I once ran sound for a multi band show at a high school. The school was having a “field day” a sort of celebration of the end of a week of mind numbing, state required, standardized tests. There were a lot of outdoor activities going on; water ballon fights, volleyball, basketball and so on, but several kids had asked if their garage bands could jam in the cafetorium. The PA was set, a schedule was set and the fun began. I was struck by a contrast between two bands.
The first had a great lead guy. His guitar playing was proficient, his southern rock vocals were authentic, he was focused on his audience. But, his bass player and drummer played like they had never met. They couldn’t have stayed together if you superglued their hands. The groove was so loose it was dangling in the wind. Despite the front mans best efforts, most of the audience went outside to watch the volleyball game.
The next band had a lead singer with a very Punk approach. He played a cheap, no brand guitar. If he knew how to tune he didn’t, but it didn’t really matter because his playing was pretty approximate as well. His vocal style was energetic but he wasn’t even making a pretense of trying to sing, just sort of yelling toward the microphone.
His bass player and drummer locked like the gear box of a Porsche. The groove they laid down gave the kid up front a rock solid bed where he could work. Even though he only bounced on it flailing his arms madly, it made all the difference. All the students came back inside, girls were squealing, everybody dancing and into the show.
The moral of this story is: Rhythm is the most important part of music. Yes, you need to work on your guitar tone, singing in pitch, and your style, but if it’s not on the beat it’s all for nothing! Every time you practice it should be with a metronome or drum machine. You’re online now; try Monkey Machine. It’s a free, online drum machine that’s easy to use and free from any malicious adware. I’m sure there are others. Leave a comment with your favorite way to add rhythm to your rehearsal.
A Friend who critiques the web site for me said, “I can’t believe you don’t have any metronome exercises.” I responded half joking, “that’s ‘cause I learned Old School in marching band where some one would whack me in the head for getting out of step.”
Silly as the exchange may seem it holds three Truths:
1. Rhythm is damned important
2. You have to move to get it
3. You have to practice a lot!
Most audiences can forgive a wrong note, but break the steady beat and watch everybody twitch and frown!
You don’t experience rhythm in your brain, you have to feel it in your body! Move! Dance! (alone if you feel better that way). Keep time EVERY time you listen to music. Conduct Beethoven symphonies, tap your toe to bluegrass, Bang your head to Heavy Metal, Shrug to Show Tunes, er… you get the point.
Practice with a drum machine (see blog on Monkey Machine, free online drum machine!)
Practicing with other musicians will drive home the importance of keeping steady time, but try to avoid the head whacking type.
Second lesson for strumming in time. Don’t try to play just the rhythm, strum steady beat and miss some beats!