So have you ever had to sit in stop and go traffic? You know, the kind that moves ahead in uneven fits and starts? Or have you ever been on a small boat being rocked back and forth in the ocean? I don’t know about you, but just thinking about those things leaves me feeling a little unsettled. The same can be said for our timing in music. If we as musicians and singers have difficulty keeping time, it can leave your audience feeling a little…well…sea sick…
But never fear! With a few easy practice tips, anyone can develop a great internal sense of tempo. Let’s talk about it…
All music, from billboard top 40 hits, to jazz-fusion, to classical is played to some type of meter. This meter allows for consistency and feel and gives everyone involved something to play or clap along to. Essentially, it is the heartbeat of a given song. “So how do I develop a sense of tempo”, you ask? Easy…
1. Get a metronome
Whether you go old school and have an antique wooden block-style metronome, or you use a digital one (BOSS makes great digital metronomes), the first step is simply getting one. You can also find countless smart phone apps (most of them for free) and if all else fails you can go to www.metronomeonline.com for an easy to use and free metronome.
As obvious as it sounds, once you find a metronome you are happy with, spend time practicing with it. Start by simply playing a scale or chord progression you are comfortable and familiar with. Start off slowly at first and allow yourself to get accustomed to how a certain tempo feels. Once you feel confident, you can begin to speed up and….
Once you’ve mastered something in a slow to medium tempo in 4/4 time, try playing the same thing really fast, or really slow, or only on off beats. You can also experiment with different time signatures (2/4, 3/4, 6/8). The key is to challenge yourself and change up your practice routine.
I hope these tips get you well on your way to a great sense of tempo and rhythm. You’ll find that not only are you as an individual musician better for it, but it will also improve your ability to play and sing with others. Have fun!
Since starting to play guitar twelve years ago, Branden Scott has done everything from leading worship to playing in a band to teaching guitar and drums. He is a member of a three-member folk band – Animal Family Singers – for nearly a year. The band's EP is even available on iTunes.