Developing Good Time

by Roy Burns

Many drummers are capable of playing good time even though they may not know exactly how they developed this ability. In most cases they can’t tell you how they do it. Expressions such as “you just have to feel it” are colorful, but not of much help to the young drummer. 

It is true that some players do have more talent, or ability, than others. However, talent and ability must be developed. Sometimes this development is a hit or miss process in which the young drummer practices, plays and hopes for the best. Occasionally, with the help of more experienced musicians or teachers, the learning experience is more on pur pose. This type of learning often yields good results in less time than the hit or miss approach.

Practicing With Records

At one time this practice was discouraged. The young drummer, it was felt, would tend to follow the time on a record and thereby develop the tendency to follow the band in a live situation.

In those early days of the 78 rpm record, it was difficult to get the record player loud enough to practice and still hear the music.

Modern recordings, along with the availability of inexpensive earphones have changed the approach. Now it is possible to hear everything that is happening in the rhythm section while practicing on the drums. This is good experience because it teaches the young drummer to play with other instruments.

Another benefit of this type of practicing is that accompanying skills are developed by playing with records. Reading music, solo playing and technique exercises are all valuable, but playing with records is the closest thing to playing. It is a way to practice playing.

It is important to carefully check the tempo on a tune that was recorded at a live concert. People get excited at concerts and the time can vary. Put the needle down at the beginning, middle, and end of a particular cut. If the tempo changed—don’t practice with it. It is okay to listen to live concert recordings, but be careful of the ones you practice with.

Studio recordings are usually more accurate tempo-wise than concert recordings. In the studio you have the opportunity to do a tune over again if there is a time problem. Also, many records today are made with a click track. A click track is a metronome signal that recording musicians listen to with headphones. This ensures that the tempo will be accurate and steady. In any case, the time on studio recordings is usually steadier than on live concert recordings.

Practicing With A Metronome

This can be very valuable, especially when practicing technical or reading studies on a practice pad. Some young drummers tend to practice as fast as possible on a pad. The idea seems to be to get that part of the lesson over with as soon as possible in order to begin drum set practice sooner.

The metronome can be very helpful when practicing a difficult reading exercise. It reminds you of the correct pulse while you struggle with difficult rhythms.

The metronome is equally helpful when practicing technique exercises. Some students tend to run away with the tempo when practicing at a fast rate of speed. The metronome reminds you to keep the pulse steady at all times.

There are metronomes available now that have an attachment for one or two earphones. This makes it possible for the student to use the metronome for drum set practice.

Avoid Slow To Fast Practicing

The rudimental approach of playing rhythms from slow to fast does not work so well for the drum set. Most young drummers tend to rush drum breaks. In part, I feel this is due to improper practicing.

If the student is continually increasing the tempo to see how fast he can play a particular pattern, he is creating a dangerous habit. Whatever you do, if you do it over and over, it becomes a habit. A habit is something you do which has become unconscious. In other words, you will be rushing the tempo and not be aware of it. Practicing with records and a metronome helps you to be more aware of the tempo. Don’t destroy this discipline by practicing from slow to fast on the drum set.

Practice Different Tempos

One common mistake is that young players tend to practice the same tempo over and over. It is usually the tempo at which they can play their fastest licks. The same tempo, played over and over, becomes a rut.

This can lead to a three-tempo drummer. A fast tempo, a medium tempo and a slow tempo. No matter where the tempo starts, this guy will either increase or decrease the tempo to wind up at one of his three. This is definitely the result of playing the same tempos over and over.

If you practice with records, make sure to select a variety of tempos and styles. This will help to develop a more subtle sense of tempo while avoiding a rut.

Seek Out Good Players

You can learn the most by playing with people who are more experienced. Practicing alone won’t do it. You have to play with other musicians in order to develop your playing fully. However, playing with musicians who have bad time can be very detrimental. Again, anything you do over and over becomes habit. For this reason, seek out players who are at least as good as you are, or better. You can only play as well as the people around you. Sit in, go to rehearsals, listen as much as possible and play when you get the chance.

Become friendly with good bass players. He’s the guy you have to work with. Playing good time is ultimately a team effort. If the bass player and the drummer are tight, the entire group will play better.

Get together with a bass player to practice and rehearse, just the two of you. Talk things over and work out your problems. Exchange information and feelings. This is one of the most helpful learning situations for young players.

Musicians To Avoid

Avoid any musician who tells you that the drummer is the only one responsible for the time. It is impossible to play well with lead players who are always rushing or dragging. The drummer has enough problems without being blamed for the sloppy playing and bad time of other musicians. Time, indeed music, is a cooperative effort! Everyone has to play in tune, and in time to achieve the ultimate musical effect.