I'm trying to practice a few songs on guitar, but am having a hard time mastering syncopated rhythms, unless the rhythm is relatively short or repeated. For example, the song "With Our Friend[s] Behind Us" by Woe Is Me starts off with a particularly tricky rhythm that I can't seem to figure out or play:

If you were playing the beginning of that song, how would you play it? Would you figure out the time signature, count off each bar in your head as you played, and just remember which counts had notes?

Sorry if you don't approve of the song, it's just an example of a rhythm I think is particularly tricky...

  • Wow, I somehow forgot to mention that I was playing GUITAR, but I don't know if that matters... though, that knowledge may have warranted more guitarist opinions. Sorry for leaving that out!!
    – Ampp3
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 14:57

4 Answers 4

  1. Break up the rhythm into simple parts, and practice them individually.

  2. Ramp up the tempo so you can eventually play each independent part at a high speed (faster than what you will eventually play with parts combined).

  3. Combine parts and keep the tempo down. If, at any point, you're struggling with a certain part, go back to step 2.

  4. Playing all parts, increase tempo until you achieve the desired speed.

Note: be creative. Try dotted rhythms, playing staccato, varying volume, tapping the rhythm on your lap and on tables, etc. Get the rhythm ingrained into your mind!

  • 4
    This answer is good enough that I don't think it makes sense for me to post a competing answer, and so I want to suggest adding a very important point: Counting is extremely helpful. Counting should be done out loud so that the mouth is actually moving. The count should include words for the smallest relevant beat division. And you can emphasize beats in the count to help with the rhythm. Like: one and two and three and four and. Commented Feb 4, 2017 at 17:00

The same way you should practice everything: slowly. Identify the fastest-moving elements (sixteenth notes, for instance) and focus on them first. Once you are comfortable, start integrating that pasage with the passages on either side of it. In other words: you shouldn't always do your practicing from start-to-finish of the piece, but rather take it apart. Always find a comfortable tempo for practicing. You can then increase the tempo to the performance speed you want. Time spent practicing too fast is usually time wasted...


I always learn the rhythm, melody, harmony before I play it. I don't count or look at the note durations. When I start playing the notes I just remember the way it should sound and my musical knowledge allows me to understand what I should do to archive this.

Another possible solution is to learn the rhythm at least at half the tempo or even slower to remember it. And if you can do it slowly, start increasing the tempo till you get to the original. I always learn solos and licks slowly to understand the fingering and etc. The same applies to rhythm.

I also advise you to first get the feel of the rhythm into your head.


While this question already has a good accepted answer, I feel like this is missing as an answer.

If I'm having difficulties with the rhythm (which can occur with syncopes), I will tap the rhythm. If it's a piano piece, I will tap the rhythm of both the left and the right hand, for that specific hand; so the relation of the rhythm between the hands is clear (thinking: left right left left right in your mind can help). Once you can do that easily and at a good pace, the actual playing gets a lot easier.

Start by doing this slowly and go faster the better you can do it. You can use a metronome in the background if desired.

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