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Sixteenth notes and West African Rhythm

Time to talk about 16th notes. I’m surprised that I haven’t brought this up before.


Sixteenth notes are simply 4 notes played evenly in the time of one beat. They look like this:


16th notes



And you count them like this:


16th note - counting



Tap your foot while counting this pattern out loud. The foot tap is on the beat: one tap for a single “1 ee and uh” sequence. This helps develop independence in your limbs, which helps your entire body feel the rhythm. Try alternating your feet while counting the sequence. This creates more independence.


Instead of tapping your feet, try tapping your hands on a table. Alternate hands and feet for even more fun.


Remember to keep the “1 ee and uh” counting even.



West African rhythm

Knowing how to count 16th notes is important for learning how to play the 16th note rhythms that are used in different styles. We’ll look at particular West African rhythm from Ghana. This is call Cinte.


16th note - west african

The “ee” in brackets indicates that the note that’s normally there isn’t played. Play the rhythm while counting “1 ee and uh”, but don’t play when you say “ee”. Once you can feel the rhythm, stop counting.


What you get (if you repeat the rhythm) is a galloping rhythm that you hear in metal tunes a lot (depending on the type of metal you’ve heard).


We can use this as the rhythmic basis for a riff or it can be a strumming rhythm. I like it best as the basis for a riff. Here’s one.


west african riff1


Make up your own riffs using this rhythm with notes from the scales you’ve learned. Continue using no more than five notes for any riff you make. But stay open to using more. There are always exceptions to rules.

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