Looking Back: Playing Slow Tempo & Practicing With A Metronome

Today's Throwback Thursday is dedicated to something all of us musicians are familiar with. Practice. Practice is how we sharpen our abilities and hone our craft - today I wanted to take a look back at a post I had made about one of the most fundamental, but overlooked methods of practice. Practicing with a metronome. 

When I was younger, I always thought that playing faster was a greater challenge than playing slow. I’d start practicing a slow tempo song, and all the changes that stayed on time made figuring the few bass notes relatively simple.  It wasn’t until I had to play ballads in a band, that I understood the difficulty of playing a slow tempo song.  Young musicians tend to have a lot of energy and impatience, and I was no different when it came to playing slower music.  I used to try hit those downbeats at the beginning of a change, but always found myself way ahead of the beat. I couldn’t believe how heavy and long the time would feel at a slower tempo.  It took a lot of discipline to get me to not rush the whole notes.

I worked out my issue with a metronome.  I could’ve used a drum machine, but it’s not as effective in the long run because it’s relatively easy to follow with all its guides that help you know where the time is.  For example, you can lean on the hi-hats that keep double time of the actual tempo.  A metronome really trains your ear, especially if you set it at quarter notes and just let that arm swing back and forth…slooowly.  You really gain a sense of time and eventually, you start to slow yourself down, which opens up your mind the endless possibilities of what you can do in between.  It’s very similar to meditation. This a discipline that is gained from practice, and will ultimately help you step out of your comfort zone and work in spaces that have less erratic, anxious timing. A good example is this Big Sir track, take note in how the bass fills the space - allowing the vocals and instruments in every passage really breathe. 

Practice playing whole notes with a metronome, setting the beats per minute around 60.  Let the time hang longer and meet the click at a downbeat.  You’ll probably find it extremely challenging at first, but don’t give up. It's easy to get burnt out on practicing with a metronome in which case you will want to jam with a drum machine or backing track. Keep it up, but be flexible too. Do this for a week and I promise, your drummer will notice the difference; you might even help him stay on time!