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What Does Rhythm Look Like?

Go deeper into the types of symbols that are used to describe rhythm.

There are two main elements in music, one is pitch and the other is rhythm. Let's take a look at the various symbols that are used to describe rhythm, how the staff, measures and bar lines work, and finally, what time signatures are and how to put them together.

Here are the basic values and their corresponding shapes:

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Each note value is equal to two notes of the next value underneath it as shown in the following diagram:

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Written music is divided up into what are called measures. The end of a measure is shown with a horizontal line called a bar line. The end of the piece is signified with what is called a final bar line, which is a thin line followed by a thick line.

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The Time Signature

A time signature consists of two numbers and gives us information about how the rhythm will be counted.

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In the case of 4/4 time, there will be four beats in a measure and a quarter note will receive one beat. Since there are four beats per measure, this will mean that there will be four quarters in a measure, two half notes in a measure and one whole note in a measure. The next example illustrates this and shows the counting above each note value.

Let's see if you understand this now. Do the following with the next diagram:

  • Establish a steady beat or pulse and tap your foot to it.
  • Start counting to four out loud to this beat.
  • Once a steady beat is established and your foot is tapping, attempt to clap the attacks for the rhythm at the correct beats. Clap when the counting lines up with the numbers above the note.

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Understanding the move through these rhythms is a big step in gaining a good grasp of rhythm. Try strumming a chord using these rhythms.

Want to improve your rhythm playing with a new plucking technique? Watch this video from Fender Play. And if you're not a member yet, click here to start your free trial!