As we all know one of the most important skills a drummer must have is great timing. However there is distinction between good timing and being able to play well with a metronome.
As a matter of fact, having a good sense of time doesn’t automatically mean being comfortable using a metronome: that’s an external electronic device, that has perfect time, and we do not, no matter how experienced we are.
This is crucial to understand, because since today almost all music is played with some sort of external source providing the tempo, we need to learn to sound good within the boundaries of a metronomic pulse.
There’s a simple rule to master this: even though we know we are imperfect we have to take charge of the beat and lead, and play, as if it’s the metronome listening to us and not the other way around.
The goal is to develop an accurate inner feedback mechanism so that we can make micro corrections anytime we slightly deviate from the click. Corrections which are not audible to the listener, and are so small that they don’t compromise the feel. By doing that, everything sounds perfect, even if it’s not.
There are countless exercises that can help you get to this point. Here I’d like to show you an unusual approach that I’ve seen work wonders for many students.
There’s a strategy that over the years I’ve found to be very useful when trying to improve any skill. And that is to practice the extremes.
When you do something in its most difficult versions, then the normal ones become naturally more accessible.
So today we are going to see a couple of powerful studies which will make playing with a metronome completely effortless. They are something you probably never did and they are not only effective but also lots of fun to play.
Here is the YouTube Video Demo, an excerpt from a live seminar during which I played them:
– 1 – In the first one we re going to work on extreme bpm speeds. We are going to practice with the metronome set at 30 bpm and then 300 bpm.
It’s interesting how we can decide to assign different note values to the clicks we hear. We can think of the 30 beats per minute pulse rate as:
– A half note (2/4). In this case we are going to be playing at 60 bpm.
– A whole note (4/4). In this second case we are going to be playing at 120 bpm, with the metronome only at the beginning of each measure, which is quite challenging.
Playing at very fast tempos is a completely different game. But we can use the same approach. Only in this case it’s useful to perceive the click sound as subdivisions, so that we can relate to faster tempos as if they were a lot slower. At 300 bpm we can think of each audible beat as:
– An eighth note. Then our ideas and phrasing can be played as if the tempo was 150 bpm (300 : 2).
– A sixteenth note. In this case the tempo we hear is 75 bpm (300 : 4).
– 2 – In the second exercise we work on extreme approaches to the same bpm. We set the metronome to 90 bpm and we focus on hearing it in different ways:
– As eighth notes. In this case we are going to be playing at 45 bpm.
– As quarter notes.
– As half notes. In this case we are going to be playing at 180 bpm.
The challenge here is to set a song structure, and go through it playing the different versions without interruptions.
For instance in the video demo I play 4 bars of each note value.
For best results it’s good to improvise and experiment with grooves and fills until we feel completely comfortable. Spend 10 minutes every day on each study, without trying to be perfect. Just relax, have fun and focus on groove and feel.
These examples are also a great way to learn how to reinforce your inner pulse and not rely so much on an external source of the beat.
Great timing isn’t about perfection, it’s mostly about confidence about where the beat is. And if you provide a pulse with certainty, and you don’t get lost in trying to sound perfect, you will be also automatically concentrating on the music.
To wrap this up, after you’ve done your homework, just keep this in mind: focus a lot more on the feel of the song than on timing, and your timing will be ok.
For more of this kind of exercises and concepts you can check this out: