October 1, 2011

Playing on the beat

I've been working recently on learning to play 'drums' on a midi keyboard, for a recording project. I haven't seriously played a keyboard instrument since I was 8, so I have no real keyboard technique, and seeing my notes appear on screen piano-roll-style made it obvious that I was playing ahead of the beat all the time. This could easily be fixed after the fact, but I knew I'd be happier if I could get it right from the beginning.

As a quick aside, getting it right doesn't mean every note has to be squarely on the beat. That goes for classical guitar too, as my teacher frequently reminds me.

I spent a bunch of time trying to play on the beat, and was still always ahead of it, being both incompetent and anxious that I was going to get it wrong yet again. So then I started trying to deliberately play after the metronome click, hoping that my tendency to anticipate the beat would even things out. At first, it made me feel way more anxious (I'm going to be late!) but the recording and 'piano roll' don't lie; almost right away, I was right on.

Now, I'm not going to say the problem is 100% solved, but after spending more time with it, the anxiety started going away with the comfort of knowing that I was actually playing in time. The tempo felt slower, and I felt less like I needed to hurry to get the next note. Instead of feeling like I'm playing late, it's starting to feel like I was just playing.

This would be a good way for anyone to work on a tendency to play off the beat. Record yourself playing with a metronome and listen carefully to the result. If you find that you're playing early, try waiting for the click before playing next time. If you play late, try anticipating the click.

If you're right on all the time, try playing ahead of or behind the beat intentionally for effect. This kind of control of the rhythm is the next step.