Let’s start with a quick review of Metronomics 101:
Plain and simple, practicing with a metronome (or drum machine or “click track” or what-have-you) will make you play better. If you really give it a chance, I think you will be amazed at the results.
When the GRÜBS did our first few recording sessions, playing to a click was unfamiliar and really uncomfortable for some of us. There were times when it was almost painful. But all of us agreed, eventually, that it improved our playing, both individually and as a group.
These days, we occasionally rehearse a song together with a click … which, to be honest, still feels a little awkward, but almost everything we play afterward is both more accurate and more relaxed.
The main reason is this: Like most people, we have a natural tendency to speed up when the music gets louder and/or more exciting, or when we get nervous. So, ironically, we’re usually speeding up when we get to the most difficult part of a song … which of course is when most of our mistakes happen!
Playing with accurate timing means, among other things, not rushing the difficult parts … which results in fewer mistakes. And of course playing better and sounding better is more fun!
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Now, if you’ve been practicing with your metronome for a while and you’re starting to get bored, maybe it’s time to take it to another level!
- For example, if you’re playing a song at 120 bpm, try setting the metronome to 60 instead, so there are only two clicks per bar instead of four (later you can set it at 30 for one click per bar, or 15 for one click every two bars); this can be an excellent way to find out how accurate your playing is between the clicks!
- Here’s a different kind of challenge: Take a song you usually play at 120 bpm, set the metronome to 110 or 100 or 90 instead, and force yourself to play it slower. You can learn a lot about a song, and about your own playing habits, by slowing down. For one thing, slow mistakes are sometimes much easier to hear, and fix, than fast ones!
- Another useful, challenging, fun thing a lot of bass players do is practice against a “backbeat”: Set the metronome to a half-time click and imagine it’s going “(rest) two (rest) four” instead of “one (rest) three (rest)”, so you’re playing your downbeat bass notes between the clicks.
Here’s a little video demonstration of these ideas.
Of course, there are all kinds of possible variations; here’s a video lesson by YouTube bassist Adam Neely, with a few examples of more-advanced metronome games!
If some of this seemed a bit difficult, don’t worry; you don’t have to do all of it! And my next “how-to” post will definitely be all about easy stuff.