From: Adam Nitti’s Kitchen Of Groove
Prep: 5 minutes
Work: 20-30 minutes a day
Serves: Audiences worldwide
1 bass player (preferably YOU)
2 fresh ears, cleaned and listening
1 bass, properly slapped and shredded upon
1 metronome or drum machine
1 mental ‘knife’, used to slice time in halves
Ok, folks. Today we are going to learn to make some great time the old fashioned way… from the inside-out! In other words, we are going to spend some quality time developing our INTERNAL clocks. Simply put, our internal clocks are what give us the ability to keep time and create a groove. They are the heartbeat of the music that lives inside us. Our internal clocks are what allow us to play music in time without the aid of any other device or player. Over the years, you have undoubtedly spent some time practicing or performing some things by yourself. If these musical performances or rehearsed parts utilized anything more than a single note, then you had to have relied on your own internal clock to give them some sort of relevancy to time. However, some of us have developed this skill more than others, and I want to help you to make your internal clock even stronger. When your internal clock is strong, then you naturally play with a strong and convincing groove. Groove is what makes you and the listener want to move to the music. It is that undeniable, almost intangible force that connects people to the sounds they are experiencing. The greatest players in the world all have this ability to groove in common, and they exhibit it regardless of if they are performing with other players or not!
Now, a lot of us have spent a lot of time working with metronomes and drum machines in order to improve our time. Metronomes, drum machines, and even drummers are examples of what I refer to as EXTERNAL clocks. To state this another way, an external clock is a time source that we FOLLOW. It sets the time, and we fall into its pulse in order to play along with the time. Now, just in case you think I am headed in a peculiar direction, let me emphasize that I am not going to argue the value of practicing with an external clock source at all! In fact, I spent many years as a young player working with a metronome to try and fine tune my timekeeping abilities while challenging myself technically. Those years absolutely helped me to elevate my technical abilities. However, as I became a little older and more mature as a player, I discovered a very important point. Depending solely on external sources to hone your timekeeping skills brings about diminishing returns. In other words, you can only go so far depending on an outside source to keep you aligned with the time. If you can’t rely on your own inner clock, then you are going to have a lot of trouble grooving.
There are many factors that can get in our way when we try and rely on our internal clocks. Anxiety, nervousness, expectations, ego, and arrogance are all examples of ingredients that will make our time taste horrible. Before you start preparing this recipe, make sure that your ingredients are fresh and of the highest quality. I recommend seasoning your time with humility, unselfishness, generosity, and love. Folks won’t be able to get enough of your time when you serve it up that way!
Now that we have a basic understanding of what it is we are trying to create here, let’s work on an exercise that will help you to strengthen and rely more on your own internal clock. This exercise is very, very simple, but it is also very challenging. What we are going to do is play a groove to an external clock source, but as we work through the exercise, we are going to progressively wean ourselves off of it, while relying more on our internal clock.
NOTE: For this exercise, it will be most effective if you have a metronome or drum machine that can be programmed to play a click at VERY slow tempos. I recommend programming a click or sound that plays on a whole note subdivision. That way, you can create clicks with long spaces in between.
To start, program your metronome or drum machine so that it only plays on the whole note subdivision, or in other words a single click or pulse on beat 1 of each measure. (We’re going to stay in 4/4 time for this particular example, but the sky is the limit with time signatures here…) Now, set the tempo to 200 bpm and start it playing.
NOTE: Although you have the tempo set to 200 bpm on your metronome or drum machine, it will sound like 50 bpm, since you have the click set to a whole note.)
Listen to the click for a while, allowing the time to internalize. While it is playing, without touching your bass, think about a groove that you can play to the click that will fit nicely into the time feel. With your ears and your mind, imagine yourself playing this bass groove perfectly within the time. Notice that I have you first spending time listening to your groove being played inside the time even BEFORE you start actually playing it!!! This is a key objective in working on your time. Internalization is step 1 to being able to play a groove convincingly, because it proves that you are already grooving even before you play a single note! Continue imagining yourself playing this groove for at least a couple of minutes before moving on.
Now that you have your groove internalized and can already hear yourself playing it, now pick up your bass and start playing that groove. If you have internalized effectively, then you should come in right on time and be playing solid time from the moment you strike your first note. (For some of you, this may be a huge light bulb moment from the get-go. Many players have never before attempted to internalize the time before starting to play, and subsequently have had trouble in the past locking with a groove from the first note forward…) While you are executing your groove, don’t stop internalizing! Some of you when you start to play, will have a tendency to want to try to mentally time your notes so that you can predictively match the pulse of the click. This is what I would consider playing from the ‘outside-in’. In other words, you are not playing as someone who is an actual part of the music… Instead, you are playing your part ‘at the same time’ as the music… I hope you can understand the huge difference there. Internalization allows you to actually become the music being made, as opposed to timing what you play to match the music. There is a huge difference in how these two approaches come across to the listener. Listen from the ‘inside-out’. That means getting to a place where you trust your internal clock enough to depend on it.
CHOP IT IN HALF
Now that you understand the intricacies of ‘internalization’ and ‘execution’, we can get to the meat of the exercise. This is the part where we are going to rely more on our internal clocks to keep us in time! Right now, you are playing at 200 bpm. Spend at least a few minutes playing at this tempo. Then, then cut the tempo in half, to 100 bpm. Once again, before beginning to play, internalize the time and the groove. Hear yourself playing the same exact bass groove at the same speed, but at the new metronome setting. You will only hear clicks played half as often, so you will have to spend more time in between the clicks relying on your own internal clock. After you have successfully listened to yourself playing inside the time in your mind, then pick up your bass and start the groove again. Really strive to still hear the subdivisions of the higher metronome setting even though they are not audible from the device. The smaller the beat resolution you can hear on your own, the easier it is going to be to play in time, regardless of the situation.
Continue playing at this halved tempo for at least 3 minutes successfully to continue to reinforce your timing. Then, cut the metronome tempo in half once again, from 100 bpm to 50 bpm. See where we’re headed here? Now you are going to have even fewer clicks to align to. You have no choice but to rely on your internal clock. This tempo will be more challenging because there will be more ‘dead’ space in between the clicks. Once again, first internalize the groove over the current metronome setting before starting to play.
If you have done well so far, take it to the next level! Cut the tempo in half one more time to 25 bpm and see how you fare. This tempo is super-challenging, but is not impossible. In fact, if you have successfully internalized your groove over the previous metronome markings, then you might be surprised just how close to the time you can get right out of the gate! As with the previous tempos, first internalize and imagine yourself playing the groove before you start to play. NOW you’re making delicious time!!!
Obviously, you’ll want to practice this approach repeatedly with a variety of different bass grooves and tempos. Don’t ever get into the habit of working an exercise like this one-dimensionally. Challenge yourself daily. Make this internalization philosophy part of your practice routine, and don’t just limit it to metronome or clock work. Internalization will apply just as significantly to your improvisational or technical skills. I also strongly recommend recording your practice sessions when you work on these exercises. If you will journal your progress in this way, you should be able to hear an improvement in your time and groove playing as you move forward. Positive reinforcement will do wonders for your confidence and prove to you that this is all time well spent!
MENTAL PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
I hope that this simple approach to working on your internal clock will help you to overcome any obstacles that are preventing you from grooving with confidence and purpose. Like so many things in life, often it is a mental challenge that needs to be overcome before we are able to execute things physically. You want to get to a place where it becomes second nature for you to internalize and groove. My hope is that as you progress as a musician, you will continue to discover how powerful a communicator you can be simply by allowing your heart to speak through your hands.
Until next time, keep it bassy!!!
About Adam Nitti
Adam Nitti has emerged as one of the cutting edge bassists and composers in the world of instrumental jazz and rock.