On Christmas Day in 1896, John Phillips Sousa wrote what would become the quintessential marching band song: Stars & Stripes Forever.
Ninety years later, in the sort of symbolic-but-ultimately-meaningless gesture that congress is best known for, it was enshrined as the official National March of the United States.
Stars & Stripes Forever perfectly embodies the type of music I had in mind when I told you that––unless your musical heroes all died before World War One––you ought to be using a backbeat click.
Over the past few days, we’ve gotten comfortable with hearing that click on 2 & 4. We started with visual cues to help us get used to that, then took them away and learned how to count into a backbeat without them.
Today we’re going to take that one step further––you’re going to count your way into a backbeat click, and then I’m going to do my damnedest to mess you up.
Once you’re counting with the click on 2 & 4, I’ll start playing Stars & Stripes Forever, but felt with the click on all four beats.
I’ll be deliberately resetting your ear to hear the click in that square, stuffy way that formal music education teaches us.
Then it’s up to you to correct course and begin hearing that click on the backbeat.
You’ll know you’re metronome-ing like a boss when you can quickly reset yourself to hearing it on the backbeat.
Before we get you started on the Stars & Stripes Challenge, let’s first make sure you’re comfortable hearing the backbeat at the tempo we’ll be working at.
- Start up Tempo at 90 bpm, 1/4 meter.
- Snap your picking hand fingers right on top of the click.
- Add a foot tap in between each snap, evenly spaced halfway through.
- Begin counting at the click, starting with beat 2– 2 3 4 , 1 2 3 4.
- Once you’re counting, snapping, & foot tapping in the right places, STOP.
- Take a breath, then restart the metronome.
- Run this whole sequence again.
Do this several times, until you feel comfortable. It’s about to get harder, so take as much time here as you need before moving on.
The Stars & Stripes Challenge
In this five-minute video, I’m going to give you ten or fifteen seconds to count your way in to the backbeat click, and then I’m going to try to mess you up by playing the opening bars of Stars & Stripes Forever. It’ll be the same click, but felt on all four beats.
I’ll stop, then you try to count your way in to the backbeat again. We’ll repeat this for five minutes or so.
Again, you’ll know you’re kicking this challenge’s ass when it stops being difficult to hear the click on the backbeat after hearing it on all four.
May the (two and) fours be with you.