Reading Complex Rhythms

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In the previous lesson of how to read sheet music we looked at simple rhythms involving whole notes, half notes and quarter notes). However, most of the music you are going to want to play is going to contain shorter notes (eighth notes and sixteenth notes).
Some people feel intimidated by these smaller divisions (there seem to be a lot of confusing lines and just lots of notes). I’m going to show you some simple ways in which you can play these rhythms with ease. I’m also gonna show you a crazy (but seriously effective) way of getting these rhythms into your head.

Reading and Playing Complex Rhythms

The 1st crucial step is to keep a steady pulse. In the last session we talked about tapping your foot or simply counting “1-2-3-4” – do whichever works best for you. This time, though, try counting “1- and – 2 – and – 3 – and – 4 – and”, emphasising the numbers. This will mean that you are setting the pulse, but are also getting your brain ready to add in the eighth notes as by adding the “and’s” you are now dividing the bar into eight.

Let’s have a go at playing some eighth notes:

Eighth Note Sheet Music Rhythms

Click Here To Listen To Eight Note Rhythms

Now let’s have a go at playing some 16th notes:
Sixteenth Notes Sheet Music Rhythms

Click Here To Listen To Sixteenth Note Rhythms

Hopefully you’ve got the hang of those pretty quickly.
Now let’s have a go at mixing and matching:
Sixteenth and Eighth Note Sheet Music Rhythms

Click Here To Listen To Sixteenth and Eighth Note Rhythms

Eighth and Sixteenth Note Sheet Music Rhythms
Click Here To Listen To Eighth and Sixteenth Note Rhythms

My Crazy Method!!

Okay, so now for my crazy method of getting this into your head. There are 4 main combinations of rhythms involving 8th notes and 16th notes. If you assign each one an animal name then it will stick in your head seriously quickly!

Eighth note rhythms work with “Don-key” (“Hedge-hog” also works, but I find that the “h’s” get difficult to say as the tempo speeds up – trust me, I’ve done extensive research into this!!)
Sixteenth note rhythms work really well with “Ca-ter-pi-llar”
2 sixteenth notes followed by an eighth note goes to “E-le-phant”
An eighth note followed by 2 sixteenth notes goes well with “Grass-ho-pper”

I know it sounds a bit weird (and I certainly wouldn’t recommend shouting them out at a band practice!!), but it does work. (Footnote: before any of you email me, I do realise that grasshoppers and caterpillars are not technically “animals”, and that I should have said “living creatures”, but, hey, life’s too short!

Sheet Music Rhythm Names

If you want more ridiculous (and and not so ridiculous) ways of learning how to read music then please sign up to my FREE video lessons below.

All the best,

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