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I'm a semi-professional drummer, and feel that lately my sense of time is slipping. Specifically, I tend to count in songs a bit too fast and/or the tempo rushes a bit over the course of the song.

I have always tended to play on the front of the beat, and I'd like to be able develop the control so I can play ahead or behind based on the requirements of the situation.

How can I improve my sense of time?

I've already started daily sessions with practice pad and metronome, and I've started using a metronome during rehearsals and gigs to make sure I at least start the song at the correct tempo.

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The metronome is always a great place to start. But to improve your non-metronomic time keeping, here's a neat little exercise. Find a metronome where you can silence subdivisions or beats, preferably from a whole phrase. Then set a phrase to play in 4/4 for however many bars you want. I like sixteen. Mute the last bar and see how you come back in on the downbeat. Once you're comfortable with this, trying playing a drum solo over this or do a fill in the silence. Then gradually make the silence occupy more bars of the phrase. This is a nice mix between structure and free form that I like in my practice session. Plenty of room to improvise, but still with measurable results. Also, video taping and recording yourself while playing or practicing is also helpful to look for possible improvements and get good feedback on what you sound like.

  • I've done some video, and I've always found that helpful and interesting. I just need to find a more turn key solution so I do it more regularly. – wloescher Feb 23 '15 at 15:44
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+1 to making yourself a metronome slave and self-recording.

One exercise I did as a kid was clapping along to metronome beats. If I was successful, I couldn't hear the metronome click, only the clap.

Another trick I try to keep myself in the habit of (especially when counting off, but also when playing) is subdividing in my head, or silently with my mouth -- saying syllables like "ta-ka-ti-ka" for sixteenth notes, for example.

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    On the topic of counting, I have a friend who counts with syllables and numbers and breaks the numbers down to a recognizable syllable. For example, a bar of 12/4 with 1/16 note subdivisions, he would say, "one-ee-and-a, two-ee-and-a, three-ee-and-a, four-ee-and-a, five-ee-and-a, six-ee-and-a, sev-ee-and-a, eight-ee-and-a, nine-ee-and-a, ten-ee-and-a, lev-ee-and-a, twelve-ee-and-a" and then repeat. – Dan D Feb 20 '15 at 19:42
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The drummer I am working with, Brendan, uses this method which he would call the "Metronome Reduction" to improve the innate ability to keep time. He made a YouTube video on this actually:

Metronome Reduction Video Tutorial

In case sharing a YouTube link is not allowed, I am explaining it here with text too.

Basically what you will do is to pick a groove, perhaps 8 bars, start your metronome at the tempo where you hear a click on every beat. If you are playing in 4/4, you will then hear four clicks per bar.

Once you are comfortable with that, go ahead and divide that tempo by 2, so the metronome only clicks once every two beats--you'll hear two clicks per bar.

Notice that you are not playing any slower or faster, you are essentially playing at the same speed. The only thing that has changed is your reference clicks from the metronome.

It goes from one click every beat, to one click every two beats.

So moving on, you can stretch it to one click every four beats, which essentially is one click per bar. You can of course go as far as one click every two bars, every four bars, or even once click every eight bars, which in this case is the entire groove!

Doing so, you are training your brain to perceive the sense of pulse, first with a lot of help from the metronome, then gradually you remove your dependency on it!

Incorporate this into your daily practice routine and you'll see results for sure. This metronome exercise should help you improve your sense of time, or in your case, you'll have a better idea when to come in and join you band buddies!

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Maybe try and incorporate time keeping into your every waking second life. Try counting seconds and see how close you can get to keeping accurate time without looking at a clock. Try counting subdivisions of the second for variety. This will train your inner sense of time. Once this is better established you might find keeping regular time at other tempos easier since you have frames of reference, i.e. 60, 90, 120, 240. Do all day in spare moments. Live time!

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