Semiquavers, the Clap and the Foot Tap!
How to Practice Counting and Playing Semiquavers on Guitar
Excerpt from "Crash Course in Taplature"
(free to download for all subscribers)
Here's my favourite way to introduce semiquavers on guitar, without a guitar! I'll ask the student to put down their instrument and try the following clapping challenge. There are 8 claps (one per foot movement) evenly spaced across the following bar so the sound made is quavers (8th notes).
The first challenge is to tap the foot as shown and clap (X) each time the foot moves either up or down. It often takes a few tries before they get the feel, a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy but with a bit of coaxing most can soon do this quite easily.
Next we add the requirement to count as shown while still tapping and clapping. A bit harder but not usually far out of reach.
Into the Unknown?
Most don't understand that they are actually now thinking in semiquavers (16th notes). I draw their attention to the fact that the hands have to open up after each clap to prepare to clap again. These movements are shown below by the dotted lines.
Underneath you can see the full semiquaver count. It is the student's next challenge to tap, clap and count correctly in time ...
One - uh - and - a - Two - uh - and - a - Three - uh - and - a - Four - uh - and - a
first alone, and then with a metronome as shown in this video.
With that done we see how the same applies to guitar. We replace the clap with a down strum, and equate the opening of the hands to clap again with lifting the arm to strum down again. I demonstrate that in this video.
Once a student understands how to count semiquavers in this way, he is ready to start trying some more musical examples. The foot tap and count remain the same, but of course we can hang any number of different musical patterns on the same structure.
Today's foot tap challenge!
As you can see it contains more than a few semiquavers to tie in nicely with this article. One trouble spot is often keeping the last note of beat one ringing into beat two (known as playing across the beat). There are a few hammer ons as well which my present a physical problem. The second half is easy by comparison, but you'll need to keep the count rock solid to get the timing of the whole thing just right.
Here I am running through it at 30, 50 and 75bpm with notes, foot tap and count (at the slower two speeds). You'll notice I'm using my right hand middle finger (hybrid picking, mixing pick and fingers) for notes on the A string, but an up pick works equally well.
Divide and Conquer!
Trying the whole thing in one go is usually a bit much to deal with. The better method is usually to look at the individual beats in isolation. Here's beat 1 pulled out. I've added coloured circles to highlight down and up foot movements, along with recommended picking.
Four distinct events make up this single beat.
1) We count "One" as we tap the foot down
and pick the open low E string.
2) We count "uh" as the second finger
hammers fret 3 of the low E string.
3) We count "and" as the foot comes back up and
the third finger hammers fret 4 of the low E string.
Notice here how the foot and third finger
both move upward as if fixed together.
4) We count "a" as we pick fret 2 of the A string.
How slow do you have to go to get these four events happening perfectly, and repeatedly (hint, it may be a lot slower than you'd expect).
Now do the same with beat 2. Again there are 4 separate events. Define them clearly and repeat them perfectly.
Next step is to join beats 1 and 2 together and get the first half of the line looping in isolation. You'll need what I call "mental glue" to bridge the join, and also to get from the end of beat 2 back to the start of beat 1. You may need to slow down to almost zero miles per hour to get this working initially. Forget that this is music for a while, the purpose is to get through it correctly enough times that you begin to "program" the movements in! The music comes when things are in the right place in the brain. You'll feel it when they get there!
Beats three and four shouldn't hold too many problems, other than the tendency to want to race through them as there's less going on there. Fight that tendency! Both beats still have four separate events, even though it's mostly just counting. It's worth approaching those two beats in the same manner just shown, firstly individually and then as a pair, giving you the second half of the line.
The finished product!
Finally we bolt together the first and second halves of the line to get the finished product. When you can run the full line with notes, count and foot tap you have it learned, to a strong level. One major hidden benefit of this, it's now a short step to having access to the same rhythm to use in any number of different places on guitar. Investigate!
Enjoy, and remember ... if it feels like hard work, that's why it makes you better!