The #1 thing that has helped me develop my
rhythm and sense of timing is counting. Counting out loud with my voice over everything
that I play. And this, more than anything else, has allowed
me to develop consistency, precision, and confidence on the instrument. Counting helps you play better with a click
track, and it also helps you play better without, because it develops your sense of internal
timing. And the key to it all is the voice. In order to understand the role that counting
plays, we first need to understanding where we’re going with this. Counting is a means to an end. It’s a developmental tool. But our goal is great time keeping. For the purposes of this video, I’m going
to define “great time keeping” as simply the ability to place notes where we want them
in time. And that’s really all rhythm is. It’s the space between the notes. And the more control we have over that, the
more control we have over creating a desired musical effect. So that doesn’t mean that you have to sound
like a robot and be completely quantized. The point here is to have control, and then
once you have that control you can put those notes wherever you want. So we wanna be able to place where we want,
and to do so consistently. We want this to be a reliable method that
we can count on — no pun intended — whenever we’re performing. Now there’s lots of advice out there on how
to do this — how to develop our timing. But I’m most interested in what the best do. What do the best time keepers in the world
practice? And what do they think about when they’re
playing with great time. And it turns out a lot of similarities. And I’ve had the opportunity to speak with
a lot of them over the last 20 or so years of playing the drums. And so you can look at professional drummers
— world class people — professional musicians, or the drum corps world. I mean, you wanna talk about precision and
spot-on timing, look no further than drum corps. And I used to be a part of that scene. I competed at a national level with the Denver
Blue Knights winter drumline. And so many of these people have come to the
same, or very similar conclusions. And so, you know, you hear the same kinds
of stories from all these different people, in all these different fields, who are each
at the top of their respective fields. Then you start to think, “hmm, maybe there’s
something actually to this.” The number one charactaristic that separates
great time-keepers from just “ok” time-keepers is that the great ones are “active time-keepers”. And I wanna make this distinction between
“active” and “passive” timekeeping. Passive timekeeping is easier. And that’s what we tend to do by default. We’re playing along with a band, or to a track,
we’re passively listening to what’s happening around us. We’re doing our best to line things up. And most of the time, it works okay. But the best timekeepers are active timekeepers. They’re not simply reacting to the time around
them; they’re being proactive about generating their own time from within. And so the best timekeepers in the world have
a really strong sense of internal timing. Which is a term that gets thrown around all
the time. But we rarely stop to think about what that
actually means. Like, do you have a clock in there? Do you have a metronome inside somewhere? Well, kind of. One of these things that I’ve heard over and
over and over, from people in all these different fields, who are again, world class — and
it’s gonna sound a little bit strange, but it’s the key to the whole thing — is that
they will imagine the sound of a metronome as they’re playing, and play along to that. So they’ll literally imagine the sound of
their favorite metronome app, or their favorite, you know, Dr. Beat physical metronome. So if they’re playing with an external click
track, like in their headphones for example. They will listen to that. But also generate their own internal click,
and then align the 2 clicks, right, so that they’re in time, and then play along to that. Now, there are some pretty crazy implications
when you get into how to actually do this. For example, I can ask you to imagine the
sound of a cowbell, and I’m pretty sure you can do that. Try it now. Ok. I can also ask you to imagine the sound of
a cowbell on beat “4”. So I’m gonna count to “1 2 3 4” and when we
get to “4” we’re all gonna think a cowbell sound in our head. Ready? “1 2 3 …” Okay? Now, what this means is that you have control
over when that thought happens. You have control over when that imaginary
cowbell sound happens. And this is the same thing you’re doing when
you’re imagining a metronome as you’re playing. And so what that means is that you have to
literally time your thoughts. And not only time them, but coordinate them
with everything else your limbs are doing. So you remember all that work you did to coordinate
your limbs? All those drum books you went through. Now you have to do that all over again with
your mind. You have to actually develop the ability to
hear quarter notes in your head as you’re playing everything else. And so great timekeeping is not simply a matter
of timing. It’s often a matter of coordination. And the way that you develop that mind-body
coordination is through counting. And so now we can bring this whole thing back
to the original point of the video, which is, “why bother counting?” And the reason is that we eventually want
to get here. We want to be able generate our own internal
timing in the form of this imaginary metronome. And do so reliably, while having complete
freedom to play whatever we want on top of that. So, what should you practice? How should you go about applying this? And the answer I would typically give is pretty
open-ended, because although I very frequently count while I’m practicing, I very rarely
sit down just to work on counting exercises. And so the short answer is, and the answer
I would give in most cases, is that you should just try counting over whatever you were going
to practice anyway. Like, unless you’re singing while you’re playing,
or you’re playing a wind instrument, you’re voice is gonna be free. So you might as well include it in your practicing. And you might say, “Well, Shawn, that sounds
like it would be really hard.” And you know what, Viewer, it will be a lot
harder. And you know what’s gonna happen? A bunch of really good things. First of all, it’s probably going to force
you to slow down. And you were probably going to practice too
fast anyway. So this is going to force you to slow down,
to focus on good technique and playing things perfectly, so that you’re burning good memories
into your brain and your muscles, right? Second of all, it’s going really force you
to understand the relationship between the rhythms you’re playing and the metronome or
you’re internal click. And by the way, that’s the whole point of
this video, is you want to be able to play whatever you want while hearing consistent
time. And third of all, once you’ve gone through
that process of figuring out how to count over something, which is not so easy, once
you take the voice away, everything else is so much easier. You have so much more capacity, so much more,
like, “brain space”, to think about other things, which you’re inevitably going to need
in a live performance situation. Or in the studio. Right? As soon as you get out of the practice room,
there’s new variables, things change, and you have to be able to go with the flow. So the more “brain space” you have, for lack
of a better term, to think about other things, the better. If you’re completely new to counting, I would
probably recommend that you start just by playing a simple beat, and seeing if you can
say “1 2 3 4” over that. And once you can do that, try counting some
other things over a beat, maybe 8th notes. You could also sound sixteenth notes over
it. You can start throwing in some syncopations. Then try playing some fills and alternating
between playing a beat and a fill, and keeping your voice consistent throughout that. You really just want to develop the habit
of counting over everything that you’re doing. Again, if you’re not using your voice in a
practice session, it’s just sitting there, free, not doing anything. You might as well take advantage of it. In the end, ideally, the goal would be to
be able to count over everything that you can play. In practice, will that happen? Probably not. But you wanna get as close to that point as
you can. I mean, I can probably count over 95% of everything
I can play. And that’s because I’ve made this principle
— it’s a way of life really. It’s a principle that I apply in all of my
practicing. Like, when I learned ‘The Black Page’ and
I tried to do it without counting, and I’m just kind of approximating, and like, “oh
yeah, I got it. It’ll be fine.” Nope. Wrong. I had to go back and learn how to count over
the entire piece straight through. And then, after that I was able to actually
play that comfortably. So counting is just massive. It’s one of the most important things that
I’ve ever learned on the instrument. And actually, by the way, I wasn’t always
into it. When I was first learning drums in the 6th
grade, I was in the middle school band. And our band director was making us count
over stuff, and I hated it. I thought, “This is stupid. I understand the rhythms. I know 8th notes are twice as fast as quarter
notes, and 16th notes are twice as fast that. I don’t need to count. I understand, I got it.” And it wasn’t until 10 years later that I
realized the true value of it. It’s not so much for understanding things,
although it’s helpful for that. It’s really super valuable for developing
your internal time. And especially as drummers. Like, this is our job. To hit the right things and the right time. (And sometimes not even the right things. You can hit the wrong thing at the right time,
and it might work, musically.) So, this timing stuff is so fundamental, that
it might just be THE most important thing we can work on. And as they say, “timing is everything.” So I encourage you to try this in the practice
room, count over anything. And let me know how it goes. And be patient at the beginning. It’s gonna be hard. I can warn you right now. The beginning will be difficult. But it’s worth it, and it might even just
be fun. So, with that, I hope that you’ve enjoyed
this video. Thanks for watching. I’m outta here.