Alive Drumming hosts some sample Song Rhythm Tracks and a user-contributed mixes group at HearThisAt, the audio hosting service providing great user and social facilities. Please contribute your own mixes to the Song Rhythm Tracks User Group at HearThisAt.
Hear this set of sample Jazz and Blues Song Rhythm TracksatHearThisAt
Here this group of user-contributed mixes using Song Rhythm TracksatHearThisAt
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.
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 stronghold 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 where 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 practise 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.
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.
When learning a new piece of music, when should a musician work on getting right the rhythm and feel of the piece?
We have long believed it has to be the very first thing to get right and there’s little point playing notes at all unless they are in the desired rhythm (feel and groove). Tempo, however, is a whole other subject – there’s a lot to be said for precision and even playing tunes at markedly different tempos to internalize the piece better.
Timing is the bedrock of all music: “When a note is struck at the wrong time, it’s the wrong note”.
Getting playing in the right rhythm as soon as possible is why we have always sought out structured and inspiring rhythmic backing. This ultimately lead to “Song Rhythm Tracks“.
Rhythm and Timing
Practice Makes Permanent
One of the most repeated terms used to, and by, musicians is that “practice makes perfect”. I’ve heard this altered to, “practice makes permanent”. i.e. if we repeat a thing, over and over, then we do internalize it and it becomes a facility we have “without consciously thinking about it”. This is why we can do complex coordinated movements without much conscious thought such as driving cars and even using a knife and fork. If you’ve never done these things in your life before they can be very challenging for the very first time, but once performed daily one doesn’t even recognize them as a challenge anymore. It’s as if an entirely different part of your mind is assigned to the task. So, what is important is that we are very selective about using this repetition technique and make sure it affects don’t work against us because if what we are practising is not beneficial then it will get internalized just as readily…. So, practice can make perfect; It will eventually make permanent, but that permanency can defeat you as well as help you.
Developing your own sense of timing
A key aspect of music is rhythm and timing – it’s what can make music come alive, and it’s what can kill it as well. It’s essential that we develop good rhythm and timing.
If you haven’t yet developed the sense of that regular pulse that is present in most modern music – pop, folk, country, jazz – playing along to something with a pulse is of great benefit because wherever your pulse is lacking it will be clearly shown and you will automatically adjust to follow the pulse and keep the timing. Great: That’s a real win. My recommendation is to be very selective about the use of metronomes and click-tracks: There’s more to rhythm than a pulse!
But not just any pulse!
Misuse of Metronomes and click tracks Considered Harmful
Always using a click-track when you practice and when playing together in a group will likely work against developing your own human interaction on the pulse and detract from the rhythmic nuances that end up being beaten out by the demanding, oh-so-regular, ‘click’. In a similar way also, counting when you are jammingwith others will be a problem: Counting the pulses within the meter, such as 1-and-a, 2-and-a, is an absolutely invaluable aid when learning a new, perhaps rhythmically challenging melody: I’ve heard it said that if you cannot count a melody or rhythmic idea out, you don’t really know it: It is great to count it out to ensure we really know it, but once you have internalized that melody, it is time to stop counting it and feel the rhythm and communicate with the others you are playing with without blocking them out by counting in your head.
The Jazz educator Steven Sedergreen in his book, “Start Playing Jazz Piano Now”, writes, “Time and feel are intuitive rather than mechanical. Reliance on mechanical means such as counting and the use of metronomes are poor substitutes for feeling it. Time emanates from within the body and moves outwardly, a natural feeling that should not be restricted”. (chapter 21, para 4)
Alive Drumming releases tutorial video for the arranger and setlists features of using the iOS App Version 2.0. The video uses an iPhone 6, but, other than the layout, it’s the same for all iOS devices.
It’s good to have the features described and see the walkthrough on the App at the same time. There’s another tutorial video coming up as well for the arrangement and setlists features.