This week’s question comes from Sterling about timing and rhythm.
“Thank so so much Jermaine. You’ve been such a blessing to me. Even though I realise I still have a lot to learn to improve my playing, I’m so grateful to God for the understanding and progress your tips and materials have brought me. I’ve realised lately through your teachings that my main area of weakness is in timing and rhythm, and I would be grateful if you could recommend materials that would help me in this area. God bless you for the great work you are doing.”
This is a great question.
Timing and rhythm is one of the most difficult things to accomplish in the beginning.
While all the theory can be read and ascertained on a mental level… while you can use formulas to construct chords… timing and rhythm are things that don’t come as easy.
But here are some timing and rhythm practices you can put to work for you right away…
Timing and Rhythm Tips
Timing and Rhythm Tip #1 – Always practice with a metronome
It’s a simple tool (it simply “clicks, clicks, clicks”) but so important to your learning how to keep consistent time.
Whether you invest in a physical metronome ($20 bucks or so) or use any of the free online metronomes, you’ll want to make this a regular habit to improve timing and rhythm.
A site I actually use a lot is www.metronomeonline.com.
You simply choose how many beats per minute you want it to click at and you’re all done.
Play your scales with it, your chords with it, your songs with it. In the beginning, you’ll feel the sensation to rush but just be cognizant of the beat, correct yourself, and over time you’ll improve.
There are also iphone apps that can do this on the go. Just search for “metronome” in the app store and you’ll find some really cool ones that can do quarter, 8th, 16th beats, and more.
Timing and Rhythm Tip #2 – Start Slower
I’ve talked about this a lot.
If you’re trying to tackle something at full speed, you’ll struggle a lot with timing and rhythm.
But if you slow things down to a manageable speed (using a metronome) and work on getting it at that level, only increasing speed when you’re ready, you’ll find it a lot easier to progress.
Timing and Rhythm Tip #3 – Practice With Records
One of the most productive and engaging things you can do is actually practice with records. It will be obvious when you’re speeding too.
There’s just something about having the full band playing with you. And with our Song Robot software, you can slow down mp3 files without losing too much quality. You can even remove vocals (doesn’t work perfectly but definitely removes most, if not all, vocals) and change the key of an mp3.
I’ve interviewed and worked with some really nice musicians and what they all have in common is playing with hundreds and hundreds of records when they were first coming up.
Additional Timing and Rhythm Tips
Timing and Rhythm Tip #4 – Get Your Limbs Involved
There’s a reason the band conductor tells you to tap your feet while you play.
Let the body feel the rhythm.
In fact, this is a great thing to do away from your piano. Just set the metronome at any given tempo and tap your feet. You can snap your fingers if you want.
Heck, if you really want to get involved, you can do Michael Jackson’s step and snap move in “Beat It.”
You’ll find musicians like Javad Day (in our Musician Breakthrough series) bobbing their heads. Of course, this is for show when you really get to a professional level but in the beginning, really feeling the music like this can help.
Timing and Rhythm Tip #5 – Mute Technique
Along the lines of playing with records (you can do this with a metronome too), turn it into a little timing and rhythm game.
This involves muting your reference device (record, metronome, iphone app) at a certain random point and then bringing it back in to see if you’ve kept the beat.
This need not get carried away. You don’t have to be playing a full song.
You can simply be playing a C major chord on every beat.
But at some point, you mute the metronome and you keep playing that chord in time. A few seconds later, you unmute the metronome to see if you’re still on beat.
This is easy on most computers. Just go to the metronome site above, select a bmp (beats per minute) and then let it click for a while. Tap your foot along with it to get the tempo in your system. Then for a good period of time, play any chord along with it. You can play on every beat… you can play on every other beat… it’s up to you.
Then with your left hand, simply press the mute button on your computer (usually this is near a convenient volume control area on your keyboard) or speakers. But keep playing the chord in your right hand. Then, a few seconds later (don’t wait too long), bring back the metronome and see how far you’re off, if any.
The longer you can stay on beat without a metronome, the better your sense of timing and rhythm.
You can also do this with a clock. By nature, the “seconds” hand on a clock moves at 60 beats per minute. Think about it… How many seconds are in a minute? Answer = 60. That’s why some band conductors can simply look at their watch to estimate the beats per minute of a song about to be performed.
Timing and Rhythm Advice
At the end of the day, better timing truly comes with “time.”
I know you get tired of me saying this but “repetition is the mother of skill.”
Some people have a great sense of time and rhythm. Others have to work doubly to produce the same results. But that’s ok — be persistent and you’ll get there.
What you once had to focus on will become natural over time. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. But you can’t give up early. Good timing and rhythm don’t come over night — but one thing that doesn’t fail is they come!