Saturday, January 28, 2023

Latest views and practices on time

Rounding up my current views and practices on the subject rhythm and time, in teaching and practicing: knowing rhythm, holding a tempo in playing. This is mostly about beginner to intermediate level students. A lot of returning students— people getting back into drumming after taking years off— need a lot of help with this. 

What people do
Often students will look at a page of drumming materials and just start playing, at whatever is their personal natural tempo for playing something. Often they won't be able to play slower, if asked, or they'll creep up to their natural speed, more or less gradually. Obviously that won't work in real life playing, and it will slow them down in learning new things in the practice room, so breaking people of that is a big issue for teachers. A lot of us have vestiges of that in our own playing.  

Set the tempo
Before starting, decide what the tempo is going to be. This is always done in real playing, and very often not done in practicing— when not using a metronome or playalong track. Think about it for a second or two before starting. 

I'll be loose about this at first, and then more strict as a student can get through the pattern— or if they are having problems playing a pattern at all.  

Rhythms are shapes

Or structures, if you prefer, the architecture of our playing. They're the ideas we have to work with. Students need to learn their proportions, and learn to structure them with their voices. 

Rubato for figuring it out
While keeping the same basic proportions, we can allow some freedom to take the time to identify the next note in a pattern, from the page, and play it correctly. Students can slow down or pause, but we want to keep the proportions of the rhythm, broadly. I don't let them rush through the easy parts and then slow way down when it gets hard. 

Usually I have students count the combined rhythm of all the parts— all limbs— before playing something. For these purposes I usually don't want them to count while playing, I want them to focus on making their hands move in the rhythm we just counted. I'm insistent about always counting rhythms articulately, and always proportionally, even when referencing them in conversation. 

I usually do not have students count a full grid— usually just as a remedial thing if they're having problems with some other aspect of it. 

Use ears
Forming sound ideas or memories, using your ears.

People are universally pretty good at using their voice to copy something they heard. I'll count a rhythm for a student, and have them count it back to me, and when they can do it, matching my tempo exactly, then they play it, one time. Often that will sort out any coordination problems they were having with a drum set pattern. 

Hands must follow the voice

Increasingly I think the voice-hands connection the foundation of drumming technique. The hands will take over and run away with the time if you let them. Students need to be able to speak the rhythm in question accurately, and make their hands state it.  

Slow click
For advanced students. Practicing with a metronome sounding on beat 1 only— or on beat 1 every other measure. For me this has become the major way of learning to conceptualize time the way professionals do. It forces you subdivide, and to make your hands state time all the time, while also allowing your playing to breathe.  

It's a persistent false idea that people have to just “feel” time, and some people have it, and some don't. What we don't have is people who know how to teach it. I've handled some pretty rough cases using the above approaches— with a lot of patience and attentive teaching on my part, they eventually get it. 

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