If I could sum up this year's practice theme on a post it note for myself, it would read: "get good at playing on the beat, stupid". I'd probably leave off the stupid, but you get the point- everybody could learn to be better at being on the beat. Here's what I'm doing to build my chops:
1. Learn to clap.
Before you tune out, I’d argue that even amazing musicians sometimes can’t do the basics: we can’t clap exactly on beat. After recording myself, I discovered I was clapping about 20 milliseconds after the metronome bleep.
I started shooting for making my metronome tick disappear in my clap, which means I’m probably within a few milliseconds of hitting the right beat. It’s amazing how hard it is to clap exactly on beat!
2. Clap very, very slowly.
Build your beat skills by practicing clapping in the 60-70 bpm range, which allows you get better at clapping over longer stretches of silence. If you want to go beast mode, try 30-40 bpm for some exceptionally challenging clapping.
3. Drop beats.
Get a metronome (or a metronome app) that allows you to take away beats one at a time. I like to remove the clicks on the 2 and 3 beats, and try to keep clapping. This isn’t too hard at quicker speeds, but it can be challenging at a slower pace.
4. Go metronome-less.
Once you get comfortable locking in a rhythm, try turning off the metronome while still playing at the same tempo. Turn on the metronome and see how close you were to the original tempo.
5. Play scales or a familiar piece with the metronome.
Once you’ve locked in your clapping, start playing very slowly with scales to the metronome. Once you’ve mastered perfect rhythm on the scale, branch out to songs you really know well. Remember, it’s not the speed you choose as much as sticking with the rhythm perfectly.