Rhythm and Timing (Guitar Lesson)

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Dennis Hodges

Rhythm and Timing

While using a metronome, Dennis covers essential techniques and exercises to obtain great rhythm and timing.

Taught by Dennis Hodges in Metal with Dennis seriesLength: 35:00Difficulty: 2.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (01:05) Lesson Intro This lesson provides a review and some new, additional information pertaining to rhythm and counting. Dennis begins by explaining how to use a metronome properly in your practice sessions. You'll also learn about rests. Finally, you will have a chance to apply these new skills to a few exercises and sample riffs.
Chapter 2: (02:54) Metronome Basics Rhythm is the most important aspect of music. It is the foundation of music. Regular practice with a metronome or a similar time keeping device is the only way to improve your rhythmic feel. It should come as no surprise that constant practice with the metronome is crucial.

Different Types of Metronomes

Essentially, there are two types of metronomes--analog and digital. Analog metronomes typically feature an adjustable wheel with a selection of tempos listed on it. (The old fashioned swinging beam metronomes are analog metronomes and work in this way.) Digital metronomes will allow you to choose any tempo. This flexibility obviously provides many advantages.

Note: JamPlay will soon have a digital metronome available in the Teaching Tools section. This section is accessible from the homepage.

Using a Metronome Properly

Many beginners fail to realize when they begin to get off track with the metronome. Recognizing when this happens is the first step in correcting rhythm.

You must first be able to perform the most basic rhythms without the guitar before you try playing along with the metronome. Practice clapping quarter notes along with a metronome set slightly under 60 beats per minute. You shouldn't hear the metronome at all. Your clap should coincide perfectly with the metronome. Then, play the same rhythm on guitar with all muted strings. Strum along with every click of the metronome. Practice this exercise at a variety of tempos.
Chapter 3: (05:15) Whole, Half, and Quarter Note Riffs Play all of the exercises presented in the following scenes as slowly as you need to. Staying in time with the metronome is your highest priority.

Whole Note Riff

Note: Tablature and notation to "Whole Note Riff" is a part of "Rhythm Review." This document is listed under the "Supplemental Content" tab.


1. Start at the slowest tempo that Dennis has indicated in the notation.
2. Once you master the riff at this tempo, move the metronome up one notch. If you have a digital metronome, move the speed up 2 beats per minute at a time.
3. Continue with this process until you reach the fastest tempo in the range Dennis has listed.
4. Count out loud and tap your foot. This will help you internalize your sense of rhythm in the most efficient manner.

Half Note Riff

Repeat the same process listed above with this riff.

Quarter Note Riff

Once again repeat the same process listed under "Whole Note Riff." This riff may take some extra practice since the rhythm is much busier. This forces your hands to move more quickly in order to keep up with the metronome. Also, make sure to utilize the spider riffing principles that Dennis introduced in the previous lessons. This will eliminate any unnecessary position shifts.

Final Riff

The last riff combines all of the rhythms discussed previously in this scene. Remember to always count when working on any new piece of music. Count aloud a few times as you play. Then, play through the exercise while counting silently to yourself.
Chapter 4: (07:39) Rests and Ties For additional information concerning rests and ties, please visit Matt Brown's Reading Music and Rhythm lessons.

Counting Rests

Quite simply, a rest indicates silence for a specific rhythmic value. Even though you are not playing during a rest, you must continue to count . Counting becomes even more important when a large number of rests appear in the score. It is much easier to lose your place in a piece of music when you are not playing. In an orchestral setting, a specific player may count rests for the first couple minutes of the piece. If he or she is not completely precise with the counting, he/she will most likely enter at the wrong time and ruin the piece.

Identifying Rests

Every note value that Dennis has discussed has a rest equivalent. The whole note rest looks like an upside-down hat. The half note looks like a hat resting on someone's head. Remember that "hat" and "half" both start with the letter "H". This will help you differentiate between the half note rest and the whole note rest.

Whole Note Rest Riff

Note: Tablature and notation to "Whole Note Rest Riff" is a part of "Rhythm Review (pg. 2)." This document is listed under the "Supplemental Content" tab.

Play this exercise with a metronome while counting and tapping your foot. Dennis provides you with an opportunity to play along with him for extra practice.

Half Note Rest Riff

Just like the half note, a half rest counts for two beats of silence.

Quarter Note Rest Riff

This riff involves only 2 chords. Be careful to cut each chord off at exactly the proper time. Many beginners get sloppy with quarter note rests. Do not let this happen to you!

Mixed Rests

This is the most difficult exercise featuring rests. However, if you count the rests properly, you shouldn't have any problems. It may be helpful to print out the notation for this riff and write in the appropriate counting syllables below the staff. This will keep you on track as you are sight reading through the exercise.


A tie is a curved line that connects two pitches of the same note name. It extends the length of the first note under the line by the length of the note it is tied to. For example, a quarter note tied to another quarter note receives two beats. A quarter tied to an eighth note receives one and a half beats. Remember that the second note under the tie line is not picked!

If you are slightly confused by this definition, take a look at page 3 of the "Rhythm Review." Compare what is written to what Dennis is playing. This should help eliminate any confusion.
Chapter 5: ( 07:22) Eighth Note Riffs An eighth note is the next smallest division of the beat. In a bar of 4/4 time, there are 8 eighth notes. Thus, an eighth note is one eighth of a measure. An eighth note is equal to one half of a quarter note. A series of eighth notes is counted 1+2+etc.

Eighth Note Exercise

Practice this exercise with a variety of picking patterns. First, play the exercise using all down strokes. Then, play the exercise using alternate picking starting with a downstroke. Next, use alternate picking again. This time around, start the picking pattern with an upstroke. Finally, play the exercise with all upstrokes. For additional practice, play through all of these picking variations while palm-muting.

Eighth Note Riff


1. Palm-mute the open strings.
2. Play this riff at a variety of tempos.

Eighth Note Rest Riff 1

An eighth note rest has a single flag that extends from the left side. Do not confuse this rest with the quarter rest!

Eighth notes can be bracketed in groups of four or two. Or, they can be written individually with a single flag connected to the note stem. Use both your right hand and left hand to mute the appropriate strings when a rest occurs. Just bring your right hand down lightly on the low E string to cut it off.

Eighth Note Rest Riff 2

This exercise may throw you off since it starts with a rest. It may take some extra practice to nail the rhythm down. After practicing along with the metronome, play along with Dennis to make sure you are playing perfectly in time.
Chapter 6: (10:50) Sixteenth Note Riffs and Wrap-up Sixteenth Note Overview

The next smallest division of the beat is the sixteenth note. A sixteenth note comprises 1/16 of a measure in 4/4 time. There are four sixteenth notes to a quarter note. Typically, sixteenth notes are played with strict alternate picking. Most players choose to count "1 e+a" or "1 ah+a" for a set of four sixteenth notes.


This exercises is most commonly attributed to Joe Satriani. However, it has been popularized by many of his star pupils including Metallica's Kirk Hammett. Matt Brown also taught this same exercise in his Phase 2 Rock series.


1. Focus on producing a consistent tone and rhythm.

2. Begin practicing this exercise at the slowest tempo that you can stand. Then, gradually move the metronome up a few notches at a time as you become more comfortable.

3. Be very careful when crossing strings. Simply lower your wrist when the crossing comes.

Sixteenth Note Riff

This riff features some sixteenth notes combined with quarter notes. The rhythm of this riff is reminiscent of the breakdown rhythm in "Creeping Death."

Up until now, all sixteenth notes have appeared in steady groups of four. However, rests and ties frequently break them up. This requires very careful counting.

The Gallop

The sound of this particular rhythm (one eighth followed by two sixteenths) sounds very similar to a horse galloping across an open field. This rhythm is found in countless classic metal songs including "Battery" and "The Trooper." The appropriate picking pattern for this rhythm is down, down, up.

Reverse Gallop

The reverse gallop not quite as common. This rhythm consists of two sixteenth notes followed by one eighth note. Pick down, up, down, for this rhythmic grouping.

Gallop Riff

Play this slowly with palm-muting and gradually speed up the tempo. The gallop is most effective at rapid speeds.

Reverse Gallop Riff

Many beginners confuse this rhythmic grouping with the triplet. Like Dennis demonstrates, these two rhythmic groupings sound completely different. Practice this riff with palm-muting as well. This will require that you play a little more deliberately and forcefully with your right hand.

Riff 3

In this riff, the "and" is taken out of the sixteenth pattern. This leaves an eighth note sandwiched between two sixteenths. This rhythm is usually very confusing to many beginners. Listen to Dennis play this rhythm several times before you try it on your own. Count "1 e ah, 2 e ah", etc." Pick down, up, up for this grouping.

Final Thoughts

Rhythmic tightness drives the sound of a group and increases the overall heaviness of any song. If you need proof, pick up a copy of Pantera's live album entitled 101 Proof. Music that is rhythmically sloppy has no groove. Keeping a steady groove is the single most important aspect of rhythm guitar playing. Even if you are the "lead guitarist" in your group, you will find yourself playing rhythm guitar about 75% of the time.

Metal Lesson 7

The next lesson in the metal series features an original, instrumental song written by Dennis. The song, entitled "Metal Poisoning," combines all of the practice rhythms presented in this lesson. This will give you an opportunity to directly apply these groupings within the context of a metal song.

Video Subtitles / Captions

Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

capaverycapavery replied on October 24th, 2015

why isn t there pro6 file

antl58antl58 replied on May 6th, 2013

great lesson ! but the last chapter on 16th notes is missing????? whats up with that ? very help full lesson gimme some 16th note video get on that . thanks

antl58antl58 replied on May 11th, 2013

Yes your are correct it is there , thanks , must of been temporary glitch. thanks this is an awesome lesson set you have provided, looking forward to continuing on as well as checking out the DOKKEN lesson very SWEET!

dennis.hodgesdennis.hodges replied on May 8th, 2013

not sure what you mean, I just checked and Scene 6 works fine.

ericag15782ericag15782 replied on April 24th, 2012

This one is def going to take some practice for me. Sixteenth notes mostly.

kalabajabakalabajaba replied on March 5th, 2012

im all alone

wayne66wayne66 replied on September 30th, 2011

So I printed all 8 pages of the supplemental exercises only to find out the ends of each bar are cut short.

cmp1969cmp1969 replied on September 16th, 2009

Can you explain it better on ties. I'm not sure I quite understand it. If 2 notes are tied together you only play the first note and count the second right? So what is the porpose of the 2nd note to begin with? Why not just change the value of the 1st?

greedygreedy replied on April 4th, 2010

cmp1969, the tie does not need to change its value, as you are technicaly tieing notes across measures. like, in a 4/4 signature, if you had 3 quarters, and wanted your next to be a half note, you would tie the 4th quarter, with the first quarter of the next measure. or if you wanted a 3 beat note in the same measure, you would tie a half with a quarter. you tie them because there is no 2/3rds notation. i know its a late reply but i hope that helps.

wayne66wayne66 replied on September 26th, 2011

From what I understand of a tie, it can be used anywhere (not just over two measures) and basically just means that you play the first note and hold that note (let ring) for the duration of the tied note(s).

midnight dawnmidnight dawn replied on June 25th, 2010

Hey guys, is there any special secret to train your pinky to play well? =p or is it just practice, practice, practice? Becuase at the moment, mine always curls up and it's very hard to use it when playing

overlord1111usoverlord1111us replied on March 22nd, 2011

I know guitar hero gets a bad rap but playing that before I got into playing guitar made me use my pinky alot. It really helped me!!!!!!! Yes practice practice practice aside from that is the best :)

steven ringersteven ringer replied on February 25th, 2011

i have the same problem. it doesn't feel quite natural. i've gotten out of the habit of curling my pinky behind the neck, though. i guess just keep using it until it feels right. it gets easier the more you do it.

punisher11292punisher11292 replied on March 29th, 2012

A good way I found to train my pinky was running major scales up and down with one finger per fret and it really trained my pinky to stop from curling underneath and now it sits comfortably above the fretboard.

goodmixergoodmixer replied on March 26th, 2010

scratch my last question.great lesson

goodmixergoodmixer replied on March 26th, 2010

Hi Dennis, on the reverse gallop, are you using the down,down up strum pattern,or using down up down?Great lesson,

nsibleynsibley replied on November 30th, 2009

Great lesson, and you are a beast at galloping

gsturngsturn replied on September 7th, 2009

Nice Lesson for any type of music you like.

jace1028jace1028 replied on March 27th, 2009

Nice Schecter!

garyguitar68garyguitar68 replied on November 13th, 2008

Thanx dennis. this lesson is really helping out.

garyguitar68garyguitar68 replied on November 6th, 2008

Eighth note rests are a bit tricky. Especially resting on the down stroke. Any suggestions?

garyguitar68garyguitar68 replied on November 6th, 2008

I'm not really a metal player. But this lesson on timing is a big help. Thanx

hussarukhussaruk replied on October 26th, 2008

I love your attitude mate! "Try and be better than me" lol I wish I had a 20th of your talent!!

njlajknjlajk replied on October 22nd, 2008

Hey Dennis, this is a killer lesson. I wish I had this lesson when I first started learning guitar, but now is better than never.

Metal with Dennis

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Get ready to rock in this metal lesson series with Dennis Hodges. From 80's Metal to modern Dennis loves it all.

Lesson 1

Basics of Metal

Dennis covers important guitar basics such as note names and technical exercises.

Length: 33:00 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 2

Power Chords and Rhythm

Dennis introduces power chords and basic rhythm concepts. Both subjects are very important to the metal genre.

Length: 22:00 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

Essential Techniques 1

Learn a variety of essential techniques commonly used in the metal genre, including palm muting, string slides, and chord slides.

Length: 36:52 Difficulty: 2.0 FREE
Lesson 4

Essential Techniques 2

Metal lesson 4 brings you some info on hammer-ons, pull-offs, trills, bending, and the infamous pinch harmonics.

Length: 45:25 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 5

Left Hand Overload

Dennis delivers left hand techniques and exercises, with topics including spider walking / riffing, octaves, stretching and 4 practice riffs.

Length: 62:36 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Rhythm and Timing

While using a metronome, Dennis covers essential techniques and exercises to obtain great rhythm and timing.

Length: 35:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

"Metal Poisoning"

Written just for JamPlay and his Metal series, this song will allow you to put all your techniques to use in a musical manner.

Length: 28:54 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 8

Time Signatures Part 1

In this lesson Dennis teaches the following common time signatures: 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, 9/8, and 12/8. Dennis explains each signature and provides a short example for illustration.

Length: 33:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 9

Time Signatures Part 2

This time around Dennis explains odd time signatures. Similar to Part 1, he uses a musical example to illustrate each new signature.

Length: 45:07 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 10

Rhythm Pt. 2

Dennis continues his metal series with part two of his look at rhythm and timing.

Length: 56:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 11

Right Hand Overload

This lesson is the long lost sibling to "Left Hand Overload."

Length: 52:11 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only

About Dennis Hodges View Full Biography For better or worse, Dennis Hodges cannot stop playing music, and (he hopes) will never stop playing music.

Growing up in Flint, Michigan, Dennis had a tremendous passion for drawing. He couldn't stop copying moves from bands he saw on MTV, though, and it didn't help that his parents filled the house with Santana, Stevie Ray, and Allman Bros. (on real records, no less!) so it wasn't long till he got his first guitar. It was junk. Within a few weeks his parents traded in a poor acoustic for a less junky 3/4-size electric.

Dennis started lessons right away at the age of 8. He still remembers hating it for awhile, and not taking it seriously until he was 12. He is thankful his parents forced him to practice early on and kept paying for lessons, even though rational thinking should have stopped them after a year.

Around this time drawing became less important, and guitar consumed all his attention. After 6 years of lessons he parted ways with his teacher and, after trying out two others with no results, decided to continue alone. His nerdistic tendencies paid off, as he put in hours working on picking and left hand exercises and learned as many Randy Rhoads and Kirk Hammett solos as he could.

Luckily, there were playing opportunities at school talent shows and church. Dennis was playing bass at his church when he was 13, helping to hone his performance skills in a group setting.

In high school, Dennis joined the marching band on sousaphone for all 4 years. It was as awesome as you could expect. He was also fortunate enough to be in several different metal bands, still play at church, and get the incredible opportunity to play guitar for many local community theaters. This kept his sight-reading in shape and gave him an appreciation for different styles of music (and paid pretty well, from a high schooler's perspective).

In 2001, Dennis came to Bexley, Ohio to study guitar at Capital University with Stan Smith. His studies emphasized jazz and classical guitar. Here his metal past merged with a deeper understanding of the instrument and music in general, and the basis for most of his teaching style was set in motion.

Dennis now plays guitar for Upper Arlington Lutheran Church every Sunday, for St. Christopher in Grandview, Ohio, with the youth group, and also plays for touring Broadway shows that stop in Columbus. Occasionally, he plays weddings and private parties, and he is starting a new cover band with some friends, called Dr. Awkward. He is blessed to have his understanding and supportive wife Kate, and is glad to be at JamPlay!

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