“Music can change the world because it can change people.” - Bono

Music is very common in everyday life in the UK. In fact, most people in the UK regularly listen to music and attends concerts and festivals.

But not everyone's a musician. A lot of people just listen to music when they're getting ready for work, in the car, at work, or to relax when they get home.

Learning to play the guitar or another musical instrument is a completely different kettle of fish. If you’ve decided to learn how to play the guitar, you're going to have to learn more about rhythm and how to break down different types of rhythm in order play the guitar more naturally.

For example, do you know what a quaver is?

Learning to play the guitar rhythmically will help you when it comes to learning other techniques. In this article, we've got some advice and explanations for you.

What Is a Semiquaver?

When it comes to music, you can divide measures into different notes.

How do you read sheet music?
The rhythm is indicated by the type of notes on sheet music. (Source: stevepb)

In standard time, a measure consists of four crotchets. A crotchet is also known as a quarter note for this very reason.

Just like crotchets divide a measure into four equal parts, you can also divide crotchets into four equal parts.

A semiquaver is equivalent to a quarter beat. Thus: a quaver equals two semiquavers.

As a reminder:

  • In a measure in standard time, each beat is a crotchet.
  • A semibreve = two minims
  • A minim = two crotchets
  • There are 16 semiquavers in a standard time a measure since a single crotchet is four semiquavers.

There are also rests that equate to the same amount of time as their corresponding note value. In music, an absence of sound can be just as important.

  • The semibreve rest lasts for a whole note
  • A minim rest lasts for a half note
  • A crotchet rest lasts for a quarter note (or beat in standard time)
  • A quaver rest lasts for an eighth note
  • A semiquaver rest lasts for a sixteenth note

Beyond semiquavers, you can keep dividing by two and get a demisemiquaver and then a hemidemisemiquaver. The equivalent rests last for a 32nd note and a 64th note respectively. But let's try and play semiquavers first. We should learn to walk before we can run.

Find out why you should study rhythm.

Counting Semiquavers on the Guitar

Starting to play the guitar and being able to understand semiquavers without studying any theory is pretty impressive.

How do you play semiquavers?
You'll need to work hard to perfect rhythm. (Source: Foundry)

For us mere mortals, it's better to work on them and study them until playing and counting them becomes second nature.

Whether you're playing an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, or an electro-acoustic guitar, rock music, jazz music, flamenco, or Bossanova etc.,  you'll see that semiquavers are present in almost every style of music and every instrument.

Counting Semiquavers on the Guitar

Everything in this section can be applied to other instruments as well. People usually count the beats in a bar with numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4.

It's common for people to say "and" for the offbeats: "One and two and three and four and" is used for counting quavers.

When it comes to counting semiquavers, you don't really want to say "one, two, three, four, two, two, three, four, three, two, three, four, four, two, three, four". This many numbers will make things confusing.

By counting "1, e, and, a, 2, e, and, a, 3, e, and, a, 4, e, and, a,", you'll count on every semiquaver while also differentiating the beats and the offbeats:

  • Each number is the beat.
  • The "e" is the second semiquaver in every beat.
  • The “and” is the offbeat.
  • And the “a” is the fourth semiquaver in each beat.

It's easier to pronounce the letters as their phonetic sound rather than their name.

A lot of guitarists prefer doing it this way. Of course, there's no correct way to count to 16 in music, you just need to find a method where each semiquaver is equally spaced.

This means that you can't really count using polysyllabic words as certain syllables are stressed and each syllable isn't spoken in a uniform rhythm. Your timing is just as important as playing the right note.

Learn more rhythms for the guitar.

Exercises for Accurately Counting Semiquavers

When it comes to timing in music, there's nothing better than a metronome. When you first start, set your metronome to 100bpm. Try counting each click as a semiquaver:

  • First click: “1”.
  • Second click: “e”.
  • Third click: “and”.
  • Fourth click: "a".

This will help you to equally space each semiquaver so that you don't make a mistake later on. To improve, you just need to keep practising until you can do it flawlessly.

Once you can do this without making a mistake, set the metronome to 50bpm and only count the numbers on the clicks.

  • First click: “1”.
  • Between the clicks: "e, and, a".
  • Second click: “2”.
  • Between the clicks: "e, and, a".
  • Etc.

Make sure you do this aloud and not in your head.

How long does it take to learn guitar rhythms?
Are you ready to take to the stage? (Source: sweetlouise)

Once you manage to get this right, it's time to pick up your guitar and start working towards playing like Jimi Hendrix. Nearly there!

Start by playing a note on each beat: 1, 2, 3, 4. You'll only hit the string four times with down strokes.

Then play the quavers on a single string: "One and two and three and four and." This time you'll have to use down strokes and up strokes. You'll play the beats on the down strokes and the offbeats on the upstrokes.

Finally, to play semiquavers, you’re going to hit the string 16 times: Counting "1, e, and, a, 2, e, and, a, 3, e, and, a, 4, e, and, a,”.

In guitar tabs, there are normally chevrons over the notes to indicate up and down strokes.

But when you practise, you should do all three of these exercises. If you'd like to practise even more, you can always do these exercises on each of the strings.

Check out some of our favourite guitar rhythms.

How Quickly Can You Learn to Play Semiquavers?

Whether you’re teaching yourself, working with a private guitar tutor, or attending guitar classes, you'll need to work on your playing if you want to play semiquavers.

How long does it take to learn rhythms for the guitar?
Keep going, you'll get there! (Source: skeeze)

There are plenty of rhythmic patterns that include semiquavers. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Two semiquavers, quaver.
  • Quaver, two semiquavers.
  • Semiquaver, quaver, semiquaver.
  • Dotted quaver, semiquaver.
  • Semiquaver, dotted quaver.

We recommend that you start by working on a few of these rhythms. When you're ready and feel comfortable with these rhythms, you can start working on riffs and songs in their entirety.

In any case, it's better to start off simply with different rhythms and playing semibreves, minims, crotchets, rests, up and down strokes, and combinations of all the above before attempting to play any semiquavers.

Rhythm is a key aspect of guitar playing along with the notes. However, you can't have one without the other and if you really want to learn how to play guitar, you're going to have to study some music theory as well.

After about six months of playing the guitar, you should be able to play a few rhythms they include semiquavers as long as you regularly practise and spend time outside of your guitar lessons playing the guitar.

Once you start integrating rhythms with semiquavers into your playing, you'll discover a whole plethora of creative opportunities.

The next thing you'll have to do is start integrating semiquaver rests into your playing. This can take quite some time. You can expect to spend a year or two learning how to play the guitar before you can reach this level.

There are plenty of songs that are useful for practising semiquavers:

  • Ed Sheeran - Photograph, which is played with a capo the fourth fret
  • Cat Stevens - Wild World, you'll have to play the low notes on the bottom string.
  • Eagles - Hotel California, with a capo on the seventh fret
  • The Cranberries - Zombie

Think of working on your rhythm than as a marathon and not a sprint. It can take years to really understand and master it.

Don't get discouraged. You'll get there! If you're struggling with strumming patterns, chord progressions, fingerpicking, or writing your own licks, you should consider getting your own guitar teacher to help you.

Whether you need beginner guitar lessons or help to prepare for a performance, your own private guitar tutor can tailor their lessons to your abilities and show you the techniques you're interested in learning.

If most of the music you're trying to play involves power chords, they can focus on rhythm guitar techniques and help you learn guitar to play the songs that you like. You probably will need to learn how to read tabs but not sheet music.

On the other hand, if you're learning classical guitar, they can focus on the theory behind a common chord progression or an intermediate guitar technique rather than quickly strumming along to the Ramones.

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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.