Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Keeping Consistent Time

Had a question come in about keeping consistent time. GREAT topic.

"Dear Stephen
I want to know what is a good exercise in working on keeping a consistent tempo to music?

Not keeping a consistent tempo with the music really bugs me like an insane amount, I used to play smooth and very consistent and now I drag subconsciously.
I really would appreciate the advice and tips, it is literally killing me and this is holding me back mentally, it discourages me in becoming a great drummer. I have been struggling with this for a while. I could play with a metronome consistently before and I don't understand why I continue to drag with music, it's like a drummers worst nightmare. I really really would appreciate the help."

What up...

Great question. This is THE job of a keep consistent and comfortable time while the band is playing. To often we get so caught up with trying to learn the latest fill or hot lick, we forget what our real job is.

I wish I had an "Easy" button for you, LOL! There's no shortcut for good just have to work your butt off! There's also no fancy exercise I can show you. Here's what has worked for me in the past.

-The metronome is your friend! From now on, EVERY exercise you play will be to a click. I don't care what you're working on. Hand and foot a click. a click. Groove a click. Get the point? You need to listen to a click so much that you're hearing it in your sleep! This is the only way I learned.

When I was in New Orleans, there was a time that I was pulling doubles 5-6 times a week...that's 10 hours of stage time EVERY DAY! Plus I was practicing outside of my regular gig. The club I played at had a click right by the drumset. I played every song to it for months. I sucked hard at first, was pretty bad! But as time went on, I got more and more comfortable with it.

-The best exercise for learning solid groove with a click is to play to one for long periods of time. Best exercise I've found (notice I didn't say most interesting). Set your metronome at a certain tempo. Pick a groove you've been working but that you've already mastered. For this exercise we don't want to be worried about the mechanics of the groove. You want to already have those mastered. You're simply worried about consistent time. Start the click. Set your stop watch for 5 minutes. Start playing. Focus on keeping solid and comfortable time with the click. NO FILLS...just the groove. Once you get comfortable with that, set your stop watch for ten minutes and do it again. and again. and again...until you're so sick of it you can't stand it! Now start to add a fill. Not many. Watch your stop watch and everytime the minute marker goes by, play a fill. Make sure it's in time and that you come back in on the proper beat. Repeat this over and over.

-I also suggest playing to music. Make it current music for this particular skill. Older music (motown, James Brown, classic rock, etc) wasn't always recorded to a click. 95% of new music today is. Focus on staying with the drummer on the track, emulating his groove and feel. Learning to have groove with and without a click is fundamental to a drummer.

These are just some suggestions that have worked for me in the past. The most important thing is to find ways to make it interesting and fun. This is one of the hardest skills to learn. It's a very mature thing for a drummer to realize...that his or hers time sucks. The good thing is, it's a skill that can be taught with repetition. So there's hope for you!

Thanks for the question...seriously, with a little hard work, you'll be a time keeping rock star in no time. I know you can do it bro. Let me know how it's going!

-Stephen T.


Daniel86 said...

Hey Stephen!
That was a great article, as always. Anyway, I was just wondering why did you put Meg White's pic into your post? Is it because she's a good time keeper or because she's not?

Stephen said...

First off, because I dig her drumming. Second off, I was just putting a pic of a random professional drummer. But yes, she keeps great time! Simple and no it!!! Glad you enjoy the posts!

-Stephen T.

Mark Langham said...

Dear Stephen. More pics of Meg please. I love her. And you rock!!!

Stephen said...

@Mark...LOL, she's rock and roll through and through...and that's a great pic of her! I'm just tryin' to live up to the bar you raise ;^)

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Anonymous said...

one of the things i did in learning good, consistent time was to play along with a song on my ipod and would have someone hit the mute button for a few seconds and see how on i was when they unmuted the track. i would start at a few seconds and work up to 45 seconds or so. it can be tricky but it will show you where your natural inclinations are at different tempos and with different grooves.

Stephen said...

@Phil...That's a GREAT exercise man! I've done similar things with the click track...muting it and then unmuting it to see where my differences are. Although, yours sounds alot more musical and interesting than mine, lol! Thanks for the tip man...I need to actually incorporate that into my practice routine again just to brush up. Maybe I'll do that this afternoon.


Anonymous said...

lately, I've been running into the same problem, but rushing(or at least starting the tune faster than it's counted off). incredibly irritating as I'm 41 years old and I feel that I should have this under control by now. One thing that helped me in the past was that I was playing in a hard-rock/metal band that used loops so I had to play with a click. It gave me a lot of confidence with my timing because I was able to hear the other players' timing mistakes so I had to develop a sense of listening to myself more and trying not to be influenced by other peoples' timing flaws. If your musical setting doesn't involve loops/etc, one might want to try having a metronome to play with and let the band have you count off the tunes. I'm also sort of an atheist, but I have had good results on doing a prayer before gigs to play confidentally so that I might inspire everybody else to have an easy time and enjoy the evening. not sure if there's a god or not, but a simple/short prayer can be a type of self-affirmation that could provide good results.

Io said...

Dude, this thing you said "I should have this under control" is my number one enemy everyday. And I am a beginner, so I shouldn't really expect to have anything under control. But that thought comes and says: this is an easy warm up exercise,you should have it. Then I get pissed and focusing on the task becomes hard. Truth is, I don't have the exercise. Or maybe I had it yesterday, but today I am more tired or whatever. Point is: accept it is ok to not be perfect. Relax. Work on it with humility. At least, that's what I try to do

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