I'm playing for around 10 years now and I'm definitely not a beginner. Still, my intuitive understanding of new rhythms is very poor.

I can learn to play nearly every rhythm if I have enough time. This is a very analytical process like breaking everything down in small blocks, practice them super slow and connect them.

Even this works it's not a useful approach if someone shows you a new song and ask you to play a backing for a singer. It doesn't has to be perfect but it should catch the idea of the rhythm of the song. Very often I must respond with: Sorry, I have to practice this first.

Other musicians in my circle of acquaintances don't have this problem. They don't care a lot about the theory behind it, they just start playing and it sounds good. How do I reach this point? Of course I asked them but I never got a satisfying answer, they just do it without thinking about it.

I'm already doing a lot of these classic rhythm exercises like pyramid, shifting accents, syncopation, ... with a metronome. And of course this helps but this alone does not take me to point where I want to go.

Any tips?

  • Do you already have straight 8th notes and straight quarter notes down intuitively? How about running dotted 8th -> 16th note patterns?
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 3 at 20:20
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    Does this answer your question? Exercises to get beter at rhythm (piano). And numerous other questions on leaning rhythm.
    – PiedPiper
    Feb 3 at 20:26
  • Actually, how often have you done those sight reading clapping ear test exercises? They're standard fare in piano lessons or at least preparing for Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) exams. (They had me sight reading and clapping 8th-note triplets and regular 8th notes in the same exercise by Grade 10.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 3 at 20:28
  • @Dekkadeci Straight notes are not a problem. I have a bunch of dotted patterns in my repertoire but not very single possible one. If I encounter a new one most times I have to spent some hours to get it right.
    – flappix
    Feb 3 at 20:33
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    Note that "playing for 10 years" is not that much. It depends on how those 10 years were spent in studying and education. It would help to know how you approached playing, if you ever had any theory course (with/without teacher, in a class or individually), how your instrument training evolved along with the theoretical comprehension (and I don't mean about the "rules" and pure notions of music theory) and, not less important, at what age you started. Most of the times, this kind of problems are caused by inappropriate education in early years, failing to address primary elements of music » Feb 4 at 23:04

1 Answer 1


There are no shortcuts:

  • Practice sight reading rhythms. There are books and web sites available for sight reading practice.
  • Learn a lot of rhythms. Do a web search for something like "rhythms every drummer should know" and learn to strum the results on guitar. You’ll have to count and subdivide and use a metronome to get them right before you can just feel them.
  • Listen to a lot of music that has percussion and popular rhythms in it. The previous web search should also lead you to examples and names of rhythms to search for.

Be aware that if you don’t recognize a rhythm on the page you’ll have to sight read it to hear it and then get in the groove of it. Until or unless you can audiate a rhythm before you play (sight reading practice will help with this), you’ll have to get the groove from the first few times you play it and try to settle in as fast as possible.

  • Thanks for your answer but I'm not looking for shortcuts, I'm looking for a different (additional) approach. Like I said, I know multiple musicians which are not able to sight read at all nor do any rhythm exercise on a regular base but can still adapt rhythms super fast. So there has to be another way of doing this.
    – flappix
    Feb 4 at 12:44
  • @flappix Ok if you don’t like my answer that’s fine. I’m a guitarist who can just look at some chords and get the rhythm and play and sing and direct the rest of the band all at the same time and this is how I learned to do all that so I thought maybe it would help you. Have you tried asking these other people how they learned to do it? Feb 4 at 13:45
  • Yes, like I wrote in the initial post. They tell me something like "Dont think about it, dont count it, just feel it." Unfortunately I dont feel it.
    – flappix
    Feb 4 at 14:00
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    @flappix Part 2 of his answer is to learn patterns. Part 1, sight reading is not about memorizing, it is about reacting and having to play something you don’t know on the spot, which ultimately helps in recognizing and playing unfamiliar rhythms quickly. As for part 3, I would add transcribing things you haven’t played before. I would also suggest listening to and playing along with recordings you like. Since you don’t have the ability to do it without thinking about it like your acquaintances your best choice is to work hard to know exactly what you’re doing. Feb 4 at 20:28
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    @flappix ok, read it as "there are no magic ways." The more you practice as many rhythms as possible (with a metronome, preferably), the more those rhythms will be ingrained. Same as learning scales and arpeggios. Feb 6 at 15:32

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