3 tips for staying on the beat
Are you a vocalist who can’t figure out why something feels wrong when listening back to a service? Even though you are on pitch, something is off and you are not fully locking in with the music. Are you a guitar player who’s tone and parts are spot on, but the audio engineer is commenting that something doesn’t feel right? This probably has something to do with your timing.
The drummer has traditionally been the time keeper for most live settings of contemporary worship. In the modern setting however, many churches are moving away from stage wedges and moving to in ear monitoring systems. The benefits are huge with much less stage volume. This has also allowed for the coveted and/or dreaded click track to become the focal point of time keeping.
10 years ago instrumentalists practiced at home with a metronome to prepare their internal time clock for following the drummer (time keeper). Now, they practice at home to play with the in ear click track during a service. It’s the hidden ingredient between someone who just plays the parts, and someone who “locks in” with the band. The ability to play/sing relatively on the beat is a must have skill set.
Other than pitch, tone, dynamics, and consistency, timing is “The” thing to have in your musical tool box.
This all can sound a bit scary, but fear not. With a few simple practice tips, you can greatly improve your awareness of time and how it relates to the click.
Everyone comes to their personal awareness of the beat in different ways. Some people are just naturals; their God given internal sense of time helps them lock right in with the click track. For the rest however, here are a few tips to get you feeling confident with this “secret sauce” of musicianship.
Tip 1: Figure out where you stand
Most of us play/sing either behind the beat or ahead of it. A lot of us are not even aware of this, so step one is to find out. Ask the drummer or person on your team to evaluate your timing. Set up a metronome and a voice recorder. Have your mentor/leader listen to you play/sing a 30 second to minute part of a song. In that time period they should notice your tendencies. Then listen back together. If you are behind the beat you would be “dragging,” ahead of the beat and you are “pushing.” Awareness is the first step to making a difference.
Once you have figured out where you stand, lets make some practice plans for musical growth.
Tip 2: Record yourself
Take a verse or chorus of a song and prepare to play/sing while recording yourself. If you are “dragging”, mentally try to play/sing slightly faster than your natural inclination. If you are pushing the beat, try to pull back slightly. Make multiple recordings and apply small adjustments each time until you are right with the beat. Once you feel locked in, make a mental adjustment of how your body feels when you are recording.
Practicing this over time will help playing/singing on the beat become more muscle memory.
Tip 3: Back to the drummer
Chances are even though the click track in your ears is perfect placement of where the beat is landing, the drummer is still your best helper for time cues. Listen to their subdivisions for everything, from what strum you should play, to coming in vocally on that awkward verse melody.
Try these “3” ideas to improve your timing and musicality!