As you now know, the bass plays an integral role in setting and maintaining the tempo. In order to develop rock solid timing, you'll want to practice with a metronome daily.
A metronome is a compact, plastic box that creates an electronic beep or clicking sound. A flashing light(s) usually accompanies the beep. Moreover, the beeps and the lights are perfectly synced. When you first play with a metronome, you may think it's out of time. This is because you have yet to develop a good internal clock. However, the more you play with a metronome, the better your timing will become.
There are many brands of metronomes on the market, and prices range from around twenty dollars to well over a hundred bucks. Some of these companies include Korg, Yamaha, Qwik Time, Seiko, Wittner, Franz, Boss, and Exacto. You can now also download click tracks from the Internet. Lastly, drum machines can serve as a fancy metronome. For example, you might enjoy playing with a “phat” drum groove instead of a monotonous click.
The best metronomes on the market are ones that can be turned up loudly and that come with an earphone jack. Pocket metronomes cannot be turned up loudly and are of little use for bass players. The classic Dr. Beat DB-66 metronome and the updated Dr. Beat DB-90 metronome offer the most bang for your buck.
Whatever metronome you use, stay far away from manual, wind-up, or pendulum metronomes. These are completely obsolete and their timing is not exact. A metronome that keeps questionable time could actually hurt your playing, so only use electronic metronomes.
The Dr. Beat DB-66 metronome offers many features. One of those is a dual light. One light is designated for beat one only; the second light pulsates on the remaining beats in the measure. In 4/4, beat one blinks on the left side of the metronome while beats two, three, and four blink on the right side of the metronome. The Dr. Beat can also play multiple rhythms. In other words, you can add eighth notes, sixteenth notes, or triplets to the mix simply by turning up the volume on the individual sliders. Furthermore, the Dr. Beat offers a wide range of tempo and meter choices. It also features a tap function. The tap function allows you to set the tempo by tapping the speed you desire. A digital readout will tell you what tempo you are tapping. You can then set the metronome accordingly. Lastly, to save on the cost of batteries, the Dr. Beat comes with an AC adapter. This is really helpful since metronomes tend to use up batteries quickly.
Setting the Metronome
There are many ways to set a metronome. If you're in 4/4, you may want to set the metronome to represent quarter notes or downbeats. However, if you're playing at a fast pace, you may want to set the metronome to represent half notes. If you're having trouble syncing up with the metronome, you might set it to eighth or sixteenth notes (depending on your tempo). This will help you keep the beat easier. Most importantly, make sure the clicks and lights fit the time signature of the music. The loudest click should always represent beat one.
If you set the metronome to sixty, there will be sixty clicks played per minute. In other words, the metronome will be clicking seconds. The higher the number the more clicks per minute. The lower the number the fewer clicks per minute.
Sometimes students set the metronome then forget to listen to it as they play. Don't let this be you. The metronome must click in time with your rhythms. Otherwise, it's serving no purpose. If you have a difficult time playing in sync with the metronome don't stress. You'll get it. That's what practice is for. However, don't just ignore the metronome. Figure 15-1 shows a series of rhythms in 4/4 with metronome pulses indicated above the staff. In this time signature, the metronome is usually set to play quarter notes. Notice how the quarter notes line up with the downbeats of each rhythm.
Playing with a metronome
Tap the rhythms to Figure 15-1 slowly on your lap. You may also clap them if the tempo is not too fast. Also, make sure you count the rhythms out loud as you tap. You will tap more precisely when you count aloud.
Measuring Your Progress
During your practice routine, set the metronome at a moderate to slow speed. If you're playing too fast, you probably will play sloppy, inarticulate rhythms. On the other hand, if you're playing too slow, you may find that you rush through all of the rhythms. Stick with moderate, attainable tempos at first.
Once you find a comfortable speed, don't be in a rush to increase the tempo. Instead, maintain this pace until your playing feels natural and flowing. When you're ready to move on, increase the tempo in slow increments. As you do this, you may want to keep a written log of the tempo increases you've made.
Your practice log should be used to evaluate your progress. (For more on practicing, see Chapter 19.) Over the course of many days you will start to see a pattern emerge. If you're making improvements, your tempos will increase at a slow but steady rate. However, if you're attempting to play speeds that are beyond your ability, the metronome log may show erratic tempo shifts or no clear progress.
Each day you may find that you have to back up from the previous day's top speed then build from there. This is natural, and it probably means that you just aren't warmed up yet. Also, sooner or later you will come up against a wall and you will not be able to play any faster. Finding your wall is a good thing. It allows you to set realistic and definite goals.
Your goal should not necessarily be to play fast. Bassists must also be able to play slow, funky grooves. As you practice, try slowing the tempo down gradually. You’ll find that the slower you play the harder it is to play accurately. This is because the slower you go the more space there is between notes.
Practicing with a metronome can be exasperating, so you might be tempted to turn it off when you practice. When this urge strikes you resist! Developing the ability to play with a metronome is a sign of skillful bass playing, so make this one of your main objectives.