Reading Straight Rhythms

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Today we’re going to start to learn how to read and play on-beat (straight) rhythms. The only way to learn rhythms is to have a go at playing them. Rhythm must be felt and played, not just read so, as we go through this session make sure you try out the examples.

Feel The Pulse

First you will need to tap the beat with your foot (you can choose whatever tempo you want, but I would suggest that you keep it fairly steady). Keeping a clear sense of pulse is a crucial part of learning how to read music.

OK… So start tapping a beat with your foot. I want you to think in groups of 4 so count “1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, etc..” (I’ve marked the beat with a “<“ in the following examples to help you keep a sense of the beat).

Clapping Some Simple Rhythms

Now you’re tapping a beat with your foot we’re going to clap some rhythms with our hands.

(In the audio the clave sound plays the beat whilst the snare drum is playing the notes)

Let’s start with the easiest combination – a series of Quarter Notes (crotchets) – these will occur on every beat so all you need to do is clap in time with the beat..

Quarter Note Beats

Play Quarter Notes


Now halve the frequency of your clapping so you are only clapping on beats 1 and 3. You are now clapping half notes (minims) as shown below.

Half Note Beats

Play Half Notes

Now have a look at this rhythm below. You will see that there is only one whole note (semibreve) at the start of the bar. This means that you now need to only clap on beat 1 of the bar.

Whole Note Beat

Play Whole Notes


Clapping More Complex Rhythms

Now try clapping a bar of quarter notes followed by a bar of half notes followed by a bar with a whole note (as shown below).

mixed rhythms

Play Combined Rhythm

Keep clapping this series of bars until you feel that you’ve got the rhythms firmly in your head.

Finally let’s try combining a few rhythms within a bar. Try clapping these 2 examples:

combined rhythm

Play Combined Rhythm 1


Combined Rhythms 2

Play Combined Rhythm 2

How did you get on? Remember the key to grasping this is to play the rhythms – too many people try to just read them – you ned to play, play and play some more!!

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