It’s About Time
by Jeff Salem
Part 1 of 3
Greetings once again fellow drummers, in this month’s article I want to talk about working with a metronome. Have any one of you have been in situations like this before:
- The lead singer in the band turns around at you during a song and tells you “stop speeding up, slow it down, you’re racing the tune”.
- You’re the snare drummer in the school band and the band director counts off the song, right into the first few bars he or she is pointing at you to find the groove and pulse.
- You’re recording your first band demo and the recording engineer is getting impatient because you’re having a hard time locking in with a click track. The rest of the band is getting upset and your confidence level is gone.
- Somebody calls you for a gig and says you’re required to play to a click track all night, and you’re freaking out because you have never done that before.
Have any of you experienced these scenarios? Well be prepared because it’s an experience most of us will face. So how can we prepare ourselves to avoid these timing problems? We’ll let’s face it, we’re humans (not robots) and we don’t have perfect timing. However, we can work towards having good consistent timing. I have always felt that if you’re a good listener and have a great feel and sense of good timing, other musicians will love to play with you.
What would you think the greatest compliment to receive as a drummer would be? 1) You have great hands 2) Your feet are incredibly fast 3) I have never seen anybody do stick tricks like that 4) Your independence is incredible 5) You have an amazing sense of timing and feel. They are all flattering however the last one to me is the most effective. Remember our role as a drummer in a band, is not doing stick tricks. It’s to support the other musicians and make it all sound good.
So let’s start working on our timing. At this point in the article, if you don’t have a metronome, I say put down the magazine and head off to your nearest music store to BUY ONE.
There are many types to get. I would recommend one that allows you access to plug in a set of headphones so when playing on the drum set, volume won’t be an issue. I think it’s important to invest in one that will last. In 1981, my drum teacher told me to buy the Boss Dr. Beat. It was $120 back then and I still have it today. So don’t hold back on something that is really important throughout your learning process.
Most metronomes have a range from 40-208 or 250 beats per minute (B.P.M.). I also suggest getting one that allows you to increase the tempo in single units; example 40, 41 42, 43, 44, etc…Beats Per Minute.
Another suggestion is a drum machine. This opens up great possibilities with sounds and programming rhythmical patterns. I use a drum machine in my teaching studio.
This can be a frustrating process in the beginning which is why a good teacher is very helpful. First of all start at 60 (Beats Per Minute) 60 B.P.M. is a great number. Why? We can all relate to that, it is the same as 60 seconds in a minute. Everyday we are somehow exposed to thinking in this pulse. Whether it is playing sports with the clock counting down to the end of each period or even as a youngster playing hide and seek counting down from 10. You are relating that to seconds. Try looking at the minute hand of a clock in your house and set your metronome to 60 B.P.M. starting with the same movement of the second hand on the clock. It will sound the same as when the second hand moves on the clock.
Lets begin; Try playing a bar of whole, half, quarter and 8th notes on the snare as alternate sticking. A very simple rhythmic pattern. You just want to get comfortable with the pulse. Next try to increase it to 80, 100, 120 B.P.M. Now at 120 that is twice as fast as 60 beats. Again, a comfortable number which many popular pop/rock songs fall under this range of tempo. Next, try some simple beats getting comfortable with the pulse. Once you feel relaxed playing to the metronome, try adding some simple drums fills. Be careful here. This is usually when a drummer might speed up or slow down because you are breaking away from your consistent motion playing a groove to move around the drum set. Remember to be patient with this. This might take you a while to get comfortable. I always say once you are able to play a certain rhythmic pattern then apply it to a pulse. There is no point when you are working out the coordination of the pattern to try accomplishing two things at once. Playing it correctly then playing it in time with a metronome is a better learning process.
As a beginner, I would recommend daily practising at these above tempos. The difference of 20 B.P.M. is quite obvious when playing. Now let’s try various tempos in between. You want to be comfortable playing at all tempos because music isn’t just the same tempo.
Now try tempos like 70, 90,110,130, etc… B.P.M. As you can see, we are breaking down all the number possibilities. Try playing every day a certain exercise at various tempos for 5 minutes. See if you can feel the difference of a beat at 116 B.P.M. to 112B.P.M.. It might not sound much different without any music accompanying you, but wait until we relate this to songs. It’s a huge difference.
In next month’s article, we will talk about the advantages of practicing at very slow and fast tempos as well as exercises to be comfortable at these tempos.