top of page

Sense of Time - Building a strong foundation

          Having a consistent and reliable sense of time is necessary for any person who has the desire to be a competent musician. In fact, listening to someone play an instrument, who does not have a good sense of time, can be an uncomfortable and painful experience for those listening. For many musicians, developing solid timing is challenging because it is not something that comes naturally for many people. Fortunately, timing is something that can be learned with effort and consistent practice.

          When talking about having a good sense of time, there are some terms that are commonly used. The beat is the pulse of the music and is what makes many people have to tap there foot when they listen to a piece of music. Tempo is how fast or slow the pulse of the music is that is being played. Rhythm is what is being played over the beat or pulse. Rhythm describes when notes are being played, how long they are held out, and how they are being subdivided over the beat.

          The first step in developing strong sense of time is to learn to listen and really feel the pulse or beat of the music. To test your ability to do this, get a metronome and set it to 60 bpm. Now close your eyes and really listen to the beat. Can you tell the exact moment the next beat is going to play? You need to be able to feel the space between the beats and know the exact moment the next beat is going to happen. Once you can feel the pulse, start tapping your foot at the exact same time the metronome plays the beat. Keep your eyes closed so you are truly feeling the beat and not just following the blinking light on your metronome which can be a distraction.  Work on this until you are able to tap your foot along with the metronome in perfect time for one full minute.

          Once you can keep a steady beat with your foot, it is time to start playing a rhythm over the beat. Keep you metronome set to 60bpm, and start counting 1, 2, 3, 4 while continuing to tap your foot with the beat.  Your foot and count need to occur at the exact time the metronome plays. Now start tapping your hand on only beat one in each group of four counts, which is the same as playing a whole note on your instrument. Again, everything must be in perfect time with the metronome. When this is comfortable start tapping your hand on beat 1 and beat 3 (half notes). Finally add a hand tap to every beat while keeping your foot steady and in perfect time with the metronome (quarter notes). You have now played three separate rhythms over a steady beat at a tempo of 60 bpm.  Although these steps may seem simple at first, a lot of people will struggle to keep the beat with their foot and tap a rhythm with their hand. Practice and master theses easier rhythms before you worry about more complicated rhythmic subdivisions like eight notes, dotted quarter notes, triplets, and sixteenth notes.

          Hopefully you tried these exercises and found that they were easy for you. If so, congratulations. You have a good solid foundation to build on as you work on and learn how more complicated rhythms fit over a steady beat. However, if you found these exercises to be difficult keep trying them until you can do them perfectly. You need to be able to keep a steady beat (tapping your foot) while playing a rhythm (tapping your hand) over it. Until you master this essential skill it will be incredibly difficult to play music with other musicians or to play along with your favorite recordings. Having a consistent and reliable sense of time is essential for any person who wants to be a competent musician.


Brian Fish, Guitar Instructor at Guitar Lessons Geauga located in North East Ohio. 

bottom of page