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3 Quick Ways to Master Rhythm

Clicking fingers

Feeling wishy-washy about rhythm? Here is your fix.

If you are weak in the rhythm department, don’t get embarrassed and hide behind a tree.

As a singer, you do a whole lot of things that don’t require advanced rhythmic skill, like talk to the audience, memorize lyrics perfectly and emote authentically to name a few.

On your journey as an artist, however, there comes a time when you must deliberately train yourself in rhythm, tempo, counting and groove.

1. Develop your internal sense of time

Internal time is knowing exactly where the beat is – no matter what else is going on.

Joey Elkins, a prolific contributor to VoiceCouncil.com teaches a powerful metronome exercise to help singers develop their sense of internal time.

The exercise begins by tapping along to your metronome. Once you are totally in sync with your metronome, you mute it for moment, then un-mute it.

Developing your internal sense of time takes some time, so don’t feel discouraged

When the click returns, your goal is to be exactly in sync. Don’t turn it off, that won’t work. The metronome must still be keeping time during the silence.

To challenge yourself, make the period of silence longer and longer. See if you can stay perfectly in sync with the beat even when the metronome is silent.

Developing your internal sense of time takes some time, so don’t feel discouraged. Plan to practice this quick exercise several times a week.

You will most definitely increase your skill, and you’ll know immediately when you succeed.

2. Master your count-ins

If you have ever felt stressed out about counting in your band, Daniel Borch’s lesson on count-ins is for you.

“A count-in, is so much more than just a way to tell everyone when to start,” says Borch, “A good count-in should exemplify the whole groove of the song, and build excitement.”

Borch explains five steps to good count-ins. First, he says you must learn to feel and internalize the rhythmic aspects of your song.

Then, you figure out the tempo by playing a recording of your song while you set a metronome to match the tempo.

Thirdly, turn off the recording and try singing and vocalizing your song’s groove with only the click of the metronome.

“To sing your groove,” Says Borch, “you might sing a part of the melody, make some noises like “duh uh duh uh” or you might do a little amateur beat boxing.”

Once you can do that, then you are ready to add numbers while still feeling your groove. Once you have mastered these steps, the last step is to bring your metronome to your rehearsal or performance, get your tempo, quiet your mind and count in like a pro.

3. Use the front edge and back edge of the beat

There’s a difference between singing on the front end of the beat and simply speeding up

An important way to develop rhythmic skill is to sing on the front edge and the back edge of the beat.

“Remember there’s a difference between singing on the front end of the beat and simply speeding up,” says Elkins.

In other words, when you are playing around with placing your vocal syllables on the front or back of the beat, you must be consistent and stay in touch with the beat.

Singing on the front edge creates energy and tension, while singing on the back edge creates attitude, like in these examples.

Any time you practice singing on the front or back edge of the beat, you must also practice singing precisely on the beat as well – this way you are fully in control of the style and attitude you want to convey.

Rhythm is a learnable skill

Not everyone needs the same amount of practice on rhythm – it comes easier to some than others.

But the great news is, even if you weren’t born with amazing rhythm, there are ways to develop yourself. Don’t let weak rhythmic skill hold you back! Get on with your practice and become a master of rhythm.

  • Kathy, great article. I like your points. Another thing that is helpful in regards to #1 above, is point out to singing students that it is a great idea to stop feeling quarter notes and stop counting quarter notes, 1,2,3,4… And start counting 8ths, 1&2&3&4&… The simple act of counting 8ths, introduces singers to feeling basic syncopation, back beat, accents and frankly a pinch of groove. There literally is no syncopation to be felt by counting only quarters. Arguably no groove in counting only quarters.

    Admittedly, counting 8ths is also super basic, it often is all a singer needs to open the door to feeling a groove and thus having more rhythm in their singing.

    Here is a video I did where I analyzed some elements of my performance of the 70s classic, “Brandy” by Looking Glass. One reason “Brandy” is a great song to work on with your students is precisely because it has a strong 8th note upbeat.

    The Lesson:

    The Performance:

    Ok, I rocked it up a bit… it’s fun to sing.


  • Kathy Coneys Alexander

    Hi Robert, Thanks for adding in your thoughts on this. Yes! Beat subdivision is a great way to unpack a syncopated or complex rhythm. It is a very logical next step after those listed here. Kathy