Ever have trouble with a rhythm?

Clap it.

Clapping takes the tiny, complicated movements involved in playing the guitar out of the equation. The big movements of clapping are easily accomplished, and it’s a great way to get the rhythm in your ear really quickly.

In fact, I’d say that we would all benefit from more rhythm studies with just clapping. One of the core parts of an undergraduate music program is an ear training course. In addition to all of the listening/transcribing stuff, these courses include a lot of singing and a lot of clapping. We had an entire book with just rhythms. Some were in two lines (one for each hand). Others were just single lines, and some were even three lines (two hands and a foot).

Accurate rhythmic reading is one of the most important parts of sight reading (and every day playing), so it’s worth spending some time on. Fortunately, you don’t have to buy a book. There’s a great website that automatically generates rhythms in various meters: Practice Sight Reading. Try spending some practice time just clapping (easily done for five minutes during a lunch break) and see what happens.

Anyone else clap rhythms?

Posted on in Classical Guitar Practice Tips


  • @brismith1966

    I’ve found clapping to be an effective tool. I’m fairly rhythmically challenged to begin with, and I find clapping helps me figure out timings. I’m using it right now for a piece with a measure that goes (4/4 time) 1/8 1/8 triplet 1/8 1/8 triplet. Driving me crazy. But clapping is helping. Thanks for the tip.

  • Kurt

    I definitely clap rhythms when I come to a rhythmic part that’s difficult for me, and I always try to get my students to do the same…

    I remember I was once working with a student on a difficult rhythm part (I think it was a bossa-nova tune) for almost our entire lesson, and when she came back the next week, she still had problems with it. then had her clap out the troublespot with me for about 10 minutes. At first she was reluctant, but once she got going and she had the rhythm in her ear, she was able to play it correctly.

    Clapping: Thank God for hands!

    • Dick Carlson
      Dick Carlson


      I think that’s a great approach, and I think you’re absolutely right. Interesting you said your student was a bit apprehensive or uncertain about trying it. I’m curious how you got her to try it despite her apprehension, and how do you encourage your students to do it in general?
      I’ve been doing much more of it now for practice and because I find it fun!

  • Charles Consaul

    We take it one step further in my classroom:
    Whole note = Clap pump down, pump down, pump down (hands closed)
    Half note = Clap Pump down
    Quarter Note = clap
    Eighth Note = Clap at the fingers
    Sixteenth Note = Brush along the fingers back and forth
    Dotted Half Note = Clap Pump down, pump out
    Dotted Quarter = Clap, Pump out

    Whole Rest, Push hands out, pulse out, pulse out, pulse out
    Half Rest, Push hands out, Pulse out
    Quarter rest, Push hands out (we call these standing pushups)
    Eighth rest, Pulse, Pulse, Pulse, Pulse,
    Dotted Half Rest, Push hand out, pulse out, pulse up
    Dotted Quarter rest, Push Hands out, Pulse up

    We also use many mnemonic devices (memory aides) to reinforce rhythms:
    but I am pretty sure that most people do that
    Quarter, eight eight, Quarter, Quarter – Shave and a Hair-cut
    Dotted Quarter, Eight, Quarter Quarter – Boom, You Got It!
    Eight Eight Eight Eight, Quarter Quarter – Pea-nut But-ter Sand-wich (Not everyone likes Pepperoni Pizza)
    Eight, Quarter, Eight, Quarter Quarter – I’ve Got A Secret!

    always looking for more. Do you have any favorites?

  • Dick C

    Thanks for this post! I just discovered it and really agree with it. People don’t realize how important it is to study rhythm. Clapping is vital and is its own instrument.
    I once read about a teacher that incorporated it into his lessons and had his students use their hands as instruments. They not only clapped particularly difficult rhythms but also clapped with dynamics and learned about musicianship.
    I think it would be fun to take a little time with a student and not just sightread but also do some improvizational and call and response kinds of things involving rhythm and clapping.
    Anyone do this now?

    • Dick Carlson
      Dick Carlson

      Hi Dick, Thanks for posting this particular comment. I think what you’ve said is really cool. Clapping hands as an instrument, huh? That would be something I would really like to do and benefit from doing with someone. Do you know where it was you read about this teacher?
      Dick Carlson