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Understanding Subdivisions

Updated: 3 days ago

As a guitarist, developing a solid sense of rhythm is essential for musical prowess.

One key aspect of mastering rhythm is understanding subdivisions.

In this article, we will explore the concept of subdivisions, breaking down their importance and providing practical tips for incorporating them into your playing. The subjects will be as follows:

What Are Subdivisions?

Firstly when we are trying to understand what are subdivisions we should look at the definition of them within the context of music. Subdivisions are how we divide any given beat into smaller beats, but typically in divisions of half of the previous beat. For example: Example 1

Understanding Subdivisions - Picture 1 | Grokit Guitar
Understanding Subdivisions - Picture 1 | Grokit Guitar

Here we have an example of all the commonly used beats being divided in a 4/4 bar.

As you can see each beat gets evenly divided into half its value. allowing for more beats to occur in a bar at a faster rate.

Importantly: Each of these beats has a set duration, this is important to note because it can affect your accuracy as a musician.

Learning how to subdivide the beat is a crucial skill but don't worry this article will guide you in how to do so.

Let's break down the diagram above in the next section

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Understanding The Basics Of Subdivisions

When understanding the basics of subdivisions we have to assume that you understand how time signatures and measures work.

If you do not, now is a good time to look up the article based on that. With that out of the way let's use our example in Example 1.

If we take this 4/4 bar of just quarter notes we can subdivide these equally in half giving the resulting 8th notes in Example 2.

Understanding Subdivisions - Picture 2 | Grokit Guitar
Understanding Subdivisions - Picture 2 | Grokit Guitar

You can always go further with subdivisions lets do that again with the 8th note example and show what it looks like in Example 3 where we take the 8th notes and subdivide again into 16th notes.

Understanding Subdivisions - Picture 3 | Grokit Guitar
Understanding Subdivisions - Picture 3 | Grokit Guitar

We can call these simple subdivisions.

There is the existence of compound subdivisions which exist in more different type signatures such as 6/8 which forces the beats to be subdivided into three equal parts generating that triple feel.


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Example 4

Understanding Subdivisions - Picture 4 | Grokit Guitar
Understanding Subdivisions - Picture 4 | Grokit Guitar

If we take a standard bar of 6/8 and subdivide it further we get 3, 16th notes per beat of the bar.

We need to get used to these different types of subdivisions because it can help us develop a bigger rhythmic vocabulary.

When learning subdivisions its very important to understand....

How Subdivisions Affect Accuracy And Timing

One of the biggest tools in a musicians arsenal is timing! Having good timing is mastering control over your subdivisions. at first when you are made aware of subdivisions it can be quite overwhelming with having to tap your foot, divide the beat and stay connected to the music. I would say that over time of simple practices that you can do later in this article it can be helpful to break things down.

Learning how to subdivide properly affects your sound drastically.

If you are not dividing things equally or holding each note for its intended duration, it can sound like if you are mumbling your words when you speak. Making your notes unintelligible.

I always say that its better to be able to make mistakes like that on purpose than constantly making them from misunderstanding how to do it correctly.

Subdivisions can also lead onto more complex rhythmic patterns which help with locking into a band when you strum, do arpeggios and adding spice to your playing in general.

The better you get at subdividing the more command you have over adding depth to your rhtymic vocabulary.

This also helps easing into other genres much faster due to having a basis of understanding that can be shared from one genre to the other.

Practical Ways To Improve Your Subdivision Accuracy

AS mentioned earlier it can be tough getting used to how to subdivide accuratley, thats why in this section of the article we will be going through some tips on how to gradually improve your "timefeel" aswell as your understanding of subdivding with your guitar.

Lets start with the most effective tip. working with a metronome.

Working with a metronome is a key ingredient to fixing your subdivisions.

follow these steps with me:

  • Get a comfortable speed to practice too in the region of 80 bpms to 100

  • Practice the easy ones first with the quater notes. " 1 2 3 4 etc"

  • Then try to subdivide it half at the same tempo adding the 8th notes. " 1 an 2 an 3 an 4 an

  • Then again into 16ths. "1 e an a 2 e an a 3 e an a 4 e an a"

  • Then change to your 8th note triplets. "tri- per - let"

When you get comfortable with this at the tempo you set, going slower is more of a challenge than going faster. The reason for this is going faster becomes more of a physical endeavour where as going slower is more of an excersize in concentration and stretching your time feel. Another approach is to clap without the guitar and emphasize with moving your body to the beat to really feel the change in subdivision whilst keeping a steady pulse. By that I mean your foot and body should be really feeling the down beat and your hands should be clapping your subdivision. These are good ways to internalise your subdivisions.

By understanding and mastering subdivisions they are a key milestone in your journey as a guitarist.

By incorporating these rhythmic nuances into your playing, you'll not only enhance your technical skills but also bring depth and expressiveness to your musical performances.

So, pick up your guitar, set the metronome, and embark on a rhythmic adventure that will elevate your playing to new heights. I hope this article has been of some use and an insight into understanding subdivisions.

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