Back in November, I talked briefly about running a click during my solo show.
I’ve been picking away at this idea for a couple of months now, and although I’m not 100% done setting this up, I think it’s probably time to unveil my next experiment.
One of the biggest things that I struggle with is time and feel. Between being self-taught and spending most of my life playing solo shows, my time and feel are anything but good.
What’s worse is that––for 18 of the 20 years I’ve played guitar––I had no idea that this was the case. I just wondered why I wasn’t getting better as quickly as I would have liked to.
Two years ago, I sort of fell into being a sideman in a great band. Everyone in the group is top-notch, educated, experienced, and driven towards daily improvement.
It’s a great environment to be in just in general, and I’ve grown in so many ways that it’s hard to recognize myself from just a few short years ago.
But possibly the best thing about it is that the band uses in-ear monitors and plays to a click.
It’s the tightest, most grooving ensemble I’ve ever been a part of.
One night, we were watching video of the show we had just played. The MD/bassist pointed out to me that I was consistently ahead of the beat.
I listened closer and sure enough, my guitar was poking out a bit on everything I played.
This was my first concrete experience of feel.
It was like swallowing the red pill.
In the two years since, I’ve been frantically trying to fix my time and feel. Here are some things that’ve been helpful along the way:
- bury the click
- turning the metronome volume down
- cartoon gravity
- in my monitor mix, I like to make the snare drum just a hair louder than my guitar; when my guitar disappears under the snare hit I know that I’m in the pocket.
But easily the best the thing that I’ve done to improve my time & feel is to start running a click at my solo show.
As I talked about in this article, my solo shows have been a giant hole in my bucket, leaking out all of my practice gains.
Here’s What I Did
It’s no secret that I love Tempo Advance, the best metronome app on the planet.
But since my solo show doesn’t follow a defined setlist, I haven’t been using Tempo Advance live. I’m running it off my phone, and in Tempo Advance, the small display doesn’t lend itself well to scrolling through songs, looking for one to play. If you’re using it on an iPad, it’d probably be fine, and that’s what we do in the band.
Instead I’m using an app called Backtraxx. Most people use it to play backing tracks––sort of like high-quality karaoke. I’ve seen horn players use them as their band, bands use them to add horns or keys, and solo singer/guitarists use them to fill out their sound.
I’m using it a little differently. Instead of playing audio through the mains, I’m routing it through an aux send to my earbuds.
Using Logic, I set the tempo and song length, then make the click audible on playback. From there I export to a dedicated playlist in iTunes, then sync my phone.
I keep a spreadsheet of every song’s tempo and length (in measures). When I need to make an adjustment to an existing click track, it’s easy to type these two numbers into the appropriate field in Logic and make a new one.
When I open Backtraxx, I click “Load” and select the CLICK playlist. Now every click track I’ve made is at my fingertips. Once I’ve played one, it deletes itself from the list so I don’t see songs that I’ve already played.
I bought this mic stand mount for my phone, and now my solo shows are several orders of magnitude more grooving.
How Long It Took To Set Up
I only have clicks made for about 100 songs, which translates to roughly 6 hours of music. I played each song all the way through to figure out the length and tempo.
If we include exporting, organizing, inputting info into the spreadsheet, learning the app, buying a mic stand mount, and figuring out how to set up the aux send, we’re talking roughly 10 hours.
I’ve probably played 55 hours worth of solo shows with it since then, and the benefits thus far are, quite frankly, shocking.
Not only are my solo shows way way better, but fixing this hole in my leaky bucket has helped every single other thing I’m doing with music.
- I’ve been trying to make sense of jazz off and on for years now, and now that my time and feel have improved, my jazz soloing actually sounds good. That’s definitely a first.
- My singing––especially the phrasing––has improved.
- And the overall amount of swagger I can now bring to a song is crazy to me. Knowing that it’s not false confidence born of ignorance makes it so incredibly satisfying.