Going to 11 not necessary.
October 30, 2009 11:32 AM   Subscribe

How best to stay on beat, then find out how I sound to an audience.

After playing guitar and singing for years, feeling pretty pessimistic about my ability I set my laptop (MacBook Pro) to record on its built in mic while I played a set's worth of material. Hey! I'm not bad at all, except my rhythm isn't so solid here and there (which I already knew.) If I can work that out, I'd be considering performing, which I've always wanted to do.

The thing is, a metronome doesn't help me. The flat tick. tick. tick. tick. isn't groovy at all, and ends up confusing me. I want to be able to make drum tracks that I can pipe either into an earbud or through a PA or whatever I'm playing through. I might even want to put in a rudimentary bass line. I could do this in garage band or anything similar, but what are my other options? Are there solutions that would let me (I'm not sure how to say this) queue up another few measures if I wanna keep soloing or do an extended outro?

The other part: How can I record myself in such a way that I'd have the best idea of how I'd sound to an audience? Will a 4-track recorder and a mic across the room do it? Will a mic through adapters give me significantly better sound on my MBP?
posted by cmoj to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You also may want to post this question to MeFi's Music Talk section.
posted by not_on_display at 11:36 AM on October 30, 2009

The Roland Micro BR is tailor-made for this purpose.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:42 AM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are a ton of ways to do this, but have you tried getting a cheap drum machine (pawn shops or ebay are great) and doing it with this?

Otherwise there's a bunch of programs that can do this (FruityLoops or Reason) but they tend to be expensive.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:44 AM on October 30, 2009

My impulse would be to set aside time to rehearse a lot with a drum beat, so that when you actually perform, you feel solid. I think that using a click track, or a recorded/looped drum track, in a performance situation can be really tricky, and if you get off beat, it can be a disaster.

Regarding the second part of your question, it would definitely be worth it to buy an inexpensive audio interface and mic that would be far better than the MBP's internal mic. Or you could get a portable flash recorder like a Zoom H2 or H4n, which sell for around $150 or $299, and it would work with or without your computer.
posted by umbĂș at 11:47 AM on October 30, 2009

Response by poster: I didn't know about the Music Talk section. Guess I should look up and to the right more. I'll do that.

Getting a cheap drum machine was my original intent (I've got a pretty big bucket of change going and I live in a music college town with lots of pawn shops), but I've enver used one at all and I wanted some extra information.

Thanks, people.
posted by cmoj at 12:05 PM on October 30, 2009

Drum machines are pretty basic to use so I'd recommend touring your local shops and playing with a few (bring headphones and likely a 1/4" jack converter so you don't drive people nuts) and see what works for you.
posted by bitdamaged at 12:10 PM on October 30, 2009

I would suggest that, whatever else you're doing toward your goals, practicing with a metronome until it isn't confusing will help your timing tremendously. It will help you learn how much swing (that missing groovy stuff) you're playing with, to learn to manipulate and control it, and at the end of the day if you're not tracking to an internal metronome it's going to be hard to play with other people -- the external metronome will help you get to that place.
posted by davejay at 1:55 PM on October 30, 2009

Seconding Davejay's advice on working on the metronome. A drum beat might help you at first, but you won't be able to perceive your improvements on the nuances of playing with the beat (as outlined above: swing, microtiming, etc.) as the drums will tend to "lock" you into a particular feel.

One easy trick to working with a metronome is to count as if each tick is the backbeat of each pulse. Instead of counting: 1 2 3 4 on the clicks, count like the metronome is a snapping finger on the offbeat. 1 (click) 2 (click) 3 (click) 4 (click).

By perceiving the pulse on the offbeat, you should be able to work on your timing without the onerous downbeat click menacing you so much.

If you can play along with a drumbeat, you will be able to play along with that drumbeat. If you can play along with a metronome, you can play along with damn near anything.
posted by Aquaman at 2:13 PM on October 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with Aquaman and davejay. The metronome understandably seems like a terrible machine, but its impartiality towards any kind of feel is what gives it its power as a learning tool. One useful thing is a metronome that can do time signatures, like Metrognome for OS X.

But definitely work on your perception of the upbeat like Aquaman recommends, and then once you have that down move on to:

1. Trying to perceive each metronome click as falling on one of the sixteenth notes in a beat, so that a click happens once per beat, and

2. Trying to perceive each metronome click as falling on both the second and fourth sixteenth notes in a beat, so that a click happens twice per beat. In both cases a click never occurs on the actual beat, which is only present in your playing. It might help to start out with clapping instead of guitar playing, because you can isolate your rhythmic thinking that way.

This exercise will really tax your inner perception of where the beat is, and you'll probably notice your accuracy improving pretty quickly.

Once that's done, move on to experimenting with different feels. Play scales along with the metronome, one note per beat, and try locating your notes behind the beat (a.k.a. a little bit after the actual beat) or ahead of it (a little bit before the actual beat - this one is hard) to varying degrees. Break it up with periods of attempting to play exactly along with the beat. It'll probably be frustrating and hard to hear at first, but I'm confident that it will pay off and that it will help you to perceive the feel of the musicians you're playing with and shape your playing accordingly.
posted by invitapriore at 5:32 PM on October 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

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