When taking drum lessons, one of the first things that you will discover is that good time keeping should be the drummer's number one priority. When we talk about good time keeping, we are referring to the ability to maintain a steady beat, at the required speed (tempo), without speeding up, dragging or slowing down. It seems very straight forward, but can often present a significant challenge to the student drummer. Some people have naturally good time keeping skills, but the majority of us need to work on careful and consistent development. Here are five tips for developing good time keeping.
During your first few lessons on Drum Ambition, you will be shown how to play variations of a popular pop/rock beat. The consistent message you will hear in the commentary is the importance of playing slowly. The first thing you will need to discover is what actually constitutes slow playing, and you can refer to our first free lesson to get a better idea.
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At my studio, I often find that many beginner drummers have a natural "default" tempo that they start at, and more often than not, it is too fast. Not only does slowing things down allow you time to think about the process you are going through, it helps develop good time keeping. Firstly, if you start slow, it will be more obvious if you are speeding up. Many student drummers will experience starting at one tempo, and gradually speeding up as they become more confident with the coordination.
It is very important to control this. A frequent observation that students make is that it is easier to play faster (once the basic coordination is learned), and this is another reason why you should slow things down. Playing slower requires a higher degree of accuracy, and while it may well be more challenging at first, it will lead to better control, and better time keeping. Don't be in a rush to play your first beats too fast - speed is nothing but a byproduct of control, which must be patiently built over time.
Count out loud.
If the first important message in our videos is to play slowly, then the second is to count out loud. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is, yet this is something that most drum students neglect to do in their personal practice time. There is a direct and proven correlation between counting out loud, and developing good solid time keeping. Not only does counting help you with your overall coordination, it helps you "lock-in" better with a metronome (more on that later), and gives you an obvious audible cue if things are starting to speed up. In the early days of drumming, counting in your head (as opposed to counting out loud) is unreliable. It won't always be that way, and as you develop your playing and your "inner-clock" over time, you will rely less on counting.
Use a metronome.
A metronome is a device (nowadays mostly digital) that sets the tempo of the beat. Tempo is measured in beats per minute, and is abbreviated to "bpm". Practicing with a metronome will help you develop good time keeping, but it is something I generally recommend that you do once you are confident with playing basic drum beats. While it will ultimately benefit your drumming, a metronome can be somewhat distracting in the early days of playing, and can often seem like more of a hindrance than a help. Once you are satisfied that you have control over the beat you are developing at slow speed, try playing with a metronome at 50 bpm, and be sure to count out loud. In fact, it's a good idea to count along with just the metronome, before you attempt to play the beat. The closing comments in our first free video coaches you through how to count with a metronome. You can purchase a digital metronome, or use one of the various options available online or in the app-store for your smartphone. It's a good idea to have an ear-piece input for whichever device you choose, as the clicks from the metronome must be audible, and they cannot compete with acoustic drum set volume. Most electronic drum sets have a built-in metronome function.
Learn to read music.
There are many benefits to learning to read music, and we have dedicated an entire article to this. From a time keeping standpoint, it is very important because learning to read music facilitates an understanding of rhythm. We learn rhythm through counting, and as discussed, counting out loud is one of the best things you can do to develop good time keeping skills. Being able to count your drum beats and drum fills is a very good skill to develop, and one that will most certainly aid you in playing with a metronome. Learning to read will also help you understand the sticking concepts that build control - and the more control you have over your playing, the more likely you are to play with good time.
Play along with music.
One of the best things you can do to work on your time keeping, and certainly one of the most fun, is to play along with some of your favorite songs. Since most tracks are recorded using a "click track" (which is a studio term used for a metronome to keep the drummer, and ultimately the band in time during the recording process), the timing of the track should be accurate. Don't pick anything too fast to start with. It's always best to try something in the 50-70 bpm tempo range, once you have become confident with the basic groove that you see in our first video.
Developing good time keeping on the drum set is something that will take some time (no pun intended), so it is important to manage your expectations. Start by practicing your beats and fills slowly, and as you become more confident, increase your tempo by small increments - usually 5 bpm at a time on the metronome. Time keeping is the foundation - the rock, if you will. By focusing on this key area, you will be setting yourself up for success. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me - [email protected].