I have a friend who is a professional drummer. He’s one those musicians who you never really know how good he is because everything he plays in a worship setting is simple, understated and doesn’t draw much attention to itself. Yet in the studio he is a first call drummer for a number of well known worship leaders and has picked up more touring work with top international rock bands than most aspiring drummers could dream of. What’s his secret? Well as a young drummer he chose to focus a large part of his practice on an important musical skill that tends to be neglected even by experienced players. That skill is timing.
Developing a great sense of timing and rhythm doesn’t just apply to drummers. It is fundamental to, and should be actively developed by every instrument, including vocals!
Timing is often the key to why a particular song is or isn’t working in a live band situation.
There are many ways to work on your sense of timing so here are a few thoughts to get you going.
1. Buy a metronome
Firstly get hold of a metronome – there are plenty of phone and ipad apps – you don’t need the old fashioned one that used to sit in pride of place at your piano teacher’s house. It’ll probably be one of the most important musical purchases you’ll ever make! Practicing to a metronome at different speeds will show up imperfections in your timing and will vastly improve your own internal ‘metre’. Also as many faster worship songs have a tempo of around 110-120 beats per minute (bpm), and we are used to playing at those speeds, anything outside of that can feel unusual. So take a fast song and the metronome and practice playing your normal part at increasing speeds. When you come back to the regular speed your playing will feel much more relaxed and loose.
2. Go into slow motion
The next tip is the reverse. It’s much more difficult to play in time slowly at say 40 or 50 bpm. Most people naturally speed up at that pace. So try playing a simple song very slowly and work on getting each note really in time. If the whole band can do it together as an exercise and resist the temptation to fill up the space with extra notes you’ll have a self-made master class in timing, working together and making every note count. Perhaps even try setting the pace with a metronome, switch it off as you begin the song and then switch it back on again at the end to see if you are still in time. Alternatively, get your drummer to play to a ‘click’.
3. Move your body to the rhythm
Learn to dance! I kid you not. One of the best ways to develop your own internal sense of rhythm is to get your limbs to move and act out those rhythms. It’s much harder to keep a detailed sense of the groove if your body is motionless. A professional bass player friend stamps REALLY hard on the floor in time to the beat during studio sessions. It looks odd to the outsider but his timing is impeccable.
4. Perfect the easy stuff
Work hard to play the easy stuff well. Often bands sound bad because they try to play overly complex arrangements or one member decides change the groove mid song because it is too simplistic for his more developed skills! Remember, if the rest of the band is playing it straight; resist the urge to make it funky! This is a huge temptation for many bored musicians.
For simple arrangements try starting with the main rhythm instrument that will set the groove. It doesn’t have to be drums. It could be bass guitar, piano, acoustic guitar or something else. Then one by one get each additional instrument to add a part. Work on listening to each other and fitting your rhythm into the main groove but leaving room for the other musicians as well.
5. Use Venn diagrams!
Lastly, think of your practice like three concentric circles. In circle one is everything you can play easily. In circle two are the things you can play with concentration and in circle three are the things you can’t yet play. Very often people waste time by mostly practicing the things in circle one whilst attempting pieces in a live situation from circle two or even three! Yet the model should be only to practice the pieces in circle three and only play live things from circle one. This way anything in circle two should start to move to circle one and eventually all three circles will merge together.
How Musicademy can help you
We cover timing and lots of other music craft-related topics in our Worship Band Skills course. Don’t assume it is just for the worship leader (or the rest of your team). YOU will benefit from watching it. We guarantee it!
Other related posts you may find helpful:
Ideas to improve band communication – video clip
Playing with emotion – video clip
Tips for working with a band – video clip