Here it is. A topic that so many musicians absolutely hate: Reading rhythms. Ouch!
When I was young and started taking drum lessons at the music school in my village, I was just like most others, I absolutely hated reading rhythms. Simply because I wasn’t good at it. I didn’t understand the foundation, so most of the time it felt like I was guessing. When looking back at those early lessons and how people have taught me how to read and write rhythms, I must unfortunately say that I believe most music teachers make this part unnecessarily hard.
I want to give you one way you can use to learn the fundamentals about reading rhythm. This is to give you a basic knowledge, it won’t be every rhythm played by mankind. I believe we often tend to share too much information at the same time, leading to a lot of confusion. I’ll try not to go down that path. Let’s keep it pretty simple.
The goal of this post is to show you a method on understanding some of the most commonly used rhythms in today’s music.
First, let’s go through the names of the different note values and rests, so that we can have a conversation where everyone understands everything. You don’t have to understand the notes and rests, so don’t worry about that for now. Just check out how they look and what they are called.
The notes that have the most brackets are the the fastest ones. As you can see, the eighth notes have one bracket, the sixteenth notes have two brackets, the thirty-second notes have three brackets. The best thing about this is that the rest’s brackets correspond with the number of brackets their note values have. As an example, a sixteenth note rest have 2 brackets, and so does a sixteenth note. Isn’t that brilliant? It makes things easy to remember.
Although thirty-second notes are shown in the illustrations, we are not going to go through how to read them right now. That is a topic for another blog post.
Ok. Now to the business. This is how this method works.
If you have a combination of rhythms with either whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes or their rests, ALWAYS COUNT IN SIXTEENTH NOTES. That will make this method very easy for you to use.
Let’s figure out what this rhythm sounds like:
Actually, we’re not going to just count them, let’s write them down like below. Each box represents the length of one sixteenth note.
1 half note or half note rest = 8 boxes
1 quarter note or quarter note rest = 4 boxes
1 eighth note or eighth note rest = 2 boxes
1 sixteenth note or sixteenth note rest = 1 box
Let’s analyze the rhythm. We got 2 sixteenth notes (2 boxes), 1 eighth note (2 boxes) , 1 eight note rest (2 boxes), 1 eighth note (2 boxes), 1 sixteenth note rest (1 box), 1 eighth note (2 boxes), 1 sixteenth note (1 box), 1 eighth note (2 boxes), 1 eighth note (2 boxes).
Since we now know how long (how many boxes) the rests and notes are, it is a simple matter of placing an X for each note, and an O for each rest. After you have filled in that information in your boxes, you can simply count out loud and play the notes where you have written the X:es. Like below.
Be aware that if we play for example an eighth note, that eighth note klings for two boxes. Since we are drummers, this can be hard to understand. But imagine a trumpet player playing the named eighth note. That will make it easier to understand.
The arrows in the picture illustrate how long each rest and note actually is. If you just want to know when to hit the notes: Look only at the X:es. The O:s mean rests.
You can easily use this method to find out how common rhythms, made up by the note values we have talked about, sound like.
One last thing. In the beginning bar of a piece of rhythm, there should be information about what time signature the rhythms are played in. Like this:
To keep it simple for now, all you have to know is to write up boxes that corresponds with the time signature. If the time signature looks like the picture above: Simply write out boxes, with counting underneath, like this: 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a 5 e & a
For a time signature in 3/4. Write it out like this:
1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a
Let me know if this method has helped you with reading rhythms by writing below.