Saturday, January 14, 2012

Make Friends With Mr. Metronome

Playing with a metronome or “click” is one of those things that most drummers either love or hate.  It is especially hard for musicians who have played for many years without using a click to jump into performing or recording with one.  Here are some things that one can do to get comfortable and play confidently while using a click track.

  1. Start SLOW.  Slow tempos are actually harder to maintain accurately than quick or moderate tempos. If you can play a simple rock beat brutally slow and accurately, than it will sound super solid as you bump up the tempo.
  2. Start SIMPLE. Try doing this exercise first with quarter notes on the hi hats.  Play a cross-stick on 2 and 4 on the snare and  “1 &” and “3 &” on kick.  Eventually, try 8th’s and then 16th’s on the hi hats. 
  3. Start at a slow tempo that is somewhat uncomfortable.  Play along to the click at that tempo for 5 minutes, concentrating on accurate note placement.  Then bump the click up 2 to 5 bpm’s and do the same.  Keep repeating this process until you reach a brisk tempo that is slightly difficult to keep up with.  If you experience any pain or discomfort, discontinue.
  4. As you become more comfortable and solid, begin to change up the kick drum pattern to incorporate more interesting beats using 16th's, 8th's, dotted notes, triplets, and so on.
  5. Isolate fills by themselves with the click at first. Loop a fill over and over using the same method of bumping the tempo up 3 to 5 bpm’s at a time.  Once it feels solid, then incorporate the groove you want to play it with.  Loop 3 bars of the groove and a 1 bar fill to create a 4 bar phrase that you can loop over and over.
  6. The click can play tricks on your ears!  Get used to the fact that when you can’t hear the click because you are dead on the beat, it means you are playing accurately!  Don’t speed ahead or drag behind the beat to keep tabs on the click.  Make sure that you are using in-ear monitors or headphones that allow you to hear the click clearly for when you are inaccurate… this is VERY important for becoming confident when performing with a click track.
  7. Think of the click as another instrument in the band.  I tend to think of it as a percussionist playing clave or cowbell and want to make my drumming as locked in and meshed with that percussionist as possible.
  8. Most modern recordings are recorded to a click.  If you get bored playing along to a metronome, crank up your ipod to something that is inspiring to you and play single strokes, double strokes, paradiddles, and flams on a practice pad along with the recording.  For example, sometimes I will play 8th note singles during the verses and switch to 16th note doubles at the chorus.  You can mix and match different rudiments in different sections to keep things fresh.
  9. Make sure you continue to practice without the click as well, in order to not become dependant on it.  Also, have a friend stand by and turn the volume all the way down on your click for increasingly longer periods of time and see if you are still on the beat when the volume comes back up.
  10. Do yourself a huge favor and pick up a copy of Ted Reed’s book Syncopation, if you don’t already have it.  Read the top line of each page as the kick drum pattern while keeping 2 and 4 on the snare with a cross-stick.  Once again, try quarters, 8th's and then 16'ths on the hi hats. Have fun and don’t get frustrated!  The more you incorporate a click into your practice regiment, the stronger your grooves will become!

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