Master the metronome - Drum exercises to help conquer the click
Here is a sample chapter from the book ‘Drum Kit Secrets: 52 Performance Strategies for the Advanced Drummer’. This focuses on timing and becoming the master of the metronome. It is taken from the section of the book that focuses purely on timing tips to help you become the most accurate drummer you can be.
SECRET 17: MASTER OF THE METRONOME
Building on Secret 16, you should now be reasonably confident about playing in time with a metronome at a range of tempos. You should also feel less a slave to the click and more in control of your own timing. This chapter helps take that feeling to the next stage so that you are the master of that metronome completely.
First of all, let’s see if you can play with total accuracy on the click. Set it for 50 bpm, so it is slow and challenging, and simply play a basic rock beat. If beats one and two consist of a hi-hat and bass and beats two and four a snare and hi-hat, then we are aiming for those kit voices to completely eliminate the metronome’s click. If you play exactly at the same time, you will not hear the click. This might seem strange at first, but don’t panic; the metronome hasn’t broken. You are perfectly in time with it.
Although this now feels like we have mastered the click, if we look to more experienced musicians, we find that they have the freedom to move around that metronome at will in order to create different feels and moods within the music. They do not always sit directly on top of each click.
A laid-back track might involve a slightly behind-the-beat rhythm, whereas a fast, attacking track might see the drummer playing ahead of the beat. Many of us have a natural feel that sees us subconsciously ahead, behind, or on top of the beat. But if we can learn to harness control of this timing, then we can create any feel at any given time. We might even change timing within the same song, spending a laid-back verse playing behind the beat, then transitioning into a frenzied chorus that requires us to play in front of the beat. Below are some exercises to help develop this timing control.
This will go against all your instincts now that you have developed such metronomic precision, but take the time with this exercise and it will make sense. With the click at a slow tempo again, play the same rock beat from Exercise 1. Allow your notes to fall slightly behind each click, so that they create what we call a flam between yourself and the click. Resist the temptation to land back on the click, but also keep the notes steady. The hi-hats should maintain perfectly even eighth notes, all equally behind the clicks. Repeat this pattern until it becomes comfortable. This might not happen in one practice session so be prepared to revisit this exercise numerous times.
Now we repeat this exercise playing in front of the click. This time try to push slightly ahead so that flam is created again, but this time you play first so the click follows. Whether behind or ahead, try to see how far back, or in front, you can push that beat before you lose it. The aim is to hold it there consistently so your rhythm still sounds great to the listener. They will be unaware of any metronome, but will subconsciously respond to the feel that you have created with respect to the other musicians.
Now that you have mastered the feel of playing a basic drum beat on, behind, and in front of the click, it is time to move away from that safety net. Now try to add fills, vary the drum pattern, introduce sixteenth beats, and so on. Get creative, just as you would at a live performance. Make sure you maintain the chosen feel at all times. Also experiment with switching between different feels, as mentioned earlier, so that you can vary the tension between sections of a song.
This will also help your timing in general so you should find it even easier now to play right on the click. Your sense of space in the music, and your effect on the feel, will increase drastically, enabling you to make smart musical choices for the feel of each song.