Earlier this week we used an exercise called Bury The Click to help us play not just in time, but with good feel.
Feel, if you remember, refers to a couple of things, most notably where we place our notes in relation to the beat.
Bury The Click means trying to land a short percussive strum so incredibly in sync with the metronome’s click that we can’t hear them as two separate events. It’s a great exercise for tuning in your ear to the subtleties of time, and teaching your hands to play with good feel.
Yesterday we talked about using the backbeat––that is, beats 2 & 4––as our North Star. Giving those beats the attention they deserve teaches us to play with the sort of grooving good time that modern music demands.
Using the Two-Legged Table exercise (with the “legs” on the backbeat) improves both our internal clock and our sense of groove.
Today we’re going to combine these two exercises to really dial in your ability to sound good with or without a click.
Bury The Backbeat
Before we set up for this exercise, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page.
We’re going to use a percussive strum that’s different from what you used with Bury The Click. Let’s call it a chick.
We’re going to alternate strumming a chord with this percussive chick on beats 2 & 4. To get that chick, you’re going to unsqueeze the chord with your fretting hand, and at the same time strum and palm mute.
You’re dropping your palm onto the strings just in front of the saddle(s) at the same moment that you strum them.
Here’s a quick video showing that in action:
If you’re a finger style player, you can get this same sort of sound by using your knuckles to smack the strings against the frets, like this:
It’s possible that you’ll need to practice this for minute before you get the hang of it, but from here on out I’m going to assume you’ve got it down.
Here’s the strum we’re going to play:
I know, I know––you’re a guitar player and you don’t read music. But don’t be alarmed by the notation. All it’s really saying is this:
Strum down on all the numbered beats and up on the ands. Make beats 2 & 4 that chick that we just talked about.
Once you’ve got that down, you’re ready to do Bury The Backbeat.
Set Tempo to 80:
Meter to 4/4:
Beats 1 & 3 to silent, beats 2 & 4 unaccented:
Same deal as the last two days:
- Watch the pulses & tap your foot in time with them.
- Count “one two three four.”
- Then add the divisions: “one and two and three and four and.”
- Do eighth note Bury The Click.
- Start playing this strum:
- Use the visual cues as much as you need, but when you can make the metronome click disappear underneath your chicks, look away from the metronome.
- Expect to fail A LOT.
- Once this stops being challenging, slow it down five bpm at a time.
- Log at least 5 minutes of Bury The Backbeat today. Use the Tracker to keep yourself honest.
And Now A Word Of Encouragement
What you’re doing here is hard. Don’t expect to show up and be good at this right away, and don’t expect that you’ll go from mediocre to good in any sort of expedient, linear fashion.
This shit is messy. One day you’re going to be nailing this and feeling good about your playing, and the next day you won’t be able to stay on top of the click for more than a few seconds. This is all normal. Part of the process.
The most important thing is to keep showing up.
We live in a world where the popular perception of how someone succeeds at music is to go on a TV show and impress some celebrity judges. Fuck those shows.
They’ve warped our collective sense of what’s rewarding about making art. The prize isn’t fame and some predatory recording contract. The prize is being fully human and getting to make art in the first place.
The price of making great art is the willingness to show up and make crappy art. And then mediocre art. And then good art. And then slightly better art. And then, maybe, great art.
If you consistently seek out the uncomfortable edges of your ability, the amount of enjoyment you find in the art will grow exponentially.
A master isn’t someone who’s an expert at the fancy stuff. A master is someone who has continually refined the fundamentals.
The fancy stuff is just more visible to us.