As we start learning to play music, it is imperative to learn proper rhythm to not only know the timing of notes inside and out, but how to count them! New students for classical guitar focus so much on the notes and trying to get a piece down, and play it from start to finish, they tend to sacrifice the rhythm and lose track of the count. This is especially true if the student comes from another instrument or guitar style that didn’t focus so much on timing, but rather intuitive feel of the music. A more relaxed go with the flow approach. As a beginner, you start with simpler rhythms, you understand the concepts of timing and simple counting which are easily applied to beginner pieces. With this perceived ease of music that is presented early on, the student just goes for it without focusing on counting. This is especially true with younger kids, but not necessarily limited to age. Without the careful discipline from the beginning, dotted rhythms, or more complicated rhythm patterns, triplets and such will become barriers to playing beautiful music.
Any respectable teacher will tell their students to count the notes, but not many will go through phrases of music with the student, counting the music out away from the instrument. Unless the student is taught how to do this, to feel comfortable how to do this properly, there is no way that they will be able to implement an accurate count of the rhythm when they practice. They will go by memory from their class work, and get the feel. More times than not, their feel will be off and it will lead to timing errors.
Many of my teachers tell their students to slow down the practice, or as Jason Vieaux adds, ‘pare down’ the size of work you are practicing, usually, we assume it’s to facilitate the technical fingerings. We must also do this with our counting. Pare down the sections and count them out slowly so as to understand the timings properly. When a section is pared down and slowed down enough, you will be able to focus on the timing without compromising your technique. Then you can build up your speed with technique with a solid foundation of the rhythm and play your music expressively and in time with good technique and relaxation. Take some time away from your instrument, clap the rhythm slowly, sing or voice the rhythm as you go before you even start to practice the piece on your instrument. Remember, reading music, playing and counting at the same time is difficult! Especially when there are mixed note values, complicated rhythms with dotted notes, arpeggios and fast scale passages. When a student is having troubles playing a piece, to make it easier, they will usually forgo the counting to focus on the playing. The modus operandi for this situation, “Pare Down, Slow Down and Count!” If you can’t count it, you are either doing too much at once, or going too fast. Once you can count it carefully, and you begin to speed up and maintain the rhythm with counting, then you can internalize the piece and fully express the pulse and flow of the music, but never lose site of the rhythm or get too far removed from the counting!