If you’re a drummer, you’re probably rather aware that people are relying on you at one stage or another, to keep the tempo of what you’re playing. If you weren’t aware, it’s probably the reason your other band mates were giving you the Ice Cube stink-face at your last practice.
For future reference, the picture below is what to look for:
The number one reason for people getting annoyed at drummers is, yep, not being tempo-consistent. If you are inconsistent with your dynamics, that’s not so bad, as the band can continue as one and still retain some coherence (although admittedly this could prove to be just as awful).
Keeping a regulated tempo is the backbone of the rhythm section and sets in play the creative nuances that make each song and performer unique. I have no idea who said it, but the quote ‘rules are there to control the fun’ is very appropriate in moderation for this blog post. Staying in time and being ‘on the beat’ (or at least tastefully ‘sitting in the pocket’) along with the rest of your band-mates can absolutely blow your songs message wide-open.
If you’ve been to a gig at a well-established venue, with medium to large acts on the bill, you’ll notice that they are all playing as one. When they are all in sync, harmonically and melodically you can tell there is more gravitas to what is being played. If you struggle to play in time, people will definitely notice, and you will be mocked accordingly for ruining your songs message. However, help is at hand, and it’s never too late.
1, 2, 3 ,4
There are about 1000 analogies I could draw on to reinforce this message but, if you’ve read this far then you’ve probably already got an idea it’s a fairly fundamental part of music. The easiest way to be consistent, is learning to play to a click.
Now, as a guitarist, you may scoff at my suggestion, but also as audio engineer in a commercial recording studio, let me tell you, this is our number one gripe. Actually, that and out of tune drums, but that’s for another day!
I learned to play to click around the age of 15, I had a well-rounded concept of tempo prior to this, but I downloaded an app to fully develop my sense of time. Every day I would run through some scales, or some riffs at different tempos. With the scales I would start slow and loop a few times, slowly building the tempo. This is probably the best way to recognise your tempo inconsistencies.
If you have the means, recording your performance to metronome and analysing where the transients (sound waves) land around the tempo map can easily indicate if you’re ahead or behind the beat and where you need the work.
Practicing your rudiments to click is going to be one of the best exercises you’ll probably ever undertake. Apart from being able to keep your band mates and audience grimace-free, you’ll unwittingly become a better player for it, and recording engineers will love you for being able to play to a click too. It has to be the least taxing part of being a musician and one of the most appreciable traits in a band-mate.
In the long run, it will save you money as well. In recording situations, doing re-takes and drop-ins because you can't play in time, will soak up a large portion of your time in the studio and everyone's energy. If you happen to follow this path, the engineer will have to spend hours upon hours quantising your takes. This in-turn, will spiral your mixing budget and will slowly kill the engineer of any passion for the project. We don't mind having to do little tweaks here and there, but if you can save us a whole lot of work, we really appreciate it and can focus on making your project sound great.
So below the fallen engineer I’ve listed some apps, which also include tap tempos so you can work out tempos for yourself. Spare a moment for the engineers around the world currently looking like this guy below, editing drum comps.
Even Google has one if you type in ‘Metronome’ !