This post was motivated by a reader who wrote to ask about tips and advice for improving tempo and timing in order to master rhythm and become a better musician. The reader mentions several techniques that have been tried, all good ones, but wanted to know if there was any more advice out there for someone who clearly has a good working understanding of the concept of rhythm, but struggles with the practical execution of it.
Techniques Previously Mentioned
Several of the techniques mentioned in the comment, toe tapping, pretending to watch a conductor in the mind, using words for certain rhythms, dancing, marching, playing and thinking subdivisions, clapping, drumming with drum sticks, making use of method books, and many other ideas can be useful, some more than others, it really depends on the person and what sort of method works best for them. But I wanted to mention these up front since they were brought up and I don’t want to ignore any of these potentially useful methods along with the advice I’m going to add to this list below.
More Ideas and Advice To master Rhythm
So keeping in mind that the list above has already been tried, I would offer the following additional advice. First of all, what kind of music are you listening to? I find personally that listening to really groovy music, funk or R&B especially, can be of great help if you allow yourself to groove along with the music either by moving your head, tapping your foot, or otherwise trying to get in synch with it. Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, James Brown, and many of the old Motown legends really do the trick for me, but the secret is to find grooving music that you really dig and try and synch up with it as you’re listening to it. I would shy away from classical and jazz and stick with the popular side for one reason, and that is most of the polished studio music is done to a track in the first place, so the rhythm should be pretty precise to start with, unlike jazz and classical where the rhythm on a recording can be a little more fluid and is often guided by the band leader or conductor, and as such may not be quite as precise to begin with in terms of using it for practicing precision. Granted, this is similar to working with a metronome in one sense, but the ability to internalize the groove you are listening to is integral so using real music can be a great help. The idea is to coordinate the external and internal, making sure that what you’re hearing translates to what your doing physically and what you’re perceiving internally so that it all flows together.
Master Rhythm Using a Metronome
Regarding metronome work, yes it’s true that you don’t want to rely on it exclusively, but it can still be a great asset to use it frequently and try to keep yourself perfectly aligned with it. One technique I would advise is to practice only precise downbeats, just grab your instrument and turn on the met and play just downbeats, over and over, only on the one to start with, then maybe the one and the three. Moving along, you can switch to practicing the attack on upbeats, and once that comes along nicely you can move on to inner beats such as the and of one and three or the e’s and a’s, and so on, just one note at a time to begin with. Then you can practice in similar fashion playing two notes per bar, start with the one and, then one e, then and a, vary it up and try lots of different patterns, but be sure and practice just one pattern for a good amount of time until it starts to feel really right and in the pocket and all that good stuff.
Next time, we will finish up with this topic in part 2 of this practical tips towards mastering rhythm series, hope to see you there, and thank you very much for checking out UpbeatRhythms.com!