Here are my views on how to go about practicing and jamming.
This is such an important part of the journey of becoming a musician. I wrote this down for the benefit of a musician just setting out on his journey, wanting to know what the key things were that would determine their success. I know I certainly did not go about it the right way for many years. I had not had any musical education as a child, but as an adult when learning music for the first time, had the benefit of a private teacher but never really addressed this important issue.
Learning Melodies in Private Practice
If you are learning a new, perhaps challenging, melody for the first time, in private practice, then sure, do count out the meter and use a metronome / click-track selectively and judiciously to check your timing, but, as soon as you’ve confirmed you’ve got it, asap stop forever using the metronome or click track on that tune and don’t use it again for that piece of music, because what was once aiding you to get better rhythmically will now limit your rhythmic feel and hold you back.
When Jamming or Gigging with Other Musicians
“Let the Melody by your guide”.
When jamming or gigging, don’t count in your head. By this time you should have internalized the song by private practice and be ready to communicate it with others and counting will detract from listening.
If you have the melody in your mind while performing and improvising it will help you keep place without any need to count. Also, where there is a pause in the melody, supplement with your own melody to help with this. For example, if the melody has a two bar rest then filling that rest with your own ‘fill melody’ will support using the melody to keep the place in the tune. Keeping the melody in your head will be the least distraction while listening to the other players unless your sense of rhythm and timing is so good and you are so tight with the other band members that you don’t need even that. If you are struggling to keep your place then a strong hold on the melody can be the best thing to help this.
When Practicing Alone or With Others
What to do when you are playing the tune over regularly to internalize it before you play it with others, or even if you never get to play with others?
Professional musician backing tracks
Firstly, it is important to get a sense of the form of the music, and secondly, it would be good also to always practice and play, in the rhythmic style of the piece. Consider an unrealistic, optimum situation were a real human band of experienced musicians who know the piece well already are in your practice studio ready to jam along to. They will also need to accommodate you by stopping and starting at your command. That concept has been best addressed by professional musician backing tracks supplied by vendors such as ‘Aebersold’. They are a great option, but not always a practical one. If you have purchased one of these, and it includes your tune, in key and style and similar tempo you will be playing it with your band, then, great, do include playing along to it as part of this practice. It can be really enjoyable and allows one to practice improvisation with the aural checks on harmony and form you would not otherwise have. That is if you improvise over the form and drop a bar or forget a chord change you should hear that and be able to correct it.
Play with the Greats!
Another great option is to play along to artist’s performances of the tune. Say you are learning Autumn Leaves and you have recordings of it by various artists in your record collection, then put on those recordings and play along, ‘accompanying’ with chords or a baseline, depending on your instrument. You are interacting with top musicians who are undoubtedly playing the piece well – nothing you internalize there will be as lifeless and damaging as a click-track. I believe at this time when you are playing and internalizing a tune, it is important to practice it in as many ‘practice formats’ as possible. Those previously mentioned and also, playing alone the melody by itself, and then the melody and the baseline, then play the baseline and sing the melody, then play the chords and sing the melody, then play the chords and play the melody together. Do you get the idea? The more variety of ways you hear and perform the tune the better your aural knowledge of it becomes. Many great educators give this advice and it really works.
Getting into the groove!
So, what about rhythm and timing when you are doing this? I think the best option is to have a rhythm backing track playing that does not have the baseline or chords but does represent the musical form of the piece, where sections start and end, where the energy changes as the performance moves to a bridge (or “middle-8”) sections and to/from middle choruses, which are generally the place for improvisations, and even where four-bar phrases occur etc. If this rhythmic backing is also alive and human and responding to the musical form the song rather than metronomic and repetitive in its delivery, and is in the rhythmic style you will be playing the piece, you not only have a great foundation for learning the piece but also a hugely enjoyable one as well.
Click-tracks consider harmful
Essentially, it’s the same argument that went for playing along to click tracks. A click track may expose many faults you may have with the meter and your placement of the chords, your baseline or melody, but it will also install a deadening of the other rhythmic aspects that should be happening and importantly it will not outline the form of the song. The negatives of the click-track I think actually outweighs the positives. I suggest never using a click track at this stage; rather use a Song Rhythm Track that has a great sense of rhythm from the audio of real drummers playing real drums in the style you will be playing it and will outline the song form of the song you are learning. This is a good idea even if you perform in a drummer-less ensemble. One can always additionally practice the piece without rhythmic backing to ensure one can maintain one’s own sense of rhythm and timing without the backing track, but it’s good to get a start from great rhythmic backing first. So, how to get great-sounding, human backing tracks in the musical form of your song? There are now “Song Rhythm Tracks” from Alive Drumming providing exactly that.
Song Rhythm Tracks
Song Rhythm Tracks are a new type of backing track composed entirely of rhythmic backing (no melody or harmony) arranged to the musical form of the song — it’s “songform”. These tracks are complete performances like one gets from a professional drummer. They have a count-in, introduction section, choruses and characteristic endings, framed by fills showing where sections start and end. Even musical bridges and middle choruses have higher intensity where appropriate to the style. All this without a typical arranger’s interface thereby keeping it simple. One can select a track in under 30 seconds — under 15 seconds once one gets the hang of it.
The App’s player has tempo adjustment and a facility to sequence the tracks for your gig or jam session. It is for musicians of all abilities. New musicians use the App to provide an accompaniment to songs. They get a rhythm that is sympathetic so they learn to keep time, get into the groove and internalise the song’s musical structure – All this while enjoying engaging and inspiring rhythms. Gigging musicians catalogue their backing into setlists and use it to guide performance. Having quality rhythmic backing, with a setlist facility and a musician’s player, all in the one App is so convenient one finds oneself using this rhythmic backing more and more.
Song Rhythm Tracks are truly high-quality rhythmic backing that is convenient to select and play. You are not going to get tired of these backing tracks. You are not going to have to sequence anything. You will find that the player and setlist’s user-interface encourages continued use. You will get to appreciate the form of your songs more and you might include these tracks into your own single and album releases.
Whether you are learning a new tune, jamming, gigging or cutting your latest album, this Song Rhythm Tracks provides a solution.
Check out samples of the audio at Alive Drumming’s Samples page
Check out these articles from Alive Drumming that give further insights into the thinking behind the product –
Download the Song Rhythm Tracks App on the Apple App Store
Try Alive Drumming’s sampler apps to sample previously arranged tracks of popular tunes. It is then easy to use the app to adjust these to your practice and performance requirements. All the sampler apps are the same Song Rhythm Tracks app but with the included sample tracks.
Also published on Medium.