SONIC SOUP - HELPING DRUMMERS FIND THEIR GROOVE ( WITHOUT A CLICK ) Grant Norsworthy
As I wrote in my previous article , drummers - and all musicians - can believe they are playing in time when actually they aren ’ t . https :// joom . ag / TeKI / p54 )
An anecdote …
I recently read a scathing online review for an electronic metronome . One negative review alongside many others that were positive . A shopper had given the lowest possible one star out of five rating . The accompanying comment read something like , “ I bought this metronome to use while drumming but it ’ s useless ! It keeps slowing down !”
The musician making such a comment is more ready to believe that a brand new , fresh out of the box piece of equipment that has been professionally and expressly designed , manufactured , and sold to keep perfect time is malfunctioning - possibly every time they do a drum fill - rather than come to terms with the fact that their internal metronome is lying to them .
My guess : It ’ s not the purchased electronic metronome that ’ s slowing down . It ’ s that the drummer ’ s playing is speeding up and they can ’ t tell ! They ’ re relying on their internal metronome more than the accurate , electronic metronome .
It ’ s true . Using a metronome “ click track ” through an in-ear monitor ( IEM ) system has become very common - even typical - for the instrumentalists who lead church congregations to worship God through songs . A practice that - at one time - was the realm only of the professional touring musicians , then it moved ( first ) to larger , higher-production churches and now to even many smaller churches .
The benefits are obvious . A band that plays in time with one another sounds better than one that doesn ’ t . More importantly for our context , a band that is playing in time with one another is far more effective at inviting their congregation to sing worshipfully than the band that is not . Everyone playing in time with one another greatly reduces that messy “ sonic soup ” that can so easily leave a congregation struggling to engage .
Having everyone playing their instrument ( or even singing ) while listening to the perfectly intime metronome simultaneously is probably the easiest step to take to help a band of amateur , volunteer musicians find their groove . But it ’ s not the step that everyone wants to take .
Many churches don ’ t use IEMs and , therefore , can ’ t use the metronome ’ s click track . A significant ( and possibly growing ) number of churches don ’ t want to have the sterilizing , isolating effects of IEMs . They don ’ t want to emphasize the performance perfection of individuals at the cost of connection . They highly value their , “ We ’ re all in this together ! Let ’ s sing to God !” vibe . They want less “ concert ” and more “ campfire ” and I understand where they ’ re coming from . Using a metronome does not fit their ethos .
So , if you ’ re not wanting to use a metronome “ click track ”, yet you want your band to be tighter , more together , have better time-keeping and groove , it ’ s gotta start with the drums .
Now , to be clear , having the ability to keep solid , correct time is important for all musicians - including singers . But for the typical , currentday Church band line-up , the drummer is the “ conductor ” of the whole ensemble . The whole musical “ house ” is built on the timekeeping ability of the drummer . Our drummer needs to be the boss of good timekeeping .
In my article in last month ’ s issue I wrote about timekeeping in more general terms . Now , I want to get more specific and practical for drummers and those who MD ( are Musically Directors of ) drummers . I have helped many church drummers whose internal metronome is letting them down , so I hope it ’ s helpful that I share some the techniques I use to help improve their foundational timekeeping .
My methods can be bitter pills for a drummer - especially if they ’ ve been playing for a while yet remain unaware of the problem and have never had their timekeeping questioned - but if they ’ re open , stay teachable and give my suggestions a go , the improvement can be immediate and significant .
Side Note : If you ’ re imagining me coaching a drummer on timekeeping , please don ’ t picture the “ Not quite my tempo ” scene from 2014 movie “ Whiplash ”. It ’ s an intense , uncomfortable scene . Please believe me . My coaching is nothing like that . ( If you don ’ t know what I ’ m talking about , find the scene on YouTube … but not if you ’ re offended by coarse language ).
Before any progress can be made , the drummer will need to agree with this : Helping the whole band and , in turn , the whole congregation stay in time is the first and most important role of the drummer . Keeping great time is more important than flashy drum fills . Or any sort of fills for that matter ! More important than playing drums in a way that the drummer personally enjoys . If we don ’ t have time - groove - we don ’ t really have anything but a big steaming bowl of sonic soup .