Larkin’s parting advice for those just beginning to tighten up their internal clocks is to do what worked for him all those years ago. “I think that any kid starting out should just buy Highway To Hell or Back In Black and just play along to that record for two weeks,” he says. “And then get yourself a click track. I guarantee you you’ll play a lot easier along with the click, because those records beat meter into your head. And it’s much better to sit there and play to these great, killer songs than it is to sit there and play to a click for an hour.”
For Luzier, just as his years of playing and teaching have instilled in him a healthy respect for the click track, so have they instilled an even greater appreciation for its role in building a stronger internal clock, and therefore a stronger musician. Go ahead and practice to a click, he says, but only about 60 or 70 percent of the time. “Because if you get called for a studio situation and they want you to play without, all of a sudden you’re naked and you’re like, ’Uh oh, now what?’
“When I was a teacher at PIT I’d notice a lot of the students would come in playing really street, I call it — just complete garage band; just playing with the heart. And there’s a dirty, sludgy kind of groove that they have that I love when they get there. And when they leave sometimes they leave like robots. They have to have a piece of paper in front of their faces and they have to play to a click. And I yell at them. I tell them, ’You can’t rely on that.’”
Bittner, having embraced the click from the start, naturally takes a more pro-click approach when doling out advice. “Anybody who puts the time and practice in can do what I’m doing,” he says. “And the way I feel that they would gain that the quickest way would be practicing on a metronome, because not only does it lock you in as a solid player, it’s a perfect tool to gauge your progress.
“One of the things I always teach my students [he’s been teaching since 1989] when they first sit down to play with a metronome, is when you’re playing along and you don’t hear the click anymore, prominently, that means you’re locked in on it. Because when I first started playing to the click all I was focusing on was tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. I wasn’t really focusing on what I was actually trying to play. But once you get to that point where the actual audio sound of the click is now in your subconscious, and you’re concentrating on that piece of music — once you get to concentrating on what you’re actually doing instead of what you’re listening to, then you know you’ve crossed that barrier and become one with the click.”
Want to improve your sense of tempo? Here are nine boxes that go way beyond the mere metronome to help you become solid as a rock.
BEAT BUG 3. The Beat Bug 3 measures the time between any two beats and divides it by a minute so you just get gradual progress reports as you play. The high-speed microprocessor monitors 10—255 bpm with no skipped numbers. Increased sensitivity contributes to relaxed playing style. Includes energy saving feature, requiring a mere tap to wake it up. $70 including shipping. 843-828-4223, beatbug.net.
BEATLAB. The Korg M Series’ Beatlab Digital Metronome offers a whopping 39 rudiments or lets you use the slider keys to make your own. Its flashing LEDs help you feel the beat, the red one indicating the strong beat while the green signals the weak beat. High volume selections let you cut through ambient noise, even with headphones. Up to nine programmable rhythms. 631-390-6500, korg.com.
BEATNIK RHYTHMIC ANALYZER. For on-the-spot evaluations, the Beatnik measures phrasing, tracking, accuracy, dynamics, groove, and displays four data views. As soon as you stop playing, the LED display shifts from real-time to “beat history” mode. The Beatnik places each note in 128-time sub-window (expert being within one 512th note). Resilient pad comes in a pleasing blue. $189. 800-340-8890, tuners.com.
DR. BEAT. The DB 90, the flagship metronome from Boss’ Dr. Beat line, offers a Rhythm Coach function with an onboard mike, reference-tone function for “by ear” tuning, instrument and MIDI input, eye-catching dial for instant parameter editing, and dozens of built-in drum patterns that put the “fun” back into the click. Don’t forget the four separate metronome sounds and footswitch control. $159. 323-890-3700, bossus.com.
DRUMOMETER II. Unlike conventional metronomes, the Drumometer tells you how accurately you play a specific pattern, not merely telling you what your bpm is. The device works by plugging into the included Drum-O-Pad, attaching the Drum-O-Trigger to a tunable practice pad or muffled drum, or hooking it up to electronic drums. $159.99. 888-891-7352, drumometer.com.
RHYTHM WATCH. The RW105, the new generation of Tama’s renowned Rhythm Watch, now includes a backlit display, 30 different memory settings, and up to nine different beat divisions ranging from 35—250 bpm. Brand-defining features such as separate volumes for different notes, thumbable dial for quick tempo changes, and enough volume to play with real drums are still here. The L-rod mounting system is a plus. 800-669-4226, tama.com.