This past week I came across a video by Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal. For those of you that don’t know, Bumblefoot is one of the most accomplished guitarists on the planet. So, when he says something, it is certainly worth taking note. The video was titled “The Most Important Guitar Lesson.” What could possibly be the most important thing? Speed? Dexterity? 16th Notes? Scales? Modes? Chords? No, none of those things. In fact it is something so simple and mundane most guitarists will over look it: timing! Bumblefoot recounts a story of walking into a guitar lesson and having his teacher set the metronome (oh the horrors of the unforgiving metronome!) at 40bpm. This is the slowest setting most analog metronomes will go. The teacher then proceeds to make him play a scale on his guitar using only quarter notes. If you have not ever tried this it is painful and will show you just how bad your timing actually is. Most people will play either behind or in front of the beat. Consequently, it is important to use the dictator that is the metronome to regulate your timing. Not just backing tracks. Jazz guitarist Jens Larsen, recently said this very thing as well in one of his instructional videos. This is why he recommends playing with a metronome and why we at Silversound Guitar don’t just use drum loops and backing tracks, but in our lessons will help students with timing using a metronome.
But what if you are currently in a band? Do you really need to figure out a better timing? Of course, just ask your drummer (I’m sure they will have a thing or two to say about your time keeping). In the context of music the beat is the boss and your drummer is the king. Sit down, and get a lesson with your drummer. Ask him or her how they subdivide the beat. Learn how to hear eighth notes and sixteenth notes over a long slow quarter. Some of the best guitarist I know started out as drummers. They are great rhythm guitarist because they can hear the subdivisions of the beat. I cannot stress how important this is! They are great lead players because they can….wait for it….hear the subdivisions of the beat. That is where it starts and ends.
Remember that music starts in the body and ends with your fingers. Hear it first, and then build from there. Then build on clarity of notes. Listen! Hear first, then listen then worry about your fingers. Timing is everything in music especially in a band. Be ruthless with it, but be patient. Slow tempos mean lots of patience. I can promise once you can master this the rest of it, yes chords, scales, shredding all of it becomes easier and more intuitive.