The Four 8th – Note Rhythm Permutations On 1 Beat
This lesson is inspired by experiences with students, who were struggling to understand how to read or perform rhythms with 8th notes.
The term “8th note” refers to rhythm. An 8th note is a note that lasts for 1/8th of a measure.
Build upon the idea that music is written with 4 beats in a bar, an 8th note is theoretically defined as “a note that lasts half a beat”.
In other words: two 8th note durations fill up the space/time of 1 beat.
Translating all this theoretical knowledge to strumming: when your strumming arm moves twice per beat, you are strumming in 8th notes. (Every individual arm motion is half a beat, 2 arm motions are 1 beat)
Mathematically: you can really only have 4 possible 8th note (arm motion) combinations on 1 beat.
- hit miss (this is a quarter note)
- miss miss (this is a quarter rest)
- hit hit (two 8th notes)
- miss hit (8th rest and 8th note)
This is how those 4 options look like in music notation:
When you can strum each of these above 1-beat long events, that is all you need to know to be able to strum ANY rhythm with 8th notes. (not including rhythms with ties)
A measure is just a string of 4 beats: on each one of the 4 beats, you can play one of the above 4 combinations.
In 4/4, this gives you 256 different 1 bar rhythms that are possible.
- hit miss hit miss hit miss hit miss
- hit hit hit miss hit miss hit miss
- miss hit miss hit miss hit miss hit
This is the reggae rhythm
- hit hit hit hit hit hit hit hit
You basically hit on every arm motion in the measure.
You get the idea: when you think of each individual beat as a space that you can fill up with 1 of the above 4 options (hit hit, miss miss, hit miss, miss hit), and you approach reading rhythms on a beat-by-beat basis, your ability to sight-read 8th note rhythms will greatly improve.
Practice each of the four 1-beat (2 arm motion) options individually, then start stringing them together into 4-beat measures.
Here are some more rhythms. Each bar is 1 reading exercise.
You can download them here:
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