Although I am a drummer, this article has some gems for other instrumentalists. Although I’ve been playing drums for over twenty years, I didn’t start using serious rhythm enhancement techniques until … well, I’d rather not say that. But if I had taken advice from this article, I would have been WAY more prepared for auditions, performances and studio recordings. I wouldn’t have spent so many years with the bad habit of speeding up my pace, especially not while playing drunk! Truth be told, that habit does NOT set my rhythm technique!
The importance of rhythm
What took me too long to accept is that the drummer’s # 1 job is to keep up. Confession time - for many years I did not bother to keep the pace (THERE I said it). For me it was a guideline or a suggestion, not a rule. I wanted to color off the lines. I wanted to play hard and fast. I wanted to impress my friends. I wanted to beat beats and fills that seemed technically legitimate, but lacked the ever-present tempo that would qualify it for any practical application - such as performing with other musicians. It was early on, but I eventually played with enough talented musicians who tolerated my lack of rhythmic discipline. Rhythm means most of all. And fortunately, they helped me find the right path, and I’ve seen the light.
In fact, over time I have become so grateful to drummers who are definitely not wizard virtuosos or technical animals. They are the minimalists who slow down the driving pace and support the bandmates. Probably my favorite minimalist drummer of all time is Meg White of the White Stripes. Here she just plays the notes needed and NOTHING extra, and it’s just brilliant. Many years ago this was not a popular opinion to have, and it is still not popular today. Despite the White Stripes’ insane success, Meg White has faced harsh criticism over her minimalist technique, which in my opinion is completely unfair because HELLO, YOUR SONGS ARE GREAT. And subjectivity aside, they have sales of several platinum plates. Whether you have heard about the band or not, you know their song “Seven Nation Army” because it has become a stadium song that we all listen to at the biggest professional sports events. Meg’s simple steady drumming completes Jack White’s epic guitar riff.
1. Practice (rudiment) with a metronome
A steady pace is so important for good rhythm technique. And the best way to improve is to practice rudimentary exercises with a metronome. What is rudiment? In percussion music, a rudiment is one of a number of relatively small patterns that form the basis for more extended and complex drum patterns. The term “rudiment” in this context means not only “basic” but also basic. Here is a list of Percussive Arts Society International Drum Rudiment.
And what is a metronome? A metronome is a practice tool that produces a steady pulse (or beat) to help musicians play rhythms accurately. The heart rate is measured in beats per minute (BPM). Most metronomes are capable of playing beats from 35 to 250 BPM. There is no shortage of free metronome folders for your smart device. I prefer to use Pro Metronome by EUMLab, and recently I’ve enjoyed The Metronome by Soundbrenner.
2. Play along with songs you like
For non-drummers, any audio equipment will work - earbuds, AirPods, Bluetooth speakers, etc. For drummers, noise levels can become a problem and respect your long-term hearing (because we all want to enjoy music even as we get older!). Some decent isolation headphones like these from Vic Firth are the way to go. I am never without isolation headphones for training and performance, certainly in playing jobs where the band plays to a click track (which is another phrase for “metronome”)
3. Watch and learn
VIBE instructors are available for one on one lessons to help you get to the next level of musicianship! Beyond that, there is so much content on YouTube of some serious jaw-dropping talent. Watch it, let it inspire you and push your technique in new directions. I blew my head in this video to one of my drum heroes, Danny Carey (I never said I had no love for tech animals!)
Enhance your sense of rhythm today by signing up for lessons with one of our great instructors at Vibe Music Academy!