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I am a keyboard player and recently decided to study bass guitar playing. I cannot spend much time for practicing - approximately 40 min a day, so the most of that time I am doing "spider exercise". When a virtual drummer plays on background I follow the tempo more accurately, than when I follow electronic metronome. Which way is preferred? What do you use for training your tempo sense?

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Alex: See also this question and its answers. –  Ulf Åkerstedt Dec 5 '13 at 9:09
    
Thank you, @UlfÅkerstedt! The link was very helpful. –  Alex M. Dec 5 '13 at 11:27
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Just out of interest, what do you do to maintain rhythm and speed while playing keyboards? Instruments aren't all THAT different. –  Carl Witthoft Dec 5 '13 at 12:33
    
@CarlWitthoft, I learnt playing keyboard without using metronome, just played along my favorite recordings. I was surprised when found out that my fingers are not as tempo accurate while strumming strings as while pressing keys) –  Alex M. Dec 5 '13 at 14:07
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Try telling that to a drummer... –  Tim Dec 5 '13 at 15:39

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

A drum machine, like a real drummer, will often play 8 or sometimes 16 in a bar. Metronomes will be set to play each beat. This sub-division into smaller bits always helps you to keep better time. With a metronome, set it, if possible, to twice the tempo, or even four times.

Each time I listen to music in the car, I tap in time to a song, and when I go through a tunnel, losing signal, I try to still be in time at the other end. No tunnels ? Turn the volume down, then up several bars later. It's even safer to do this at home, with your sound system !

Playing with others is a mixed blessing - some songs will stay exactly on beat easily, others will almost ask for a slight speed up/ slow down as they are played. As a bass player, you need to team up with a drummer and play together lots.

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Thank you, @Tim for quick answer! So as a beginner I will start to follow virtual drummer, playing 8th and 16th notes. And after gaining some experience I will switch to follow metronome, playing 4th notes. –  Alex M. Dec 5 '13 at 8:02

There are a couple of differences between a metronome and a drum machine.

A metronome just keeps a regular beat. Some electronic metronomes give a slightly different click to indicate the start of a bar, but that's all. Drum patterns have lots more elements that help keep you in time -- for a typical rock pattern, emphasis on the first beat, snares on the up-beats, hi-hats filling in between beats.

A metronome just keeps rigid time. Drum patterns often have a swing to them, which some people find easier to play to.

A metronome pattern is monotonous; it's designed not to be too obtrusive a sound, but that means it's easy to zone out from the metronome and play to your own time. The answer to this is concentration.

The basic practice of playing along to a metronome at one click per beat, has these mainstream uses:

  • For beginners who are just learning the basics of playing to a constant beat - as a way to provide feedback that they've strayed from the beat.
  • For intermediate players training themselves to stick to a tempo - rather than speeding up for the easy bits and slowing down for the tricky bits
  • For advanced players training themselves to play difficult parts faster - practice at a tempo you can manage, then knock the metronome up 2bpm, practice again, repeat until you reach the desired tempo.

The ultimate aim, however, is to be able to keep to a beat without the "crutch" of a metronome. Use a metronome as a practice tool, but only where it is useful.

You would very seldom perform with a metronome, or anything that sounds like one. You are more likely to perform with a drum machine or a drummer. Hence a metronome is a tool for practising technique. A drum machine is suitable for actual rehearsal.

One place metronomes are used in actual performance, or recording, is when playing along to a click track. A click track sounds like a metronome, and provides a way for musicians to stay in time with sequenced instruments, delay pedals set to a tempo, etc. Different bands and producers use a click track in different ways.

One method is for the drummer to hear the click track through an earpiece. The drummer must be well practised in staying in sync with a click track. The sequenced instruments will do their thing, and since the drummer is staying with the click track, they will be in sync. Other human musicians will play in time to the drummer. Sometimes other musicians will also have earpieces.

Some drummers are masters at playing to a click track, and some great drummers just can't do it. Keith Moon famously couldn't stick to a click track - he'd just get excited and speed away from the click.

One great exercise you could try is this:

  • Pick a pattern you want to practice, and the tempo at which you want to practice. Say 120bpm
  • Set the metronome to 120bpm
  • Practice against the metronome until you are comfortable with it
  • Now halve the metronome tempo to 60bpm
  • Practice at 120bpm, while your metronome clicks on the first and third beat of each bar.
  • Once you're comfortable with that halve the metronome tempo to 30bpm
  • Keep practising. Now the metronome clicks once on the first beat of each bar. You need to concentrate on keeping time yourself. It will be difficult at first. Hearing the click coming in time with your downbeats is really satisfying.
  • If your metronome is able to go slow enough, keep practising with one click per two bars then one click per four bars.

My video source for that technique

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Thank you, I'll give it a try! –  Alex M. Dec 5 '13 at 14:11
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One may play using something like a metronome - a 'click track'. Maybe not as a bass player, but certainly as a drummer, or to put tracks down in the absence of the drum tracks. More as a recording help than performing at a gig, though. –  Tim Dec 5 '13 at 15:00
    
Thanks for mentioning the click track @Tim - am adding something about it to the main body, because it deserves exploring. –  slim Dec 5 '13 at 15:23

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