief about learning rhythm is very simplistic; it's just motor skills. Motor skills take time to develop, but they never go away. Through repetition your brain hardwires a motor skill into your system to the point where you don't have to consciously think about it anymore (think about Walking - do you consciously think about how far to move your legs in between steps? Nope, you just walk. With practice, your musical rhythm can be this natural).

My brother and I both took private lessons for close to 10 years. When I eventually graduated to playing the guitar from drums, the transition was incredibly easy. From my point of view, I looked at playing the guitar as if I were playing the drums. I already hardcoded the rhythm years before.

To learn rhythm, you don't really even need to be playing an instrument. You just need to internalize the concept of 'beats' and the distance between them. If you really want the most basic way to learn this stuff, buy a beginner's drum book, and tap or strum to the beats. You don't need to be playing chords or switching chords at the same time because that really doesn't have to do with learning rhythm.

A musician who understands rhythm can play very "straight" (right on the beat, computer-like) or "loose" (used to add 'shuffle' to music - adding very slight delays on the notes in between beats to simulate a more relaxed feel). Having rhythmic control means you can play and "feel" shorter or greater distances between notes down to the millisecond.

Start basic. Learn quarter notes, strum and tap your foot to the beat. Learn 8th notes, and incorporate a down-up down-up strum on the guitar, all while staying in the beat. Do this over and over and over again until it's so incredibly easy that it's bores you to death. Then take a break and do it all over again.

Build from the bottom up. If you really want to get into sick phrasings and rhythms - listen to some jazz. I really didn't become an excellent drummer until I studied advanced jazz for a few years. I first started with Rock (of course) then Funk, but Jazz is where the juice is.

Final thoughts; play with other musicians - or buy a guitar CD (Jam Tracks) and play along to it. I encourage musicians to play with other musicians if possible because it develops an ear for live dynamics much faster. Remember, rhythm is just a motor skill that can be mastered with steady practice. Hopefully this helped you...good luck!

- Rick

Estimable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 108

Not much more I can think to add except to repeat the suggestion about playing along with other tracks and relax. I've found when you get together with other people you learn much faster as you can pick up different techniques to add to your skillset. Just this past weekend I forced myself to go to a local Bluegrass Society meeting to check it out (bluegrass not being my main interest in guitar playing although I do like some of the music) and ended up going back for my guitar. They played songs that I had no clue what they were but I had a fantastic time and definitely going back as some of the picking was unbelieveable and everyone was extremely helpful to boot.

I also started using a BOSS micro recorder and playing along with some of the songs I wanted to play semi-properly. For a lot of the songs, it wasn't fun or easy at first but it didn't take long before I was able to play along "reasonably well (at least my wife recognized the songs and she couldn't hear the recorder). Think of the journey as an inverted pyramid; at some point things are going to come together and you're going to start progressing faster and faster.

Stick with it and have *fun*

Reputable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 329

... I've found when you get together with other people you learn much faster...

I notice this when I have my weekly lesson. I get frustrated at home trying to get my strumming rhythm right but when I'm with my teacher and we're playing together my rhythm falls into place.

I can also see why so many experienced players recommend a metronome as an essential tool as well.

♪♫ Ron ♪♫

Trusted Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 75

I was have been playing a little over a year and my timing is just now starting to improve. It just takes time. I posted messages on this board just a couple months ago thinking that I would never have rhythm, but my timing has definetly improved and I'm sure it will continue to do so. Yours will too. Work with a metronome or drum machine and play along with CD's.

Famed Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 2717

I think I've seen you in "American Idol" competitions!

It's the rock that gives the stream its music . . . and the stream that gives the rock its roll.

Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 343

I didn't read what everybody else had to say so sorry for any repitition. First of all don't be afraid to sloooowww things down to get it right. For rhythm, clap it out slowly. Tap your foot to a slow steady beat (or use a metronome if you don't have the steady part down yet) and clap your hands to the rhythm or say the rhythm (preferably in ba's for my elementary school music teacher who would always say out the rhythms like an obnoxious sheep). Then speed it up gradually. If you are learning a song without sheet music, listen to it and clap/tap/ba whatever along with the notes the guitar is playing and keep that foot tapping to the beat.

It's not easy being green.... good thing I'm purple.

Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 20

One thing that really helped me was to put my fretting hand across thet strings so that they mute all the strings and then go through the songs on my playlist and strum in time with the beat. When I didn't have to concertate on changing chords, it was alot easier to get in time with the beat. Then once I had the beat down, I went back to trying to play the song and I was in rhythm because my strumming hand remembered what it was doing before. Maybe this'll help you.

Estimable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 168

I think you're in fine company.

"I was tone deaf and had no sense of rhythm when I began playing the guitar."
-- Robert Fripp, interview in 1986

Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 2171

The best tool for learning rhythm and gaining an ear are scales and a metronome.

Put the metronome on a slow speed -- 60 bpm or so -- and start playing major scales in quarter notes.
Listen to what you're doing and work hard and intently on being exactly right on the beat.

After you've been doing that for a while, start singing the tone as you play it.
After you've been doing that for a while, start singing the tone before you play it.
After you've been doing that for a while, work more on rhythm by setting the metronome to 30 and using that for beats 2 and 4.
Now try playing eigth notes with the metronome on beats 2 and 4.
Go back to quarter notes and try to be slightly on top of the beat or slightly behind the beat.

This exercise is something that very accomplished musicians do all the time. Just make it part of your daily practice until you can do it well, then continue doing it as a regular part of your routine (though not necessarily daily).

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST

Famed Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 2241

everyone's been where you're at right now. I've just started using loops of dance beats (hip hop, reggae, world music, etc) to imrovise over. I usually play blues and rock, so these 'new' beats are difficult for me to play over. But I listen to a lot of hip hop and found the best way to keep in time with the loops is to move/dance to it as I'm playing. Even if the 'dancing' gets in the way of playing complex stuff, for now that doesn't matter 'cause its getting me to play in time with these unfamiliar rhythms. might help you too.

Ra Er Ga.

Ninjazz have SuperChops.

Estimable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 99

Relax. I truly believe that everyone has a sense of rhythm if they can just take it easy and practice. You're going to find that one day something will come from your guitar and you'll say - "Hell - did I do that?"

Well guess what ... you did .. it really was you!

If you want to prove it .. play an Irish jig on your CD player and tap your feet along to the tune. That's rhythm!!


What did the guitarist do when he was told to turn on his amp?
He caressed it softly and told it that he loved it.

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