How to Tell if Your Rhythm Sucks (The Yardstick of Groove & Time)

Get Your Groove and Time Right

I wasn’t one of those people just naturally born with great rhythm.

Like Steve Martin’s character in the movie The Jerk , I had the gusto, but seemed to lack rhythmic DNA! :joy:

I had a HARD time learning tricky rhythms .

I thought the ability to groove was some mystical magic sauce,

SOME people were born with it, and SOME (like me) weren’t. :disappointed:

What a relief when I learned that GROOVE & TIME are actually mathematically quantifiable subjects that can be:

:small_blue_diamond: Understood

:small_blue_diamond: Practiced

:small_blue_diamond: Mastered

Learning how to visualize and count the beats and subdivisions was one of the BIG KEYS to my growth, and no tool was as helpful for me in this effort as:

The Yardstick of Groove and Time.

Most commonly, we play music that is divided into 4 beats (which we call 4/4, or common time .) This is easy enough to count, “ONE, two, three, four, ONE, two, three, four, ONE, two, three, four…”

The idea of The Yardstick of Groove and Time, is to give us a picture of how a bar of music is divided using the analogy of a ruler (with imperial measurements, like we use in the states :wink:)

Just like one inch is divided into 1/4th’s, 8th’s, and 16th’s, so one bar of music is divided into 1/4 notes, 8th notes, and 16th notes.

8th notes are EXACTLY halfway between the quarter notes.

:bulb: Note: not some mystical or magical distance. EXACTLY HALF WAY!

Counting them is easy if we just say the word “and” between each number, “ONE and two and three and four and , ONE and two and three and four and …”

The DOWNBEATS are where we say the NUMBERS

The UPBEATS are where we say the “AND’s”

Make sense? Not too hard, right? Let’s take the same principle to the next level:

16th notes are EXACTLY HALFWAY between t he 8th notes .

The 16th notes are where, for those of us who are rhythmically challenged, we get lost in the quagmire.

BUT if you look at the graphic, it makes it a lot easier to visualize what’s going on. And understanding it helps a lot on the journey to being able to play it.

:arrow_right: The beats immediately after each downbeat are called “ee”.

:arrow_right: The beats after the upbeats, just before the next downbeat

are called “ah.

This is how we count sixteenth notes:

“One ee and ah, Two ee and ah, Three ee and ah, Four ee and ah

One ee and ah, Two ee and ah, Three ee and ah, Four ee and ah…”

Confusing the heck out of you? Check out my short video.

Want more? Check out who I learned it from, the bass masters Anthony Wellington and Victor Wooten, as they explain it in this excerpt from the Groove Workshop.

Discovering the yardstick of the groove helped me develop from feeling like Steve Martin’s character in the movie The Jerk , to being told by pro musicians that I have a great sense of time. I hope it also helps you on your journey to groovin’ hard!


I read this a while back when you first posted it and have thought about it several times since.

I find one of my biggest challenges is keeping a constant beat. Since mostly I “play with myself” :see_no_evil:, when I’m harpin’, it really doesn’t make much of a difference (that came out a little strange, if you take it the wrong way :joy:).

But, to try and play along with songs, or with others is a challenge. I love the way you break rhythm down in this post, now I just gotta practice, and probably break down and iluse a metronome, which somehow seems like putting on a strait jacket to play :flushed:.

Great advice from our fearless leader @Luke, as usual :wink::+1:


@Luke Oh, no question about it!! My rhythm truly sucks! :rofl: But is getting better!

I’ve been getting my butt kicked by the Mannish Boy-ish riff! It seems that when I get the rhythm right, I tend to screw up the breathing and notes. And when I get the notes right, I completely screw up the rhythm. I had to slow down even the slow video to work through it. After a couple hours, it’s gotten much, much easier and actually do-able, as long as I just play and don’t think about it too much! HAHA!

Lately, whenever I read your forum posts, it feels like they were written just for me to address exactly what I’m struggling with in the video lessons! Much appreciated!


@HarpinBobbyMcB kinda like a straight jacket except a a straight jacket confines you, working with a metronome will ultimately give you rhythmic FREEDOM!

@pnicholas1967 - you hit the nail on the head: GO SLOW. THAT’S the SECRET!!!


A Strait Jacket or a Swaddle?

Well @Luke, I finally bit the bullet and put on the strait jacket to go through my scales on the piano :musical_keyboard: this morning and I found that it’s a lot like “swaddling” a baby (something you’ve probably have had some experience with lately :baby: ).

After screaming and kicking a bit because of the restraint, I found it to be very comforting whenever I could get in the “Pocket” and keep the beat as I went up and down.

Now it’s just practice, practice, and then…

Some more practice, till I get to RHYTHMIC FREEDOM :sunglasses: :notes:

I’m on my way… :wink:

Thanks bro, you ROCK!


HA! You KNOW it brother! I agree it is like a swaddle. It feels goooood once you’re rocking in the pocket. Good on you for going for this. REMEMBER: hang back on that click baby. Try and play after the start of the click but before it’s disappeared altogether - THAT’S the pocket.