Tag: practicing

Why do these Song Rhythm Tracks sound so totally great?

drummer AJAZZGO2017

They do, don’t they!  This question is one of the most frequent I get from people using this App.  It often comes as surprise, perhaps because of the widespread familiarity folk have with ‘Midi Drum Machines‘ which don’t satisfy in the same way as Song Rhythm TracksMidi Drum Machines and Song Rhythm Tracks are two very different products; their differences are summarized in the table below.

The Song Rhythm Tracks Way

Here are the three top reasons why we believe these tracks are so great to jam to, to gig to, and to cut records to.

  1. Great Recordings of Great Drummers – Song Rhythm Tracks are arranged from careful studio recordings of excellent drummers.  They are not constructed from midi files fitting together “samples” from single drum hits to form a mechanical style but rather multiple longer-form full recordings by top studio drummers, lasting from up to 8 bars at a time where you hear subtle drum rolls, variations in ride cymbal taps, complex fills and more.  The rhythmic style comes from talented drummers that are very experienced in that particular style be it Reggae, Salsa, Bossa, Rumba, Tango, Rock, Country, Jazz, Pop, Celtic, Praise & Worship, Blues, and lots more!
  2. There is natural variety promoted over the repeats.  That is a number of recordings of, all aspects of playing, fills, post-fills, shots and more are taken and selectively chosen while sequencing and engineering the final audio.  This provides the natural variety one gets with drummers.  It helps prevent the drumming becoming monotonous and repetitive.
  3. The arrangement is spelling out many aspects of the song’s form.  This might have a larger contribution than one might imagine.  It is what real drummers do, but drumming software rarely does.   The drumming is indicating
    1. When you are returning to the ‘top of the form’ again
    2. When your sections are ending and starting again
    3. When you are playing a bridge section
    4. Whether you are playing a middle chorus or, alternatively, the first or last chorus.   This not only helps you keep place while you are playing but it makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable to listen to, or play along with, as well.

All this takes a lot of careful preparation and curation, huge storage, and sophisticated algorithms.   We feel this cannot be achieved on mobile devices themselves which is why our solution involves cloud services working with the mobile App.

Comparison – Midi Drum Machines and Song Rhythm Tracks

Midi Drum Machines Song Rhythm Tracks
Audio is generated from the machine ‘playing’ together individual drum ‘hits’ at varying intensities.  The machine is effectively taking the place of the drums and, to some extent, the drummer. Audio is generated from multiple long recordings of talented artists.  These recordings can be as much as 8-bars long with repeats using alternate recordings to provide variety.
Each rhythm comes from an algorithm specifying which drums are hit when within the bar.  Each rhythm can be parameterized by the tempo, linearly increasing and decreasing with ease. Even so, the mechanical sounding rhythm sounds less and natural as the tempo varies further from the norm for the rhythm. Each rhythm comes from long-form recordings.  Each of these is recorded at multiple tempos where the drummer naturally changes the style of the drumming to suit the tempo, varying the intensity and placement of the hits within the bar to suit the tempo and the style. Effectively, each tempo recording is a unique rhythm, albeit stylistically related to those at the other tempos.
The machine generates the drumming audio in real-time. Many machines allow for an audio track to be generated but rarely do they provide good setlist facilities for these audio files, as that is not their focus. Alive Drumming supplies high-quality MP3 audio files that are catalogued and managed from within mobile apps with good setlist facilities and provide a good musician’s player.
Only a small amount of computer memory is required to hold the audio of the drum hits which are often efficiently compressed;  The Apps generally have a small memory footprint as well. The source audio recordings are large requiring much storage space.  Also, there are a many of them.  Alive Drumming stores these within Cloud Servers where sophisticated programs generate the  Song Rhythm Tracks, delivering them to the mobile apps.
Midi Drum Machines are preferred by those affirming the mechanical, highly regular sounding drums.  This sound has spawned new genres of music. Song Rhythm Tracks are preferred by those who like the sound of real-life drummers drumming on drums and the artistry achieved by these musicians using authentic percussion and drums.
Users of Midi Drum Machines often affirm the visual beauty of the machine themselves and the ‘drumming’ facilities they have.  The machines become a ‘new type of drum to play‘, and they love their machines as much as any instrumentalists. Users of Song Rhythm Tracks are not interested in playing Midi Drum Machines, or probably real drums either.  They want to benefit from great sounding rhythmic backing tracks that fit the songs they play and with a minimum of effort.   They generally would prefer an understated device that works reliably, efficiently and with great ergonomics, particularly during playing.  They want the best quality, performance-ready backing tracks.
Users of Midi Drum Machines often use it as an ‘advanced metronome‘ and improvise along to a 4-bar endless loop. 4-bar and sometime 8-bar phrases are often displayed visually within the Machine with facilities to play and loop alternative phrases. Song Rhythm Tracks are backing music for the practice and performance of fully-arranged Songs (vocal or instrumental).  They partly sound so great because you hear the form of the song in the rhythmic backing, just like you do with real drummers.  This is not only a longer-form than a 4-bar loop, but it has more structure as well, with arrangements including introduction sections, middle choruses, bridges and more.  The arrangement is always visible – particularly during playing where you might need a reminder.
There are many Midi Drum Machines available on mobile and desktop platforms and dedicated physical machines, with various facilities, often specializing in particularly rhythmic styles. There’s the one Song Rhythm Tracks Service which provides all the various rhythms and arranging smarts.  Currently, apps are only available on the Apple iOS platform but Android and Web platforms will be delivered.  All iOS Apps have exactly the same facilities and can access the full Alive Drumming catalog.


How to practice, then how to jam?

illustration WyntonMarsalis

The Early Beginnings of 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

When jamming or gigging, don’t count in your head.  By now you should have internalized the song by private practice and be ready to communicate it with others and counting will detract from listening.   “Let the Melody by your guide”.  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 Practising Alone or perhaps 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?  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.   I think an ideal, and unrealistic, optimum would be to have a real human band of experienced musicians who know the piece well ready in your practice studio 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.

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 play 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 internalising 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.

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 WILL 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 middle choruses, which are generally the place for improvisations, and even where four-bar phrases occur etc.   If this rhymic 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.

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.   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.  Check out the iOS App to get them.

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