More than any other style of music, heavy metal music must sound powerful, in your face and deliberate. I often find that one of the biggest culprits that can chip away at those metal attributes is poor timing. Maybe you’ve been in this situation before, you’ve learned your favorite heavy metal song, you know the guitar solo forwards and backwards, but somehow when you play it with the band, it sounds weak and uninspired. Could it be that you don’t know the song as well as you thought you did? Perhaps, sometimes learning a new song can exaggerate already existing issues with timing. The importance of musical timing is too often ignored, especially by inexperienced players. For a song to sound tight, all of the instruments must be synchronized. This goes for every aspect of the music, the beat, the rhythm, the melody and even the guitar solo. Everything must be in perfect synchronicity for the song to reach its full potential.
The Song In Your Head
Serious aspiring musicians should never underestimate the importance of making good timing a part of there practice regimen. Of course, now you’re thinking, I need to get a Metronome and practice boring finger exercises and guitar scales to improve my timing, and of course, you’re correct. You do need to have a Metronome, and you do need to use it in your practice routine. However, although a metronome is a valuable tool for guitar training, you must also learn to hear the song in your head. You must be able to effortlessly know where the song is going so you can avoid any hesitation in playing that next note at exactly the precise moment you should. Have you ever noticed how the average person finds it easy to sing along with the vocalist on the radio, but give them that same music without the vocalist to follow and suddenly they’re coming in off time, singing the wrong notes and basically doing a much worse job than they did when they had someone to follow? This is because they haven’t really learned the song. The music isn’t in their head to be recalled at will. They may know the words and melody, but not well enough to let go and get into the groove of the song. Without the singer, they find it much more difficult to remember how the melody and vocals should sound in relationship to the rest of the music, and this causes hesitation and lack of focus. Just like an artist must visualize the finished painting before he or she puts brush to canvas, you must be able to hear the music in your head before you try to play it. Doing so can greatly improve your music.
Improving your timing isn’t just for your solos or guitar scales. It is important for every aspect of your playing. Keeping this in mind, you should always listen to the song without your guitar and only visualize yourself playing the notes as part of learning the song. Not just casual listening while you clean your basement. To be effective, your listening must be focused. The song must have your undivided attention. If it’s original music, it’s a bit harder because you’ll need to imagine it playing in your head, just as the artist must visualize the finished painting before it exists. Listening to music and imagining how a song sounds might not seem very intuitive to some guitar players. Face it, most of us will crank the amp to 11 and solo thru any discussion during band practice if someone didn’t unplug the Marshall.. Why should our own practice be any different, right? Well, think about it, when you’re learning math, do you think you need to practice writing numbers? Of course not, most of the work is done in your head. If I’m wrong here, them someone should tell Stephen Hawking because he’s been doing it wrong. Point is, forcing yourself to follow along without your guitar and only visualizing yourself playing along can at times be much more effective than picking up your axe and just going for it.
How Should I Practice Musical Timing?
Well, since I’m talking so much about musical timing and how important it is, I should probably give a few suggestions as to how you might practice it. As mentioned previously, listening is very important. Listen to good professional drummers and bass players. Notice how the bass drum, snare and hi hat work together. Listen how the bass guitar plays along complementing the beat and making it stronger. Listen to the accents and how they make the music pop. Bass and drums are the root of any good heavy metal song and you can learn a lot from them. If they aren’t synchronized, the whole song will suffer no matter how good the other players are.
Drum loops: A great way to improve your timing is jamming with drum loops. These are usually short recordings of live drummers designed to loop as many times as you need. I’ve used loops from betamonkeymusic.com and find that the quality and pricing is pretty reasonable, and each disk gives you plenty of loops to work with so you don’t get bored. You will however need software to use them and be sure they’re compatible with it. Beta Monkey has a list of compatible software here, www.betamonkeymusic.com/FAQ.html#Drums1.
Drum machines: Similar to drum loops with the only drawback being that you’ll need to write many of the beats you’ll use.
Metronome: Yep, I just had to mention it, the boring metronome. There are many advantages to using a metronome. One is being able to identify trouble spots in your playing and then slowing the tempo enough so you can correct the error and then slowly increasing the tempo as you improve. You can also set the tempo slow enough so you can work on understanding note values, whole notes, half notes, quarter notes etc. Some metronomes can also let you work on odd time signatures, if you’re looking to get into more progressive music styles. There are many good metronomes out there either as old school hardware, software and even online metronomes. Even though the first two suggestions will help improve your timing in less boring way, they can’t replace the metronome for versatility and fine tuning your complete understanding of musical timing.