INTERNAL TIME SERIES – Part 1
I always thought that setting the rhythm was someone else’s responsibility– until, years ago, I took an unforgettable class:
My teacher, a truly inspired soul, split the class into two and had us clap different rhythms against each other.
I soon had to admit that this was rather fun; sometimes I actually ended up in hysterical fits of laughter as my coordination was tested beyond its limits.
Then there was that part of the lesson when my teacher would whip out a metronome—one of those electronic ones which you can set at a particular speed and turn the volume all the way off.
The Big Experiment
He’d single one of us out and have us listen to the speed he had chosen and clap on each beat.
Once we settled with that rhythm, he’d turn the sound right off (!) and the person would continue to clap for a few minutes.
Then, out of nowhere, he’d turn the volume on the metronome back up and we’d all roar with laughter as the student’s claps had moved entirely!
However, like any game you play a lot, you naturally become better and better at it.
After a year of this class, I found that I had gotten this game down to a tee… it became like second nature!
I had much more of an idea where that tempo naturally sat.
I didn’t fully realize the impact this would have on me as a vocalist: I was building my internal clock.
And it has become a skill I use every time I perform.
Your Internal Time
Imagine driving at the normal speed limit in your car, when all of a sudden your speedometer gives up the ghost.
I bet that, strangely, you’d have a very good natural sense of how fast you’re driving.
Or—perhaps not so strangely at all?
Internal time is being so aware of the meter (fast or slow) that when your drummer (or other band members) are speeding up or slowing down in a song, you know.
You feel it. You hear it.
Your internal clock knows exactly where the time should be sitting and the exact point in time when it moved from the original tempo.
The benefits of working on internal time are enormous – especially for a vocalist working with instrumentalists for the first time in new settings.
Internal Time Saves the Gig
I had a duo gig in a restaurant and, unluckily, my usual guitarist was booked for another gig.
I found myself with a new guitarist who had never played with me before and was unfamiliar with my songs; all I had were lots of chord charts and my own knowledge of how I like to do these songs.
Internal time saved the gig. Here’s how:
I sang the song silently to myself, feeling the groove and tempo I wanted him to go with. Then I gave him a very steady 4 clicks of my finger in which there was absolutely no doubt where those beats sat.
The outcome? I was able to take control of the tempo right from the word go (before I’d even begun to sing) and my accompanist was able to feel my certainty and clarity.
This resulted in a strong intro and an immediate bond with the accompanist.
Benefit 1: The tempo is set exactly where YOU feel comfortable…
Ok, still in the same duo situation: I’ve given a convincing and confident count in, but let us suppose that my guitarist’s internal time isn’t the best.
He’s speeding up and trying to play solo lines instead of laying down the chords and groove strongly – I’m in trouble.
Because of this in-built internal time, I’m now able to sing the melody really straight, emphasizing key beats rhythmically to keep the meter steady.
Really, I’m keeping the time and musically saying “here’s where it is”. Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t have to do this – I’m the “front-man”–my job is to sell that lyric and melody whilst subtly acknowledging where the time is with some delicious phrasing, but not rhythmically ground it.
However, this situation calls for me to think like an accompanist and lay down the groove. A strange role reversal but, hey, this has just stopped the song falling apart!
Benefit 2: You save the song from disaster by outlining the groove.
Next week, I will be sharing many different ways to strengthen your internal time.
But, for now, try this interesting challenge: practise singing songs by yourself, using just the click of a metronome.
Stay in the centre of the beats (“in the pocket”); try many different speeds until each one feels comfortable and you’re not racing ahead or falling behind.
Trying all speeds are important – don’t skip out the super slow! (This is actually more difficult than singing to a fast tempo.)
Remember, like any game you play repeatedly, you get better and better.
Next week, we’ll look at some added methods which will help you…
…set the groove.
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
Watch Joey’s Internal Time on “Nature Boy”
Photo of Singer by BdwayDiva – http://www.flickr.com/photos/bdwaydiva1/2346330640/
Have you ever noticed that when you and your band decide to play more quietly, the time often slows down too as a result? Or even the other way around with a louder dynamic ending in the song speeding up for some reason? Strange one isn’t it… Why do you think this happens? This is one I’ve been pondering recently and I’d love to hear your thoughts! (Leave a comment below…)