Using your iPOD to improve your sense of time
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Coming home one day last week, I needed to remove my headphones to take off my shirt. When I laid my phones down I "kept the song going
" in my head. I kept the time in my head, as if I still had my ear buds in. When I put them back in I was exactly where I should have been!
What a great feeling it was to remove the head phones and feel the song still go by, unhurried
, and put them back in mid-bar, and still be "in the pocket"
as if I had been listening all along.
This is an example of time internalization
, or the ability to keep steady time based on an internal sense, and not needing something external to do it.
17 years ago, the night before leaving a spinal cord rehab where I was being healed from an injury that involved a broken back and loss of my left leg, I played for the first time in 2 years and realized I wouldn't be able to kick the floor to keep time anymore, that all my talk of having good time was going to have to be put into action: one leg was gone, the other paralyzed.
At first it felt strange to not use an external thing to keep the time. I quickly realized it takes faith
to let time happen by itself, at it's own pace, unhurried. It's almost a Zen thing: simply allow time to happen.
Play a favourite groove on your bass, without imagining a drummer or click track.
For many of us the key to making it sound really alive is to imagine playing the groove with a drummer, or, if the style of music warrants it, imagine a click on 2 and 4, or clave, if playing latin. Play the groove again and imagine a drummer playing with you. You should be able to hear, and more importantly, feel the difference
So here is my charge to you:
Choose a favourite song on your iPOD. Have the volume set so when the head phones are removed you can't easily hear the music.
Let the song play midway through the first verse, or chorus, mid-bar even if need be, and simply remove the head phones and continue the song in your head. For me, the key is to feel the real pulse of the music in a comfortable and matter-of-fact way, where I can feel the time passing without fighting the tempo. You can even go for a short stroll through your house, hearing the music in your head, feeling it in your body, then come back to your MP3 player, pick the head phones up calmly, and see where you are. There is a story I remember hearing about a drummer in my region. He was teaching at a jazz camp. He sat under a tree with the newspaper, his drumsticks, and a metronome w/ear phone. On the slowest tempo possible, he read the paper and play with the click. He removed the ear phone and continued playing, while reading the paper. When he put the phones back in awhile later, he was still in time. You wouldn't know him, but his name is Anil Sharma. This story has inspired me since I heard it in the late 1980s.
Some tempos are much more natural than others. On the metronome I find there are some "in between" tempos that are harder to feel. I find them harder to relate to for some reason, but the key is for me to get to know them like a familiar face. I find when I know that my tendency is to speed up or drag at certain times, I can do the opposite and correct.
Different musicians have different ways to accomplish this. I usually use subdivisions.
If the metronome is clicking 40 beats per minute (bpm), I will divide it up and feel a note in the middle of the clicks, or in other words, I subdivide the quarter notes in to eighth notes. On some tunes I will subdivide in broad triplits, much like John Coltrane's drummer Elvin Jones played.
Give it a try! It can be a fun way to gauge how good your sense of internalized time is, and give you immediate feedback on some things you can work on to improve this sense.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or leave a comment here.