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Improve Your Groove with this Rhythm Subdivision Exercise

If you’re struggling to play rhythmic patterns that incorporate multiple rhythms, it’s time to improve your groove! I learned this subdivision exercise in college many years ago, and it helped me to build the “muscle” of dividing a pulse accurately in various musical ways.

Most of the rhythms people have a hard time with are “subdivisions,” meaning smaller than one beat. In order to play these rhythms accurately, you need to be able to feel different fractional divisions of the beat. The only way I know of to get this feel is to do it over and over! And this exercise is a great starting point for your practice.

The basic exercise is as follows:
Turn on a metronome, quarter note = 60 beats per minute.
On an open string, play a bar of eighth notes (2 notes per beat), a bar of eighth note triplets (3 notes per beat), a bar of 16th notes (4 notes per beat), then back to triplets for a bar, and then back to eighth notes.
Each subdivision should be EVENLY dividing the beat into however many components.

– Spend less time on each subdivision. Switching faster makes it harder
– Subdivide all the way from 16ths to pentuplets, sextuplets, septuplets, and 32nd notes. This is about as far as beats are ever subdivided in the music most of us listen to, so if you can nail this version of the exercise you’re doing great.
– Try adding some notes instead of just playing an open string. This might help you contextualize what you learn more easily

Have fun!