Hello everyone! I would first like to say how awesome it is to be a part of such a great community of drummers and educators. I’ve just come off a fantastic year of nonstop round the world touring with The Virgins. We traveled to 30 countries, played to huge crowds, and hung with a ton of great musicians. As I decompress from tour, (and jetlag) and head back in to the practice studio, I’ve been thinking a lot about making the most of my time in the woodshed.
We all get nervous from time to time right? Sitting behind my drums about to play live on national TV or in front of 50 thousand people, I used to feel terrified. What if I made a mistake or counted off the wrong tempo?! For me just like anything else with my drumming, as long as I was prepared for the situation, it all went smoothly. So how do we prepare for nerves, or jetlag, or too much coffee? Well, here’s what worked for me.
First let’s talk about how we hear time, not just play it but hear it. We’ve all spent a lot of time practicing to a metronome and listening carefully to make sure we’re “locking in”. That’s great, right? Well I’m not sure it’s quite enough. For me, simply following the metronome didn’t fully develop my ear for tempo. Much like a singer develops an ear for accurate pitch, I wanted to develop a stronger ear for tempo. So, here are a few cool exercises that helped me refine my rhythmic ear. Let me know what you think.
60bpm – 120bpm (See link at bottom to download a downbeat click)
Set up a simple click to play only the downbeat of the measure while leaving the rest blank. Start slow. 60bpm will feel like ages between each measure, but that’s the idea! To start the exercise don’t play, just listen to the click for a good 30 seconds until you can accurately feel the time. Once your ears are locked in to the tempo, start with a simple groove, paying close attention to accurately nailing the downbeat.
60bpm – 120bpm
After a few minutes of nailing this simple groove at a slow tempo, start to add some subtle variations. Have fun and stretch out while always keeping a close ear to nail that downbeat. By branching out a bit and having fun you can develop a strong ear for accurate tempo even while improvising. Practicing a simple groove this way will force you’re ears to hone in on the smallest tempo fluctuations and strengthen your internal ability to hear time accurately.
This is my favorite single stroke exercise and it works great with the downbeat click. Again start by just listening until you can really feel the tempo, then begin the exercise. Be careful to keep those dynamics accurate while still nailing the downbeat click.
60bpm, 80bpm, 100bpm and 120bpm for 5 min each.
Pay close attention to your natural tendencies to speed up or slow down. For me, being aware of how I rush or drag has helped me understand and control my tempo much more effectively. Give it a try and see if it works for you.
The ability to hear tempo accurately and relate to it in a musical way is what gives each of us our unique sense of groove. Getting to know and master our own tendency to speed up or slow down the small notes can better equip us to develop the personality of our groove. I know it’s helped me. Have fun and start sweatin’ the small stuff!
DOWNLOAD A DOWNBEAT CLICK OF YOUR OWN HERE:
Kevin Rice is proud to have toured the world with Atlantic recording artists The Virgins supporting many artists on tour this past year including: Franz Ferdinand, Kings of Leon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jason Mraz, Doves, and The Ting Tings. Kevin and the band have appeared on many major TV shows including Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Last Call with Carson Daly, and TV Total as well as numerous Television appearances in Europe and the UK. Kevin and the band have been featured in numerous magazines such as Modern Drummer, Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Magazine, NME, and many others. Kevin also runs Angelhouse Studios in Brooklyn, specializing in album quality drum tracking as well as full production via Internet or the old fashion way, in person. Kevin is an Aries and loves to cook. (check out Vic’s line of great pepper grinders!)
Vic Firth 55A wood tip