One of the many exercises within my book Rhythm Savvy is called the Maniacal Metronome. It is a click track that alternates somewhat randomly between 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 clicks to the bar.
Why would I create such a thing? Because a good sense of time requires your internal clock to hold steady regardless of what is going on around you. Ever try to improvise a solo over a free drum solo? Ever had to play a stop time phrase when everything around you suddenly stops? At the very least, your sense of time–your internal rhythmic clock–must be rock solid within your every day playing.
I created three variations of the maniacal metronome for the book: easy, medium, and hard. And for each, I created a variant that periodically brings in a kick drum on the four downbeats of the bar to remind the player where the beat is. Most of the track is simply the click. Once you hear these odd click tracks, you’ll understand.
The exercise is to play with the track. Simple at first. Perhaps just the four quarter note downbeats. Then as you feel more solid with the time, play other rhythms. Perhaps play tunes or improvisations. If at first, the click throws you off, tap your foot or fingers on a table in order to remove the complication of articulating notes on your horn. Once you have command of the four quarter note downbeats, go back to your horn. Play over Click track #1. If that proves easy, try the medium difficult #2 track until you can play in time. Then try the more difficult and faster #3. You may need to work on them for a while, but that’s a good thing because you’ve found a weakness in your playing and you’ve found a tool to help you strengthen your sense of time.
After the two click tracks in this post, I’ve included a track of me playing along with #2 in order to give you an idea of how to go from quarter notes, to more complex rhythms to playing a tune (in this case, Ornithology), to doing some improvisation. Once you can play similarly over both #2 and #3, consider yourself to have a good internal clock and good time. Don’t stop there, however. Buy Rhythm Savvy and go through its other exercises that similarly help you evaluate other challenges with your sense of time and help you improve it.
Click track #1 with periodic kick drum
Click track #2 with periodic kick drum
Click track #3 with periodic kick drum
Michael Lake playing along with click track #2