One of the biggest creeds for bassists is “thou shalt worship thy metronome” (it comes right after “thou shalt be the sexiest member in the band”), and with good reason. Sexiness aside, we are the foundation, both harmonically and metrically, for the rest of the band. We’re the pulse. These exercises will help you get more mileage out of your metronome, and make you a rock-solid-force-of-nature time-zilla. This lesson is divided by difficulty: the classics, the intense and the grooved. If you want added value to these drills, sing with them as you play (it helps develop your ears and entertains your neighbors).
Rules about the drills:
Practice at slow speeds, moderate speeds and fast speeds. You’d be surprised, it can be very difficult to land perfectly on the down beat at 40 bpm playing whole notes. If you mess up, start again from the beginning. Do these in all the keys. Practice with melodic lines as well as scales. Remember, these drills are about precision. Playing them fast is not important, and speed does not mean anything if it is with sloppy time.
Any metronome will work, but I would highly recommend one with an accented click feature (it has a different tone on the downbeat, this will keep you honest about when you turn the beat around).
Say what?!? You’ve never used a metronome before?!? It’s ok. Go get one, and get started. Working with the metronome will on a regular (ahem daily) basis at first will help you set your internal clock to be consistent. After your body clock synchs up, you’ll be able to visit these drills more casually and keep your groove solid. If you’ve never done rhythm training before and find it difficult, stand up and march in time, then clap the rhythm, then sing the line while clapping the rhythm, then play.
Click on every beat in a 4/4 measure. The example is with quarter notes, but practice with half, whole notes as well.These are a good way just to get in touch with the time. As basic as they may seem, one of our primary duties is to keep time as consistently as a metronome.
These next few are meant to slowly build you into relying on your internal clock rather than the metronome.
Click on beats one and three. Again, practice with quarter, half, and whole notes.
Click on beats two and four.
Finally! Eighth notes! For this drill, set the metronome fast but play slow. If you turn up to 80 bpm, play with two clicks per beat. Crank up to 120 bpm and play with 4 clicks per beat, or practice triplets and play with 3 clicks per beat. The idea is that you build the mental fortitude to play slowly and accurately while something is flying away beside you, and it’s a very useful skill to have.
Once you are comfortable with “the classic” drills and can do them in your sleep, drop your metronome back to 40 bpm and prepare to be humbled. These drills move the click further and further from the downbeat, and you have to concentrate to make your time solid. I recommend counting one two three four TWO two three four, to help you keep your place. Even at a slow speed these require a certain degree of technical facility.
The click will fall on beat 1 of each measure while you play quarter notes. Once you are comfortable with that, count so that the click is on beat 2. Again, once you’re comfortable move the click to beat 3 and then beat 4.
Now we’re going to test your skills. We will move the beat down to every other measure. Dial the metronome back to 40 bpm, count one two three four TWO two three four, and be prepared to work at this. First, the click will fall on beat one of the first and third measure. So if you could 1 2 3 4 2 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 2 2 3 4, there will only be clicks on 1. After you’re good at this, move the click to beat two of measures 1 and 3, and keep going with this until the click has been on each beat. If you count 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, the click should fall once on each number for each drill.
If you feel ambitious, these drills are a great way to gradually build up speed with the double thumb technique in my previous lesson.
These are drills that will help you put your time keeping into practice. They involve playing lines that you like, it can be a cool riff, melody, whatever. The point is that we’re going to make it groove with the metronome.
Find your favorite funk line and transcribe it. It doesn’t have to be more than two measure, just make sure there is syncopation. Now that you have your line, play it with the metronome, but with the click only on beat one. Then repeat it, with the click only on beat two… do this for beat three and beat four as well.
If you find yourself having trouble with this, put down the bass, and stand up. Now alternating your feet step on the beats (left foot on 1 and 3, right on 2 and 4). Now clap the rhythm and sing/hum/shout the line. After you do this a few times, it will make it easier to play on the bass.
Set the metronome to click on 2 and 4 and play a walking line over the changes to a tune you like keeping the downbeat strong (imagine that the metronome is the drummer’s hi-hat). If you want to up the intensity try playing only every third note (NOT every third beat) in a quarter-note walking line over changes with the click on 2 and 4 (so bar 1 you play beat 3, bar 2 you play beat 2, bar 3 beat 1 and beat 4, bar 4 beat 3 etc…). If you can keep that straight in your head and still make it work with a consistent click you’ve graduated to proper metronome time-zilla status. Congratulations! You can eat anyone who rushes for breakfast!