Get Your Rhythm On


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I can’t dance. At all. I’m not one of those people that knows how to move with a groove in any sort of real, artistic way, but I have been able to acknowledge and recognize when music is infiltrating my body. That sounded a bit weird didn’t it. Stay with me. It won’t get much weirder. Almost anyone, even if they don’t dance, sing, or even play an instrument, participates in the music they listen to with their bodies. It may be slight or it may be head banging, but it is there... somewhere. It is reactionary and not intentional in nature. How does this look for you?

For me, you know that rhythm is in you when:

  • You’re listening to a song in your car and start drumming on your steering wheel.
  • You’ve been sitting still for too long and start nervously tapping your fingers in perfect sequence and timing (usually with part of a song stuck in your head.
  • You’re listening to live music, and without thinking about, you start moving, bobbing your head, clapping, and shouting on cue.
Most of us music lovers do far more than just listen to our favorite music. We participate in it. A song might stick in our head long after we listen to it, and when we are fully engaged in familiar music, it becomes a part of us and we become a part of it. If you haven’t thought about YOUR quirks as a music listener yet, I bet you will now! Music makes us move.

Feel the Rhythm?

Ok, so now, I have a question for you: When you pick up your guitar and play, when you’re strumming or playing a riff, do you still feel the rhythm in your body? Before you answer with the first thing that comes to your mind, stop and think about it a little. I know that for me, unless I’m really comfortable with a song or groove, I end up focusing more on mechanics and memory recall rather than getting in that zone where the music is working in and through me. Even when I am familiar with what I’m playing, it almost always takes a conscious effort to relax, then feel it, and THEN play it.

You'll be amazed by the results! This seems to be a rampant issue among beginner and experienced strummers alike. It is all too easy to reverse the order stated in the sentence of my last paragraph. We get excited to learn and play something and we end up playing it, then trying to feel it, and then we relax? Nah! When we approach music with this order of habits, we never really relax! More like play with a lousy feel and then tense up! The result of such an approach leads to a lot of calculated, awkward sounding guitar playing. Have you ever looked at some TAB and tried to play along? Have you ever tried to learn a song or strum pattern by ear? It always starts out being so mechanical!

I have found that when I make a conscious effort to relax, then take time to internalize the feel of the music I’m about to play, I set myself up for a much more natural and immersive experience when I actually do pick up my guitar and start to strum along. It took me years to figure out why listening to music always felt so natural, but playing music always had this awkward intangible aspect attached to it. My approach to playing music was not the same as my approach to listening and enjoying music.

This mindset of “relax ...feel” has helped make the basic parts of my playing, as well as the more challenging things I attempt work, even as I’m learning new things. It relates to the Weekend Warrior edition that went out a few months ago that focused on making every aspect of our playing and practicing musical. The current ideal is a subset of that focus and, when done habitually, helps to achieve new heights in musical awareness and capability!

In other words, relax, get in the groove, then play, and practicing and performing will feel more musical.

It’s easy to simply memorize and recall a new mantra. “Ok, I’ll just relax, then feel the music, then play.” But we all know that when we try to relax, or try to loosen up so we can feel a groove, it can be easy to work against ourselves. It is like having some guy breathing down your neck telling you to relax or you won’t make good music. We don’t want that! So how can we ease into this approach? How can we make this a mindset and then a habit that shapes our rhythm playing? It’s time for the ridiculously simple exercise that hopefully leads to some new revelations. Remember, that almost all of us naturally feel and react to music that we are listening to. We naturally internalize music. For some reason, when we go to play it, we can tend to block that natural tendency! This exercise is designed to get rid of that block.

Think of a song that you like. One that you know pretty well. You don’t have to be able to play it or sing it. You just have to be able to place it in your mind and sense it. Great. Do you have it?

Repeat a part of that song over and over again in your mind. Maybe it is just the chorus. Maybe it’s just the intro groove. Then start tapping your foot to the music that you hear in your head. Start bobbing your head a little along with your foot tap. If you have even gotten this far, you’ve bridged one of the main gaps. It’s easy and natural, as we have established, to start drumming on steering wheel or moving to a song you are listening to, but in this case, you are, in the most simple form, reacting to music that YOU are creating. No one else can hear it just yet. This is a good thing for the “relax” portion of our mantra because our fear of playing something that doesn’t sound like we want it to usually leads to NOT relaxing. We don’t have to worry about that at all at this point. You are simply reacting to what you are creating in your head, with your physical body.

Now we’re going add a little sound. Hold your horses! Don’t pick up that guitar yet! We’re just going to clap along with the foot tap and the head movement that is reacting to the song in your head. Start by clapping right along with your foot tap. Try that for several repetitions of the groove. Once you feel like you’re not thinking too hard about the clap, try doubling it. That’s right! For every ONE foot tap, there will be TWO hand claps. Keep the groove going in your brain. Don’t let it stop. Remember, you are reacting to what you have created in your mind. This will take awhile to internalize so don’t get frustrated by the initial awkwardness that adding your hand clap creates. Nobody is listening! Keep the song, the foot and the hands going until it starts to feel comfortable and groovy. Once you get one groove down, try it with another groove. And another after that!

If you’ve ever been to a live concert and been close enough to the stage and players to see the group count off the start of a song, you’re seeing this exercise in plain daylight. Each member of that band has the groove they are about to play in their mind’s ear. They loosen up, you see their body start to move with count and then the start to make some music. That band is embracing the “relax... feel ... play” approach.

Let’s bring this back around to the guitar. If you get the music going in your head, put the groove of the music in your body, and then start strumming while retaining the feel you had before you picked up your guitar, you’ll be AMAZED at how much better your playing feels and sounds. It’s really quite cool.

If you’ve been to JamPlay lately or even visited our YouTube page in the last couple weeks, you have likely seen a bit of buzz surrounding our new live courses. One of the courses in progress right now, being taught by yours truly, is called “Strum It Up” and having made it through this dry read, you are now perfectly positioned to enjoy the archived session from week 1 of 10:

Live Course Replay: Strum it Up Week 1 by Chris Liepe

Taught by Chris Liepe

We are going to get in the groove. We are not worried about chords, notes or melodies this week. It's all about feeling the beat. -In our strumming hand and in our whole bodies. We are going to do some foot tapping, clapping, string scratching, and egg shaking to focus in on our inner rhythm.

This video acts as a next step based on where we’ve arrived for this weekend. You’ve learned to internalize a groove and react to it with your body. Congratulations! There are a lot of musicians that don’t ever really learn that! Week 1 from “Strum It Up” takes these concepts and guides you through practicing them. You’ll see the techniques worked out and be given more ways make your rhythm playing move through you before you ever reach for your guitar. You’ll also start to learn and practice hand independence which is oh so handy when you go to start strumming. I hope you check it out!

If you dig the course and feel like snatching up a membership so you can participate with the rest of the sessions in a live setting, we’re offering a 25% off coupon to our Weekend Warriors! You’ll also have a chance to submit videos of you doing the suggested exercises, earn some JamPoints and get direct feedback from the instructor, who in this case is me. Don't forget to check out the Strum it Up live course to take your rhythm playing to the next level!

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Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading! Have fun and be sure to leave any questions or comments you might have in the comments below!


Chris Liepe
Content Director

Chris Liepe Content Director Chris Liepe is the content director at JamPlay. He was one of the first JamPlay instructors. His talents were quickly noticed, both on and off camera. Chris and the folks at JamPlay soon realized that he would be a perfect fit for the team. He hopped on board as a full time staff member in 2009 and has since been leading the charge towards realizing JamPlay's mission: providing affordable music education worldwide.

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