Dismiss Notice
I hate the colors. What do I do?

At the far bottom of the page, on the left, is a menu or link that says, "Forum Default." Click on that and choose a different Style.

Keeping The Beat

Discussion in 'General Information' started by fox, Mar 5, 2011.

  1. fox


    Ok guys - I got a small opportunity here ...

    My teacher has "suggested" that I need to start learning to keep time. When I practice with a metronome my timing is perfect, yet when I shut off the metronome I find that it's impossible for me to keep proper time.

    When I try and keep time I either tend to stop playing as I concentrate on timing, or I stop keeping the beat as I concentrate on playing.

    What I've been doing is trying to keep time with the metronome when I practice scales, but again as I concentrate on playing I'll forget to tap my toe. It's quite frustrating.

    When I do play without a metronome I try and play so that it sounds just like it would when I play with a metronome but sometimes this ends up with me cutting notes short.

    My teacher last time got so frustrated when I couldn't keep time that she took out the metronome so I could play properly.

    Any of you have any advice on how I can improve?
  2. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    It is difficult if not impossible to develop a good sense of "time" or tempo simply by following a beat, whether it is a metronome, drum machine, or a recorded accompaniment. Time is also not inside your toe or foot. It needs to be inside your head.

    Learning to "internalize" the beat and its subdivisions in the style of the music you are playing is the most effective and long lasting solution to the problem you are having.

    A few general suggestions:

    - Set your metronome to a tempo, say 120 bpm. Listen and concentrate on the pulse for a few seconds then turn it off. Tap the beat with your finger on a table at the tempo you heard for 30 seconds to a minute. Then turn the metronome back on to check yourself. Do this for varying lengths of time at different tempos. Eventually don't even tap, just "hear" or "feel" the pulse in your mind. You should be able to "lock in" the pulse after hearing just 4 beats and be right on when the metronome comes back in.

    - Once you have a good internal sense of the beat, learn to give the notes their full value by thinking and feeling the "subdivisions". For example in 4/4 time the 8th note is the subdivision. A whole note would be tu oo oo oo oo oo oo oo. A half note: Tu oo oo oo, a quarter note: Tu oo, a dotted quarter Tu oo oo and so on. You can even practice by giving a small pulse of air to represent the subdivisions within the long notes. This is called the "breath impulse" system of learning to count. Of course no one actually plays that way so eventually the "oo's" are just in the mind of the player and not heard in the music.

    - Once the sense of the beat, and holding the longer notes their full value is achieved, then it is important to focus on not rushing rhythmic figures in the music. This is too complicated to give much detail without actually writing out the rhythms, but there are a few guidelines that will help.

    1. On challenging measures, take a pencil and put small "hatch marks" where the subdivided beats go. At moderate or fast tempos they will usually represent 8th notes. At slow tempos involving 16th note rhythms, the subdivisions may need to be represented by 16th notes.

    2. Sing the rhythms using the syllables that match the style of the music being played. When students' performances contain rhythmic inaccuracies, 99.9% of the time certain notes in a rhythmic figure are played too early giving the feeling of the music being rushed. This is especially true of 8ths and 16ths or notes of any value that enter after a rest in the music. As you sing, and then later play the rhythms, feel the subdivision of the beat in order to not rush any of the notes.

    Good luck and don't get discouraged. Anyone can learn to play good "time". It just takes practice and "time" to develop these skills.
  3. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    ...and to get the timing into your head better, I too suggest to put the instrument away for a bit and sing/rap/clap the piece several times until you know "where it's going". (A vast recollection of nursery rhymes helps, if you want to add some lyrics in order to more easily grasp it)

    If you have challenging phrases to play, endless-loop over the same three or four bars until you've nailed it. Rhythm patterns are the same as scale patterns, you just need to look at a bar or two and should know how it's played, without thinking too much about it.

    Unaccompanied playing is most difficult re timing, it's so much easier to follow a band, or an accompanist.

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    I have found the difficulties with keeping the beat to rise in direct proportion with the age where a player first started playing an instrument. Thus, those who started before the magic age of seven or eight years of age have little trouble with this, while those who were adult learners almost invariable have some problems in this area.

    Then too, playing with a group tends to remove some of the more salient problems in this area. You can almost always pick out a "church organist" or singer by the way that they don't give notes, particularly held notes, their full value. They get used to cutting these short to suit their own convenience, and aren't working with others enough (other than a forgiving accompanist) to have something against which to compare their own timing.

    Toe tapping can be distracting to some, but in my eyes there are things that are a lot more important to worry about when making than what people are doing with their feet. And, despite the stern condemnation of this horrible practice by all and sundry, professional musicians (including some high-flown symphonic folks) can be seen doing it all the time.
  5. fox


    Oh man, I'm just SLIGHTLY past age eight.

    tictactux, this is something I was just taught to do. Before I was playing all notes the same even dotted eighth notes!

    So far I haven't had luck in finding someone to play with. Any time I hear of someone remotely playing an instrument I go and investigate. I'm definitely not ready to join a community band or something like that. I have been considering joining my jobs pipes and drum band, but I don't want that to push my flute playing to a secondary instrument.

    Thanks jbtsax! I've already set a couple minutes of my practice time to this exercise. I'm probably going to take my metronome in to work so I can practice this during lunch.
  6. Here's some exercises I do. I hope they help you too.


    Here's what I do with all scales, arpeggios etc. I'm working on ... full range of the horn

    1. Put the metronome on 40 (a little more is fine, but not more than 60)
    2. Play each note in the scale as

    • Whole notes
    • half notes
    • half note triplet
    • quarter note
    • quarter note triplet
    • 8th notes
    • 8th note triplet
    • 16th notes
    • 16th notes triplets
    • 32nd notes
    • 32nd note triplets
    (p.s. don't feel you have to go up to 32nd notes unless your are at an advanced level. Even working on the first 5 or so will make a huge difference.)
    Not only do you get to work on your scales, but you force yourself to work on feeling the divisions of the beat.


    • put your metronome on 40-60bpm
    • clap on the beat of the metronome.
    • If you clap is right on the beat, the sound of the click of the metronome will "disappear".
    • Then you try to go as long as you can without hearing a click
    • You may only get one or two beats to disappear at a time, but with practice you could work up to longer and longer between hearing any click.
    (requires a friend)

    • Put your metronome on whatever medium tempo speed you would like. (or on 2&4).
    • even if you do it with a 1 octave scale, play constant notes - pick your note length (1/4 notes or 8th notes work best)
    • have your friend mute / spin the volume to ZERO while you keep playing
    • you friend will then bring back the metronome.
    • obviously if the metronome comes back in and you are still in time with it, you are doing good.
    • With some practice, this might help you let go of the metronome and trust your internal metronome more.
    Hope this helps ;o)
  7. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

    Where is the LIKE button. I'm gonna borrow this for my blog! Thanks!
  8. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    I like those exercises as well. They are additional ways to "internalize" the beat and its subdivisions. I know that back when I was a "follower" of the beat instead of an "internalizer" of the beat my time while playing was not very accurate.
  9. My pleasure, Gandalfe! I'm happy you both think they are good exercises.


    Here's some more in the arguably "advanced" category that have also helped with time for me. This is probably more applicable to the jazz idiom / learning tunes.

    Exercise 4

    Pick a 4/4 medium, medium-up tune. I would assume this works with straight tunes as well, but thus far I've only used this exercise with swing tunes.

    1) Put the metronome on 2&4.
    2) Add a repeat to the end of the tune and play it over and over and over until you know the tune quite well.
    3) Now, in your mind, make the last measure of the tune a 5/4 bar. This will essentially flip the time every other time down the form ON PURPOSE.
    1st time - you'll be playing on 2&4
    2nd time - you'll be playing on 1&3
    3rd time - 2&4
    and so on....

    4) when you are really comfortable flipping the time at the end of the form, start adding - or taking away beats to purposely flip the time several times throughout the form.

    How this helped me? It not only helped my internal metronome, but it made me really aware of phrasing and how to be in control of the beat and it's a great way to get tunes under the fingers.


    This is an extension of the above and possibly the most difficult.

    Practice tunes, improvising with the metronome on beat 1 (only), beat 2 (only), beat 3 (only), beat 4 (only) etc.

    You must have a strong internal metronome and a strong sense of phrasing and pulse to do this. It can be really effective, but it is quite difficult.
  10. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

  11. Can always do what I did, which is play percussion for eight years:p

    I don't think I've ever done any exercises to be able to keep tempo, just something I gained over time.
  12. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    added to the above
    for students I pull out an electronic metronome in which you can have it make a noise on any beat. So have it beat only on 1 and not, say, 2, 3 & 4. Then the student tries to keep the beat to one. Also turn it on visual only and have the student only look at it from time to time to make sure 1 is where it should be.

    of course learning to count with the off beats works too .. 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1.
  13. JLF


    Nice blog! :)
  14. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

    Thanks, it's kinda a labor of love with stuff I want to remember going forward. So much to write about and so little time, don't cha know.
  15. For students needing help with timing and tempo, I have them stand up and march in place.Many marching band players have good timing because of the stepping. Left-Right-Left-Right, they feel the down beat foot and upbeat foot.It can be 1-2-3-4 or 1and 2and 3and 4and. The result is a quick internalization of the beat and tempo. I show them how to play the instrument standing and lock in step to the beat. Just a slow or moderate tempo so they can steady the instrument. Also softly rocking from side to side helps (piano players etc.). Some people just don't have that pat your foot thing happening. Look at many performers keeping time differently. Some singers tap the mic, some tap their leg and some pat the foot. Some players nod the head, some wag their head from side to side. To get the feet into it, I do suggest marching in place.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 6, 2016
  16. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Little bit of a problem if you're marching in 3 or 6, tho :). (I'm trying to picture marching in 5 and that's quite amusing.)

    I'm very well known to lose the beat somewhere and eventually find it by the last note. For me, it really helps if what I'm playing has a very discernible pulse. If it's slow enough, I can get it, too. I'm also OK with 3 and 6. Offbeats? Bit of a problem.

    It might be that you should try to determine what the beat problem the player has and tailor a practice regimen around that.
  17. It's easier than one might think

    3/4 6/8

    Lean/Tilt downbeat only

    Left 2-3
    Right 2-3

    Lean /Tilt downbeat only
    Left 2-3-4-5-6


    Lean/ Tilt downbeat only

    Left 2-3-4-5
    Right 2-3-4-5

    The lean / Tilt (Downbeat) becomes the pulse and focus.

    It's still based on Left /Right.

    That's why you start out learning
    the even step first for tempo/timing.

    DN (Rhythm):smile:
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 6, 2016
  18. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    You would have really been amused to see our college marching band's routine to the Mission Impossible theme. One step had to be in place then four forward to keep the 8 steps to 5 yards step distance. For players like me who can't chew gum and walk at the same time it was literally mission impossible.
  19. Music has truly advanced along with some teaching and conducting methods. As for rather odd varying rythms and meters sometimes you can't think 1-2-3-4 etc.
    For example Steve Coleman might tell you something like:
    Long-Short-Long Long-Short-Long Short-Short-Long...etc. and that rhythm grooves.
    ----- - ----- ----- - ----- - - -----
    trying to think 1234 1 1234 12 etc has players all over the place on some material.
    It usualy depends on the conductor/band leader how tight the band is.
Our staff's websites: