How to Count Rhythm on the Bass Guitar

Learn how to understand and count rhythm on the bass guitar from musician John Sutton in this online guitar lesson from Howcast.


Understanding rhythm is just about understanding how the notes are playing are arranged in time. As a note gets a count we're going to call that our strong note. So, if it's 4 4 we're talking about a quarter note feel. That's any music that just feels like 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, which once you start being aware of that you find that in a lot of music. Lets talk a little bit about how to read rhythm and what rhythms look like on paper. We're going to start with the whole note and the whole rest. The whole note is just the bird's eye just a circle with no tail. That whole note is going to get 4 beats in 4 4 time. So, for example, in 4 4 time if you saw a whole note you would play that note for the entire measure, or 4 beats. Here's an example 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. The whole rest means you will be resting for the whole measure. To continue our example in 4 4 time that means you are resting for 4 beats, or just not playing. The next rhythm that we'll talk about is the half note. A half note is worth 2 beats. So, if we're feeling the music as 1, 2, 3, 4 in 4 4 time then there will be 2 half notes to a measure. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2. Those are examples of half notes in 4 4 time. The same is true for half rests. The half rest looks slightly different from the whole rest. It's sitting on top of the middle line in the staff instead of being hanging from the 2nd to the top. That's an important thing to pay attention to. The next note value I want to talk about is the quarter note. In 4 4 time the quarter note gets the beat. So, each quarter note is worth 1 beat. If there is an entire measure of quarter notes in 4 4 time there will be 4 quarter notes. I'll play you an example. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. Similiar to the quarter note the quarter rest is worth the same value. One beat. So, if you see a quarter rest in 4 4 time you would be pausing for 1 beat. The next rhythm to talk about is 8th notes. An 8th note is worth half of a quarter note. So, if the quarter note is getting the beat then there are 2 8th notes per beat. So, if you were in 4 4 time that means there's 4 quarter notes in the measure. If we're playing all 8th notes there would be 8 8th notes in the measure. I'm going to play an example of 4 quarter notes and 8 8th notes. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, now 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. So, that's an example of 8 8th notes in a 4 4 bar. The same, of course, is true for the 8th rest. The 8th rest is worth one half of a quarter note. Or, you can say there are 2 8th rests in 1 beat. So, in a measure of 4 4 time there could be up to 8 8th rests in a beat. The last one to talk about is 16th notes. There are 4 16th notes for every quarter note. Or 4 16th notes for every beat in 4 4 time. So, as we're feeling the beat of 1, 2, 3, 4 16th notes would be going by at the rate of oneanda, twoeanda, threeanda, foureanda. Here's an example of 16th notes in 4 4 time. 1, 2, 3, 4. The same is true for 16th rests. There are 4 16th rests in every beat in 4 4.

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