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Rock Solid on Rhythm


A better sense of internal time will help you add the icing to your musical cake.

Here are three ideas that will lead to increased confidence with your internal time.

Treat these ideas as a game rather than a test! When we are having fun, we learn and grow naturally.

1) Front End of the Beat. Fire up your metronome and sing a familiar song. Notice when you’re singing on the front end of the beat and try to deliberately do this with your metronome (vocalists will often do this in funk style; it can be quite effective if done right). Remember there’s a difference between singing on the front end of the beat and simply speeding up. In a gig, this will help you when you want to add energy and tension to a song. You’ll become more aware when your band members are doing this—you can then hone in and really lock in with them.

2) Back End of the Beat. Now, notice when you’re singing on the back end of the beat. Again, have a go at deliberately doing this (This technique is used in lots of styles including Reggae and is another interesting tool to use). Make sure you’re singing on the back end of the beat and not just slowing down. In a gig, this will help you when you really want another tool to give the song another attitude, groove and energy entirely. It’s a fantastic way to sell a line of lyric in a ballad too! There are no rules when using these tools on stage; you don’t have to use one way all the way through the song – you may just choose to use it on one line. But, you now have the choice because you know what it is. You’ve made this tool your own.

3) On the Beat. Get a friend or band member to set different times on the metronome for you and click on the beats until you’re comfortable and locking in. Then, making sure you can’t see any flashing lights to indicate beats, have your friend or band member turn the volume all the way down on the metronome. Keep clicking where you think the beat still is. Now, have your friend or band mate turn the volume up again and see how far you were from the click. This is by far the most powerful exercise you can do to internalise your sense of time that I know of. Why not try this with your other band members too – It might get them thinking and talking about their own thoughts of where the time is and what it’s doing. Before you know it, you’ve all jumped another level in your craft and your overall groove as a band just feels GREAT.

Looking at The Groove

Now, let’s see vocalists with great internal time in action.

Tower of Power know exactly where the time sits… pick the weakest link if you can…

Hear how rhythmically aware Chaka is on this funky version of A Night In Tunisia in the first verse at 1:08. She’s singing right in the pocket of the time.

Here’s a great example of a bassist and drummer both having great internal time…Hear how neither of them are having to play the role of “keeping time” at all because they are both strongly aware of where it is all the way through. It’s fantastically risky due to how little they need to play at times!

Here we have vocalists Kurt Elling and Al Jarreau delightfully playing with rhythm at the start of the tune “Take Five” – note how effective it can be vocally. This is only possible if your internal time is strong and happening.

Another extreme example of what’s possible when your internal time is in top form… vocalist Vinx leaves no doubt as to where the time sits with the use of no instruments at all.

Don’t be fooled! Slow tempos are known to often be harder to sit with. What better example of the effect it has when everyone has their internal time working on a slow tune than this Earth, Wind and Fire tune “After The Love Is Gone”

A Picture of Your Future

You’re with a whole band and there’s no weak link in the internal time area.

Now you can really have some fun and go to town:

The drummer can now do something a little more interesting, including colours and even cross rhythms against other band members.

He can also play as sparsely as he wants leaving “risky space” without the rest of the band falling over musically.

The bassist can syncopate or completely stop playing in areas without the groove shifting or becoming less solid.

And, with all of this going on, you have no doubt where that rhythmic meter still sits; you’re comfortable and come in right on queue.

You could even hold your own if everyone from your band completely stopped playing.

Or, it might open up other possibilities like having just yourself and the bassist play the first verse together without the rest of the band – a great tool for adding variation and giving a song somewhere to build from.

I’d love to hear about your experiences on the stage rhythmically! When the groove was feeling great, can you pinpoint why it was feeling great? Leave a Comment below…

London based vocalist, Joey Elkins, is gaining attention as a jazz, funk, soul and contemporary singer. As a child in Adelaide, Australia, she delighted her jazz musician parents and friends with her high register, a range close to six octaves and a commanding style. Joey’s first jazz recording attracted the interest of some of Australia’s finest jazz musicians and before leaving for London, Joey was already a respected and regular performer in some of Australia’s top jazz venues. Being a natural improviser and composer enables Joey to own a variety of styles. Joey is currently recording and composing original music which will be released as a CD within the coming year. Joey’s Music and Website

Useful Sites

Watch how Joey plays with the time on the ballad “For All We Know”

Set the Groove

Stop Singing

The Singer Who Dares to Listen

Photo used in Banner – http://www.flickr.com/photos/orangeacid/234358923/ – by orangeacid

  • Dede de Vries

    Unfortunatly, many of the video ‘s in this article are ” private ” and can not be viewed.

  • Editor

    Thanks Dede – try now…