Are You Using These Strategies to Build Rock Solid Timing?

by Ty Morgan

“Timing is everything” is an old saying from who knows where. But, is it really true? If so, what does this particular saying have to do with music anyway?

Timing is one of the most overlooked aspects of musicianship and has been for many generations. On the flip-side, timing the first thing a non-musician notices about a performance! To be more accurate, an audience will feel a lack of timing long before they hear it and tune the performance out from the get-go! NOT GOOD for both the audience and band!

While we, as musicians, can’t be held accountable for anyone else’s timing; we can make sure we do everything in our power keep our timing is as tight as possible.

Here is the first of 3 effective strategies you can use to develop a more solid sense of time.

Metronome Work:

Since timing is all about feeling the pulse of the music, you have to first develop that pulse.

I know, I know . . . I hear the groans already. I’m sure some of you are saying, “Not another guy telling me to practice with a metronome!” While I do feel strongly about practicing with a metronome, that’s not necessarily the method I’ll be discussing here.

The first metronome exercise is as simple as it gets. Just turn an electronic metronome of some kind on while you perform other activities like working, exercising, showering, brushing your teeth, etc. As silly as this may sound, with just a few minutes a day you’ll soon start to feel a pulse in everything you do. There’s nothing magical about the metronome or what you do while you listen to it. It’s all about becoming aware of your internal pulse and how it interacts with an outside pulse – like music. After a while, you’ll be able to accurately tell the difference between, say 83 bpm (beats-per-minute) and 82 bpm. Not too shabby for a passive exercise!

The second metronome exercise requires a little more interaction, but not much. Just grab a notebook, or book you don’t mind beating up a bit, and a pencil with an eraser. Fire up the metronome and set it at a starting tempo of 100 bpm. Now just tap the pencil on the notebook once for each click of the metronome. No biggie, right? Our goal for this exercise is to make the metronome click disappear. Yes, you heard me correctly, disappear. As your timing improves, you’ll discover that the sound of the pencil eraser hitting the notebook will “bury” the click of the metronome making the metronome sound as if it has shut off or stopped. This is known as “burying the click” in the studio musician world and is a sure sign that your timing is in sync with the click.

Once you’ve mastered one tap of the pencil per click at 100 bpm, gradually slow down the metronome until you get down around 60 bpm. Slowing down totally goes against the “norm”, I know. But you’ll see what I mean when you try it. As the space in between the clicks increases, your ability to keep the pulse must become sharper to stay in sync.

As you work to master this, feel free to work with different rhythms and feels. For instance, try breaking up the metronome clicks into eighths, triplets, sixteenths, etc. The possibilities are endless and will be covered in a future lesson.

Just a few minutes a day of these two exercises over an extended period of time will help even the most timing challenged musician develop a great internal clock.

In the next article we’ll look at the strategy 2 for building effective timing – “Give me a beat!”

Ty Morgan is a musician, songwriter and guitar teacher located just outside of Phoenix in Mesa, AZ. His passion is to pass the torch of creating music on to future generations, as well as enhance the lives of others through music. Visit his artist site and his teaching site for more information.

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