John McGann

Rhythm Tune Up
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Guitarists are notorious for having less-than-stellar time—just ask a bassist or drummer. Working on rhythm chops may not seem as sexy as polishing your string bends or artificial harmonics, but it’s crucial: Without a solid grasp of rhythm, everything you play will sound jittery and unfocused. In this 50-minute DVD, guitarist and mandolinist John McGann presents a set of sensible and easy-to-execute exercises that will sharpen your rhythmic skills, regardless of your stylistic leanings.

The drills in Rhythm Tune Up all involve a metronome. McGann begins by showing you how to synchronize your tapping foot and picking hand, and then contrasts counting time in quarter-notes versus half-notes. The real fun begins when he turns the half-note metronome clicks into backbeats that fall on two and four, instead of one and three. As he ably demonstrates, marking time with backbeats opens the door to a grooving sense of rhythm.

McGann also explains how to count swing eighth-notes using triplet eighths; how to emphasize upbeats within 3/4 time to make it sound more fluid; ways to work with a 12/8 shuffle; how to decode the jig rhythms found in Celtic music; and how to feel funk sixteenth-notes. His practice technique of alternating between comped chords and picked melodic lines is intriguing, and his explanation of playing on, behind, or ahead of the beat is itself worth the price of admission. As a bonus, McGann shows us how to split a beat into five, six, seven, or eight sections and work creatively with these subdivisions.

Unlike many pros that appear uncomfortable when thrust in front of a camera and asked to explain their techniques, McGann comes across as relaxed and lucid. He has the uncommon ability to distill tricky concepts into easy-to-digest principles, and his playing on flat-top and Maccaferri-style guitars—as well as a perky F-style mandolin—is dynamic, toneful, and swinging. A two-camera setup offers simultaneous close-up and distance shots, and the audio is crystal clear. Rhythm Tune Up delivers on its promise. Mel Bay. —Andy Ellis