When I was younger, I always thought that playing faster was a greater challenge than playing slow. I’d start practicing a slow tempo song, and all the changes that stayed on time made figuring the few bass notes relatively simple. It wasn’t until I had to play ballads in a band that I understood the difficulty of playing a slow tempo song. Young musicians tend to have a lot of energy and impatience, and I was no different when it came to playing slower music. I used to try hit those downbeats at the beginning of a change, but always found myself way ahead of the beat. I couldn’t believe how heavy and long the time would feel at a slower tempo. It took a lot of discipline to get me to not rush the whole notes.
I worked out my issue with a metronome. I could’ve used a drum machine, but it’s not as effective in the long run because it’s relatively easy to follow with all its guides that help you know where the time is. For example, you can lean on the hi-hats that keep double time of the actual tempo. A metronome really trains your ear, especially if you set it at quarter notes and just let that arm swing back and forth…slooowly. You really gain a sense of time and eventually, you start to slow yourself down, which opens up your mind the endless possibilities of what you can do in between. It’s very similar to meditation. This a discipline that is gained from practice, and will ultimately help you step out of your comfort zone and work in spaces that have less erratic, anxious timing.
A good example lies in this video of ZAVALAZ, playing my favorite song in our set. It’s called “Don’t Lose Sight” and it is a ballad in 6/8, but played at a very slow tempo. I love locking in with drummer, Greg Rogove, and letting those whole notes fill the room. I hope you enjoy this:
Practice playing whole notes with a metronome, setting the beats per minute around 60. Let the time hang longer and meet the click at a downbeat. You’ll probably find it extremely challenging at first, but don’t give up. Do this for a week and I promise, your drummer will notice the difference; you might even help him stay on time!