The Metronome Mine Field.
Every musician worth his salt will admit that good timing is at the heart of good music. I have often said:
"Good notes" played out of time are "wrong notes".
If you have ever attempted to play with a metronome (or musicians with excellent timing) you may think the metronome is speeding up or slowing down when reason tells you that it is more likely YOU. I talk about this at length in my book "Mandolin Training Camp."
If you want to try a little exercise in judging your ability to maintain a tempo try playing along (or clapping or whatever) with these interesting metronome tracks I made. There are 3 of them at a variety of speeds. In each one, instead of the usual sequence of continuous clicks, I silenced some of the clicks here and there. The beat still progresses across these silent gaps but only in your mind or in the physical movement of your body.
Try to play along with these and see what happens when that reliable beat disappears and reappears. Did you align perfectly as it reappears? Are you able to maintain a steady beat when the click drops out? Oh, this could be fun! These tracks simulate momentary, temporary deafness. Just what every musician needs! Well, the truth is that we sometimes do become temporarily "deaf" to what is happening around us and that failure to hear contributes to our timing or tempo problems.
You may find that certain tempos are easier than others. Try them all. Try playing different things along with them. Try just tapping beats or clapping.
The Free Metronome Tracks:
1. Minefield Metronome Track at 60 BPM
2. Minefield Metronome Track at 80 BPM
3. Minefield Metronome Track at 100 BPM
I would also like to make this point. Working with a metronome can do a lot to help you develop reliable internal timing. It can bring to light places where you might be dragging the tempo or rushing or particular parts of an exercise or song where timing errors happen. Bringing those things to light can help you focus on those areas and improve them. However, and this is the main point of this paragraph, be aware that music is a human endeavor and humans are not bits of clockwork, gears or computer chips. Sometimes music must "breathe" in terms of tempo or speed in order to be fully musical. A well known example of this is the "ritard" in which a song slows down--usually at the end.
Jam sessions are full of discussions between songs of "who sped up" and "it" slowed down. If those thoughts are not vocalized they certainly are thought of by many of the participants. It is true that there can be instances of particular players tending to rush, drag or generally display bad timing and that can be maddening to others who happen to notice it. Be aware, though, that the object is not to fix other people's problems in a jam session setting. It's not going to happen! Those are individual issues which need to be dealt with by them, not you.
What you CAN do, however, is to try to play together. Be a little flexible and listen more carefully to what is happening around you in the musical time-space. Be neither fully convinced of your own perfect timing or someone else's lousy timing. The blame goes all around at times. Try to mesh when playing together and that means to listen to others at least as much as you listen to yourself. This is especially difficult when playing lead breaks and solos. I know a lot of people who play in time far better when playing backup rhythm but get all out of whack during lead breaks since they lose their connection with the overall rhythm. They are so involved in their solo notes that they lose fully connected awareness of the other players.
These tracks are useful for personal rhythm work and improving your internal clock and they can help your ensemble playing by teaching you to listen to something other than what comes out of your instrument. Building your internal timing skills and execution may wreck your ability to happily play with other people (whose skills are not so finely honed) unless you allow your timing to "breathe" and go with the flow at times.
If you need a good set of metronome tracks (without the dropped beats) take a look at this set I put together.
Back to list of articles