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Guitar Timing Exercises - Combining Note Values

In the first part of this series, we learned the basic values that divide up and time notes in a piece of music. Please ensure you've been through that lesson before you continue to avoid any confusion!

Now it's time to combine these core note values across single and several measures, to create more articulated note sequences that will become the basis of your dynamic lead (solos, licks, riffs etc.) playing.

The guitar timing exercises in this lesson will help you to practice transitioning between note values seamlessly and accurately. Plus, I've provided print sheets that you can use to create your own timing exercises.

Start with the video below for a quick introduction and then see further down for more help...

Timing Exercise Print Sheet

Mark your own timings on the print sheet provided (PDF). All you need to do is shade in the note boxes at the appropriate positions in the measure. For example...

timing exercise sheet example

Download the Print Sheet Here

Basic Note Value Combo Timing Exercises

Start simple. Here we transition between two different note values. The key thing to practice here (remembering to start at a slow tempo such as 40-60 BPM) is making these transitions as seamless as possible. The beat won't wait for you!

You can play anything you like, but I find timing exercises are good to combine with learning scale patterns or coming up with new licks or riffs. Make timing a more conscious part of your regular practice. Kill two birds with one stone, as they say.

Try repeating each measure to begin with and then play through all the measures in a sequence.

For example, transitioning between half notes and shorter notes...

half note transition timing exercises

Try reversing the patterns so you start with the shorter notes moving into a half note on the 3rd beat.

Transitioning between quarter notes and shorter (8th, 16th) notes...

OK, I think you get the idea. Try similar exercises transitioning between 8th and 16th notes. You can position your transitions on any beat you want.

Next, try two transitions per measure. For example, changing from quarter to 8th to 16th notes...

quarter to 8th to 16th note timing

Mixing Up Note Values

Sometimes a straight run of notes (whether half, quarter, 8th or 16th) will be fine for the sound you're trying to create.

But if you want to create more dynamic and "punctuated" phrases, you'll want to mix things up a bit.

Try the exercises below, where we interchange between different note values...

mixed note values

16th Note Groupings

16th notes don't always have to be in even groupings of four, eight, twelve, sixteen etc.

For example, by starting/ending our 16th note runs on the "&", we can give our phrases a slightly different feel...

16th note groupings timing exercise

Off-Beat Timings

Playing on the beat, as we've been doing up until now, is often called "locked in" timing, and is an integral part of pop and rock rhythm. Since the strongest accents in a measure are on the beat, transitioning between note values on the beat creates a strong, reliable pattern.

But we can "loosen" things up a bit by transitioning between note values off the beats.

Now, here's where things get a little groovier! As demonstrated in the video, we can use off-beat timings to create what is known as syncopation, which gives your lead a propulsive momentum.

Syncopation can be described as placing accents or rhythmic stresses in unexpected places. Those unexpected places are anywhere off the beat - the "&", "e" and/or "a" in the measure.

For example, starting quarter notes on the "&" in between beats. Or starting 8th notes on the "e" or "a" between beats.

Straight Runs Off The Beat

Start by playing a run of equally spaced quarter notes on the "&". All we've done is shift the regular quarter note pattern forward in the measure...

off beat quarter notes times on the &

A little more challenging, try positioning those quarter notes on the "e" and "a" of the measure...

quarter notes timed on the e and a

Tip: if you're struggling, make sure you're at a slow tempo and start counting to help.

For example, on the "e" I would count: "1 eee, 2 eee, 3 eee, 4 eee".

On the "a", I'd count "& aaa, & aaa, & aaa, & aaa".

Once you internalise these positions and can play at higher tempos, you won't need to count! It's like taking the stabilisers of the bike.

Try something similar with 8th notes...

off beat 8th notes

Combining Off Beat With Regular Timing

Finally, we inject this off beat syncopation with regular timed notes...

off beat combined with regular timing

The more you practice different timings, the more you'll internalise these elements so you can use them in your own music intuitively (without thinking too much about it).

The ultimate aim with all this is to get to the point where you can "feel" the kind of timing that would best serve the moment, so you can articulate what you're trying to express.

A good analogy for this is when we learn to string together words and punctuate sentences, so we can communicate thoughts, ideas and emotions. Like music, verbal communication requires a certain rhythm and timing to articulate our thoughts more clearly and emotively.

Think of music, both in terms of the notes you play and how you play them, as just another form of communication.

Until the next part, thanks for your time (no pun intended).

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Where Next?

Dotted Notes (coming soon)