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Watch the 12/8 Rhythm Trainer online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from 40 Day Rhythm SWAT Camp

If you can play a blues, funk, reggae, or swing-jazz shuffle, you’re familiar with 12/8 time. You may even understand the mechanics of 12/8—after all, it’s simply 4/4 time with threeeighth-notes per downbeat instead of just two. But do you have 12/8 truly nailed? One way to find out—and become more groove literate in the process—is to learn the Agbekor bell pattern. This must-know African rhythm shows up everywhere, including Cuban and Caribbean music, and in western pop, funk, and jazz.

First, make sure you can strum triplets solidly (Ex. 1). To get your body involved, put your guitar aside, tap your foot in familiar 4/4 time, and with each tap, say “tripuhlet,” evenly splitting each beat into three parts. Now, move your right hand as if you’re strumming each syllable. Notice that if you start the first triplet with a downstrum, the second must start with an upstrum, and so on. Finally, grab your guitar, choose a chord, and strum these triplets until you can handle 12/8 at a range of tempos.

Now you’re ready to bring out the accents that make up the Agbekor bell pattern (Ex. 2). Learning the rhythm is easy if you accent the syllables as follows: “tripuh-let tri-puh-let tri-puh-let tri-puh-let.”

The boldfaced syllables represent the bell hits, the others are the rests. To see how the bell pattern manifests in a James Brown-flavored funk shuffle, move on to Ex. 3. Stay in the pocket by keeping your strumming motion going at all times, and half-lifting your chords on the rests to mute the strings. Once you’ve got it down, try reversing your strumming order, which will give the rhythm a brand new feel. Remember, with African and African-derived music, the old adage is especially true: The notes you don’tplay are just as important as the ones you do.