Thursday, February 17, 2011

Counting While Playing...

I had a question from ExEurasian on You Tube the other day that I thought would be a good discussion...

"I've been playing for 3 years now and only just got a metronome. I never count when I play along to a song etc only because I just 'feel' as you said how long I've gotta play a part etc. I'm taking my drumming to uni this September should I start counting in my head before I start uni. Problem is I've tried on the last few practices I have and I can't concentrate on what I'm playing while counting at the same time unless it's a straight rock beat etc. Any help?"

What up...

The question you're asking is one that every drummer struggles with but hardly ever's what separates the pros from the weekend players. You hear drummers talk about 4 way independence...being able to play different things on different limbs at the same time. An absolute necessity if you play the drums. But all to often there's a fifth element that's left out...your brain (matter of fact, we tend to leave our brain out of alot of decisions in life, lol, or at least I do. I could save myself so much grief...).

Music is very much about feeling...being able to feel the mood of the song you're playing, feeling what the other musicians are saying and responding to that, feeling the different sections of the song, etc. That being said, far to often we forget that we do actually need to think while playing also.

I've been playing with a metronome since I started private lessons at the age of 15. My first teacher said it was a must, so I took his word for it...I also still play the same sticks he used, still view Pearl drums as the king in the drumming world (even though I've found other companies I like better), and I still think every cymbal should sound like a Zildjian K, lol. That tells you how much I thought of my first teacher (he was a beast!). Anyways, it got to a point with the metronome that I was like you...I no longer really needed to count within the song, I could just feel it. Which is a great place to be at. That being said, it caused me problems when I went to college. I was essentially at the same place you are.

When you get into college, you'll be learning a HUGE amount of new knowledge and you'll be playing in a ton of different ensembles and groups...most of which will be based off of charts you'll be reading from. Let me say this once, and hopefully everyone will listen...


Sorry, didn't mean to yell...but it's true...and it took me many years and many hours of painful rehearsing to realize I'm just trying to save you some grief.

Here's how I approached songs in college while learning this skill...

1. Listen to the song if at all possible (even if it's a different recording or version than the one you're playing).

2. Learn it well enough to be able to sing the parts to yourself.

3. Now sit down with the chart and read through it without the drums. sing the hits, count the sections, break down the unison parts, figure out where the hits start and end (what count, etc) other words, dissect the song. Circle the parts that require more counting.

4. Take it to the drums. Start with the them first. Once you have them learned, start counting the whole time you're you said, it's hard and you won't be able to do it if you've never done it before...patience is the key.

5. Go to all of the areas and sections that you circled. Count them slowly, play them slowly, count, play, count play get the point.

6. Put the grooves with the circled areas and play one section at the time, counting while you do so.

7. Play the whole chart, counting, until you have it up to speed.

This seems like a long, drawn out process, but it is actually easier and shorter than trying to stumble through the chart and just "feel" the hits and sections. This is a skill that you HAVE to learn (sorry, no easy way out, lol!).

Eventually, you'll find that you're doing a mixture of your current habits and your newly learned ones. I typically count at the top of a song, but once I'm into the groove, I go on my "feel" instincts...when a unison part, hits, or a change in sections is coming up, my counter starts...once I make that transition, I'm back to opening my mind and listening to what's going on around me and responding. It's alot like driving through construction on the interstate...when you're out on the open road, you're on autopilot, but when you come up on a section of road that has closed lanes or people working around you, you automatically go into "think" mode and watch what's going on more carefully. You'll learn how to integrate the thinking part of your playing with the "feeling" part. That's what the drummers at the top of their game do.

University is the perfect time to learn this's a learning environment, take advantage of'll never have another time like University. You'll feel like you're taking all of the soul out of your playing, but once you learn it, you'll find the soul creeping in and working with your brain...which is where you need to be.

Hope that answered your question...I really appreciate you hitting me up. Means alot to me that you would want my opinion on the matter.

Cheers and good luck at uni!



Mike De Simone said...

Counting out loud is still the most effective method for learning to play figures. An effective method for learning to keep your place in a chart is to learn song forms and you can only do this by listening to music. What can really help you is to take the syncopation book that has the pages of repetitive figures. Instead of playing the figure four times, Play three bars of time and then play the figure in the fourth bar. Doing this over and over will establish the four bar phrase in your mind. Once you have the four bar phrase in your head, you will be better able to feel it.

Stephen said...

Couldn't have said it better my's imperative. Great counting exercise, btw!


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