Thursday, August 03, 2006

Developing Rhythm and Timing is Important!

One of the advantages of taking music lessons is that you get to play once a week with someone who knows how to “keep the beat.” It has been my experience that self-taught students have a hard time keeping a steady beat going, and will tend to concentrate only on the music and not as much on the beat.

While the melody to a song is of primary importance, and the chords set up the harmonic structure for the song, the rhythm, or “beat” is what makes the song fun and easy to listen to. Listeners have been known to tap their feet while listening to a song.

Here are a few hints for developing a strong sense of rhythm:
(1) Take private music lessons
(2) Take class music lessons
(3) Practice with a metronome
(4) Practice with a drum machine
(5) Practice with “accompaniment software” such as “Band-In-A-Box”
(6) Practice with a keyboard that lets you record songs into memory
(7) Practice with karaoke tapes or CDs
(8) Play along with CDs
(9) Play along with “Music-Minus-One” CDs.
(10) Join the school or community band or orchestra
(11) Join a dance band
(12) “Jam” with other musicians
(13) Listen to records and attend concerts

Some of the above points may require an explanation. If you haven’t heard about a metronome, it is a wind-up or electronic device that “ticks” off the beat. Playing along with the ticking of a metronome is an excellent way to develop steady rhythm and learn how to “stay on beat.” You will hear your note sound the same time the metronome ticks. If you hear the note before or after the tick, you are “off the beat.”

Playing with a drum machine is like playing with a metronome except the beat is more exciting. Drum machines also let you develop a natural sense of phrasing for different types of music, for example, you wouldn’t play a swing or blues song with the same stiffness as a march or polka.

Band-In-A-Box is a computer software program that allows you to type in the chord progression to a song, and then pick an accompaniment style from a list. It will then generate a “backup band” accompaniment for the song consisting of bass, drums, piano and guitar, or sometimes will use strings, brass, organ or other instruments. You could accomplish the same thing with a portable keyboard that allows you to record music into memory or a disk and then playback the recording. Yamaha and Casio make a wide variety of these instruments, and most of the models are inexpensive.

“Music-Minus-One” is the name of a company that markets recordings of popular songs with the melody part left off the recording. The record, tape or CD comes with a book that contains the sheet music so you can play the missing part. Over the years, there have been many variations on this concept. One of the significant variations of Music-Minus-One is karaoke. There is a huge availability of karaoke “tracks” on cassettes, CDs and DVDs. The melody is omitted from the recording so you can sing along. You could also play along on an instrument if you had the music. Karaoke recordings usually come with the words to the song, but not the sheet music. A professional karaoke playback system will allow you to change the key or change the speed of the song.

The rest of the tips are self-explanatory. The best way, outside of lessons, to improve your timing and sense of rhythm is to play frequently with other people that have a good sense of timing themselves. If you play with people who have trouble playing “on-beat,” your timing and rhythm may actually get worse.

As always, I am available to discuss these issues that are so very important to your advancement as a musician. Feel welcome to email me at