Developing Your Inner Time Feel
by Adrian Moring
Inner Time Feel can be defined as the consistency with which one plays a steady pulse. Developing your own time feel is an important part of improvement as a musician. As you progress, you will notice subtleties of change within this concept. Every musician has a different concept of time. Strengthening and becoming more confident in this area will make it easier for other musicians to understand what you are doing, as well as your audience. Developing this “Inner Time Feel” will not only make it easier for other musicians to play with you, but also will elevate the music to a higher level.
Your Friend The Metronome
The first step in understanding how time works is to purchase or download a metronome. A metronome is a device that keeps a steady pulse at various rates. Technology has advanced metronomes quite a bit in the last twenty or so years. There are metronomes that can incorporate odd meters, play complex rhythms, and be manipulated in many other ways. Although it is a great idea to explore the options these advances offer us, it is certainly not imperative to buy the most expensive metronome on the market. As long as it keeps a steady beat, there is plenty to learn from it.
The first step is to take a scale, arpeggio, or other musical passage and play it on the beat with the metronome at a medium tempo (quarter note=90 is always a great place to start.) Try to line up your notes with the beat. If the clicks from the metronome disappear, it means that you are so in sync with it that your note covers it up. This is the goal of practicing with the metronome. After becoming comfortable playing at a medium tempo, speed it up. This is a great way to develop technical facility.
After playing fast, slow the metronome down to quarter note=40. This is always surprisingly difficult as it illuminates the bad habits that you may have developed at the fast tempos. After becoming comfortable playing on the beat, try changing it up and practice that same passage with the metronome on the “ands” of the eighth notes. This means that the click will be on the offbeats. Exercises like this will improve and reinforce the inner time clock and also help develop confidence to perform with other players who have great time.
Transcribe And Play Along
Although metronomes are an excellent tool at developing your inner time feel, they are not the end all be all of having great time. Everyone has their own way of feeling a beat, and playing with musicians who have good time is a surefire way to learn to play well with others (makes sense right?). If you do not have access to other musicians though, recordings are the most direct link. One thing to incorporate into a regular practice routine is to transcribe other musicians. These other musicians do not even necessarily have to be on your instrument! Learn to listen to music carefully and isolate what one instrument is doing in any given song.
A helpful way to build this skill is listening to one song over and over, and honing in on the various instruments one at a time. After identifying a specific instrument’s part, learn that part or passage on your own instrument. Write transcriptions down for regular review, study, and analysis. By merely learning this part and practicing with it, characteristics of that player’s time feel can be incorporated into your own. This player may have certain tendencies, and this is the most direct way to incorporate and absorb those tendencies. Although simply listening to musicians with great time can give a sense of what they are doing, transcribing and practicing along with them is the best way to integrate the great qualities that they have into your own playing.
Singing And Dancing To Success
Developing and having great time can be an elusive and life long journey. The end goal of this practice is to have a steadiness within your playing that is infective to the other musicians around you as well as the listener. The great jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller once said, “Music is all about singing and dancing”. While there is somewhat of a scientific element to practicing with a metronome and playing with a steady pulse, the bottom line is that music is an art and you must keep the humanistic elements. As you go forth with the quest for great time, always remember that we all have a natural way of feeling a beat. Trust your instinct when doing this and remember that at first, the dance of music exists within yourself.