How To Play With Time (Harmonica Rhythm Boot Camp)

I tried using a metronome many years ago. I did it out of a vague sense of duty. That somehow it was good for me

I bought a mechanical metronome called a Mini-Taktell.  I never liked it .
It seemed cold and heartless.

Then I found out the metronome was defective. It would speed up and slow down when I tried to use it. By the time I figured this out it was too late to get my money back.

The people I was playing with told me I had a good sense of rhythm, so why bother with this thing? I quit using it.

Fast forward… I have been developing ways to practice harmonica train rhythms as a breathing practice, and a way of developing a rock steady foundation for playing the harmonica. I am blown away at how it fattens up my tone and increases my speed for single note playing.

I  look for new ways to keep the breathing exercises interesting. So I get drum tracks to play with and love it.

I know that the drum tracks are great and make the exercise even more potent. But I know there could be more….

Enter Ken Deifik. Ken is a big fan of practicing with a metronome. He tells me top studio musicians and session players practice with them.  I complain about the heartless nature of the metronome. He says that practicing with a metronome is about developing a relentlessly right on sense of timing. A skill that you drill deep into your body (and brain) by repetition.

Rhythm is the root of all music, and strong time is deeply important in expressing rhythm powerfully. Ken says that if you develop solid time, then everything that goes on top of it will have a lot more power.

Then he told me something that really got my attention. He said that when you start working with the metronome, it seems to speed up and slow down – but of course it doesn’t! Work with it a metronome for a while and eventually this illusion goes away. When the metronome seems to be keeping good time, not speeding up and slowing down, what has happened is that YOU have changed, and made a real leap in transforming your body into a relentlessly solid rhythm machine.

AND as you drive this change deeper into your bones, you can play very simple things and amazing things happen. Crowds go nuts. Really sophisticated jazz musicians dig playing with you because musicians with a strong sense of time recognize that ability in other musicians. You KNOW exactly where the very center of the beat is, because you FEEL it. And you can decide where you want to be in relation to the center of the beat – you can confidently rush it or drag it to make the music feel right to you.

AND there is more – since rhythm is an absolute root of the music, whoever has the best timing and the most skilled use of rhythm RULES the band, even if they are a sideman. The rest of the band may not look at it this way, but on but on the level of pure energy, music crystallizes around the most powerfully developed and focused pulse. Whoever has that becomes the center of gravity, at least while they are playing.

A strong sense of time lets you develop a strong, personal, sense of swing.  It’s great when the whole band is swinging, but if everyone else’s rhythmic feel is boring and you are swinging, your bandmates will catch on quickly if they’re listening.  The whole band gets better.  (The audience LOVES swing, even if they don’t realize it.  Swing makes the party.)

If you’ve ever played with a drum circle, you know how contagious rhythm is, how it can start out ragged and then come together as people play.  People lock in to each other. The same thing happens with you and a metronome.

So ultimately the metronome work does not drain you of soul, it magnifies it. Passion and emotion are power. So is skill. Put them together and you have focused power.

The metronome is designed to do two things – to tell you exactly where the center of the beat is, and keep perfect time. It IS heartless until you put YOUR heart into it.

It is a worthy experiment.

So I have been practicing scales and breathing exercises with the metronome and the damn thing is getting better and better at keeping time! Just like Ken said it would….

BTW, you can check out Ken Deifik’s website and music at http://www.harmonicaguitar.com/