Playing and Reading Eighth Note Rhythms

Posted on January 8, 2011


A few weeks back, I posted an article on reading music notation in the Bass Clef. I covered basic open strings and rhythms. This week I want to get back to those ideas and expand on rhythms a bit. In my opinion, being able to account for the smallest measurement of rhythm, whether playing or reading, in any measure will aid in solidifying your timing greatly. This week we will learn about 8th notes!

8th Notes 

When breaking a quarter note, 1 beat, in half we get 2 eighth notes. Where before with quarter notes we were able to fit 4 notes in a measure, we now can fit 8. A single 8th note looks like a quarter note except with a flag. Two or more 8th notes are barred. Eighth notes last for half a beat each. The first 8th note of the beat is referred to as the downbeat and the second is called the upbeat. If you tap your foot when you play notice that your foot has an up and down motion for each beat. These are your 8th notes. 

When teaching these examples to my students, I generally like to have them clap out the rhythms first before trying them on the bass. Here are the steps I use which are so useful in helping the rhythms come to life.  

1. Count out loud 1+2+3+4+ as you are clapping out each rhythm pattern. Clap where ever you would be starting a note. (Listed above each note is the beat it falls on, 1..2..3..4 or a + symbol. The numbers refer to the downbeat and the + is the upbeat. The + is pronounced as “an” or “and”.)

2. After clapping out loud and counting to the point where you feel comfortable, switch to counting in your head and continue clapping.

3. You should start to be able to hear and feel the rhythm at this point, it has come to life. Continue to clap but drop the counting.

I want you to get comfortable with just counting and feeling straight 8th notes at first. The next example has a full measure of 8th notes.

On the next example you will be playing on only the down beats and rest on the upbeats. Say and clap the rhythm here as well.

What goes down must come up. Or is it the other way around?

Either way, now try playing on only the upbeats and as before, count and clap at the same time.

In the next 3 examples I have mixed up the notes and rests. Like I said above, having the ability to account for the smallest measurement of rhythm in any measure will aid in tightening up your groove.








I hope you enjoy these exercises. The next lesson on rhythm will cover 16th notes and that is where the fun begins 🙂


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