About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Monday, March 11, 2013

It's About Time

Keeping steady time is an important skill for any musician. It's a simple concept, but it's not as easy as you might think. Just ask anyone who plays with a metronome for the first time. You may think you are keeping a steady beat, but when you begin practicing with a metronome, you'll swear that the metronome is slowing down. It surely couldn't be that you are speeding up!

When I was a trombone player, I tried to stay on top of the beat. The trombone is a big instrument and requires a lot of air, making its response time a little slower than a smaller instrument like a trumpet. When I began playing guitar, I carried this "slightly ahead of the beat" mindset with me, which was a mistake. The guitar is much more responsive than a trombone, and by playing on top of the beat, I tended to rush.

With some effort, I've gotten my time under control…for the most part. When playing rhythm guitar, I can keep it nice and steady, but I tend to push the tempo when I'm improvising. My guitar teacher, Dave Frackenpohl, gave me a useful exercise.

My trusty old Dr. Beat.
The metronome never lies.
If you want to work on your own sense of time, first try practicing with a metronome ticking away on every beat. If the tempo is 120, then set the metronome at 120. You'll soon discover where you tend to rush.

Once you're used to playing with the metronome on every beat, set it to half the speed (in our case, set it at 60). Now think of every click of the metronome as beats 2 and 4, with beats 1 and 3 being silent. Without that steady click on every beat, you have to rely more on your own sense of time.

Finally, and this is the exercise Dave gave me, set the metronome to one quarter speed (in our example, we'll set it at 30). Now think of every click as beat 4, with beats 1 through 3 being silent. This suddenly becomes a much more challenging exercise!

Because I'm most likely to push the tempo while improvising, Dave has me improvising solo lines while setting the metronome to click just on beat 4. This gives me the double benefit of working on time and improvisational ideas at the same time. It only took me a couple days of this for my inner sense of time to settle down. I'm not saying that my time is suddenly perfect, but it has become more solid over the past couple weeks, and it'll only get better as I continue to work on it.

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