How To Practice Properly: Timing Part 1

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Metronomes: The dreaded, soulless, torture devices inflicted upon musicians in order to make them march in line like teenagers into the cookie cutter, just like a Pink Floyd video. Well I am here to tell you if you wanna be a really tight musician, and be awesome at your instrument you are going to need to start playing to some sort of time keeper. Whether you are a Singer, Guitarist, Flutist, or Drummer, this article applies to you and your practicing habits. In this series I am going to tell you how to make playing in time fun, how to do it on the cheap, as well as why you must practice with a Time Keeper.


What Is A Time Keeper?
  • A Metronome
  • A Drum Machine/Groove Box
  • Loops From A Sampler Or A DAW(Garageband/Pro Tools/Fruity Loops)
  • A Drummer(Our Least Trusted Method)

Why You Need To Play To A Time Keeper ?

As a Record Producer everyday I watch musicians of all ages come into the studio and have their performances dissected under the microscope of the studio environment. There is a common trend I see:
1. If the musician is used to playing to a sloppy drummer 9 times out of 10 he is going to be pretty sloppy.
2. If the musician is used to writing songs at home and playing to something like garageband loop in his computer he is tight as can be.
3. Sometimes we do find musicians who are sloppy who play with really tight drummers, but once we show them a few simple tricks we can usually get them playing much tighter FAST!
Why Playing To A Time Keeper Matters
Most of us were not born with rhythm, it is something we need to practice and learn. Whether you play in The New York Philharmonic , The Decemberists or Lamb Of God , playing in time is one of the things that make a great band, great. The power a Chopin piece has played by a sloppy high school band and a palm muted Mars Volta song have all comes from everyone playing in sync with each other. If you want to rise to be the cream of the crop you need to make sure your time base is solid.
You Have To Learn To Walk Before You Can Run
Bands often come into the studio wanting to play live to get a natural feel. The one thing many of them forget is you need to get your sea legs first. Any band that sounds great on a record playing without a Time Keeper, actually can play really tight to a Time Keeper. They have graduated past the need to still use the Time Keeper, they can now walk on their own without the crutch of the Time Keeper. Now just cause you don’t need the crutch does not mean you still may not want to use it for what it is good for: An absolute reference of the tempo of a piece of music.
In the next part we will cover how you can make using a Time Keeper fun and ways to incorporate it into your practice routine.

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.

  • jonathan

    I had a piano teacher years back who slowed the tempo of the metronome by half for me in our sessions. You train your ears to hear the ticks on beats 2 & 4 and this gives you the stability of a solid time keeper while playing in the pocket.
    If it feels awkward at first, start counting aloud with the ticks: “…2…4…2…4″. Verbally start adding beats 1 & 3 between the clicks and begin playing along with the pseudo snare and you’ll feel the groove in no time.
    I admit it took me some getting used to, but it’s really fun to jam to once you get the hang of it.
    Beware: You’re less cool if you perceive the ticks on beats 1 & 3. Steve Martin illustrates this for you in The Jerk. :-D
    Have Fun!

  • gv

    As a guitarist, bassist or drummer one easy way to tighten up is to practice alongside rock albums that use programmed drums. Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, and Ministry songs are simple to learn. If you’re on guitar and that type of repetition is too boring for you, sequence drums to tighten up on your own songs. Even if it’s just simple MIDI patterns you’re playing to, you’ll still improve on your consistency a great deal. If you’re a vocalist, sing along to any “Top 40″ Pop, Pop-Alternative or Pop-Country radio station any chance you get. The songs are almost always programmed or set to click tracks, and whether you actually like the crap or not, you’ll still be increasing your ability to perform in a wider variety of keys and vocal techniques than if you were only practicing your own songs.

  • Anonymous

    execelent article…
    where is part 2?