Working With Tempo
So, we're gonna talk about finding the right tempo, right?
As we go into recording. Let's have a conversation about that.
Well, I think for us, really finding the tempo to whatever song we're recording or performing is really a collaborative effort. I think, as a band, whoever is demoing the song initially will just kind of feel out what feels best for that riff. And usually, it's a guitar player in the band who's writing the riff initially. So, a lot of times you kinda have to focus on the feel and the tempo based on how fast that guitar player can play that riff. 'Cause certain times, it's either really easy to kind of speed it up or slow it down based on feel, or sometimes it's really hard to speed it up or slow it down because of the way the movement is. So, as a drummer, especially in a situation where you're going into a recording session that you've never really done before, like, specifically session work where you may just be hired, you've never hea...
rd the songs before, you go in, and maybe the person who's giving you the music hasn't even worked out what the tempo is. They just have something they maybe demoed on an acoustic guitar or it's another kind of demoing. You really have to work to figure out what the best feel is. So, I tend to ask a lot of questions in that scenario, like, okay, what's the vibe you're going for? You know, I try to get as much information about the song as I can, whether it's the vocals that help me to decide that or whether it's just the way the rhythm is played by that guitar player. And there's a lot of things you can do with the tempo once you find it. You can, depending, again, on the song, you can play very much on the beat, you know, right on top of it, and there's some techniques that you can work on to really get good at that. You can also really learn to play behind the beat, which is primarily what I think we do in Periphery, at least with the way the grooves were set up. And then, you can also, in certain scenarios, play in front of the beat, which really is specific, at least in my experience, to a certain kind of style. So, where you maybe play in front of the beat is much more faster kind of grooves, or maybe even like punk music sometimes, like, it's really driving and almost like pushing ahead like that. And a lot of that has to do, with drummers, with their technique and how they actually will utilize their movements in relation to the high hat or whatever's keeping the pulse. A lot of times to play really ahead of the beat, you wanna keep the movements very stiff and very, very precise and focused on the sound being really consistent. Whereas, if you're playing behind the beat, you may actually wanna try to create more space with your movements, physically, to really carve out more of the space between the two beats that you're connecting to make the full thing. In clinics, we'll talk about this a lot with drummers, 'cause they'll say, "How do I develop groove or feel?" And a lot of it comes down to understanding your own individual physical limitations. How a person is built physically can determine the way that they sound playing the drums, specifically. The thing I'd compare it to would be like, we all have different length of legs and we all take either shorter or longer steps than one another, but when I walk down the street and I use my legs to make my steps, usually I don't think about the tempo at which I'm walking but I probably walk at a continuous rhythm and every step, my feet are creating the same amount of space because that's how my legs are built, right? So it's not like I'm purposely stepping really far or stepping really close together, it's just my legs create a natural kind of feel. So, when you have a tempo that you're trying to work within, there's usually some kind of pulse and you can use the actual physical limitations of your body to create your own sort of internal physical metronome. So, things like bobbing your head, or turning your head from side to side. Hopefully, we can't turn our head 360 around, so when you turn left, there's a stopping point. Consider that the very pole, like, the polar end to one part of the beat and then you have this side. You have the other polar end to the beat, and then there's all this space in between and there's ways within certain tempos to move faster, from one side to the other, still within the tempo, or really slow within that tempo to try to carve it out, or really just directly on the movement. So, how I mentioned you would, you know, use the high hat specifically for sound, is similar to what you would do with your body or your head movement. A lot of times, the beat will be so complex or the tempo will be so specific that I can't maybe move my head when I'm playing the groove consistently like that to create my own metronome. So what I'll do is, I'll find something else on my body that can create that, whether it's the left foot keeping time with the tempo, or it's maybe just is the way that my body moves with the way my shoulder or my arm moves, but there's always this back and forth motion that we create that is sort of copying or mimicking what a traditional metronome would do when you click the needle and it goes back and forth, and back and forth. We wanna create that within ourselves. So, that's some of the physics behind it, I think. You know, if you could boil it down to, How do I develop groove? And how do I learn how to play ahead or behind the beat? You could actually use walking as an example. Put on the song that you're about to play, or use the song that we're gonna record today, and put it on and walk down the street to the tempo of the song, and try to walk really, really focused, like, right on the beat, where you kind of almost want to push your feet down and nail it every time. Kind of walk behind the beat, where you're a little bit more relaxed and you're looser and then try to walk ahead of it, where you're kind of sprinting a little bit but still staying in time, and it's that sort of practice, I think, which is totally different than drumming that can help you to decide the right feel. And for drummers, a lot of times, the other members of the group are relying on us to decide how it should feel. So, with that in mind, we can make those decisions a lot of times, but as I said, it's great to get as much information about the song and the part you're playing, so that you know exactly how to approach each section, 'cause within one song-- And we can even talk about this with Periphery II versus recording Juggernaut. Within one song, there might be tempo changes, or feel changes, different transitions that you need to sort of ramp up or bring down. Dynamics can have a lot to do with that as well, but I think sometimes, it's even as literal as having a tempo map where, I mean, off of Periphery II, specifically, the song Ragnarok has two or three different tempo changes.
No, it has, like, 50 or something.
Oh, okay, well, there you go.
Well, specifically, yeah. During Periphery II, we were into the idea and we were also encouraged by the producer that we worked with to, I actually wasn't in the band, so it wasn't we. You guys, and I was there. We were encouraged to use a lot of tempo changes, just micro tempo changes of a BPM or two, or a half, has definitely happened.
Yeah, and that was used to really exaggerate the feeling of playing behind a beat, which...
I don't think necessarily that there's that much point in.
Right, I don't recommend it because, if anything, it's more of a hassle or challenge later to try to recreate that in a live setting, and to have to, even as a drummer, play through a performance like that from start to finish, it's very hard to identify small little changes like that. What's better is being able to have a set tempo and then be able to move around it. I kind of describe it as like, in the Matrix, it's like, you can't bend the spoon. That's impossible, but instead you have to bend yourself around the spoon.
That's kind of, the idea is, I don't know, at least for us.
On Juggernaut, we did no tempo changes within the song.
I think there's one song with one tempo change.
Which song, is that on--
Oh, yeah, towards the end.
Yeah, but that's, like, a tempo change. It's not, like, a micro--
And I think there might be one or two others. Omega, I think has, but that's kind of the whole thing shifting into triple time.
Yeah, and there's space. The drums kind of come out as well before that happens. So, I mean, you can do it, but to do it while you're playing the continuity is really hard to keep up.
I don't know that every drummer necessarily is capable of doing what you can do when you're playing to a metronome.
But I think every drummer is, as long as you practice it, and that's the thing.
I've been working in studios for so long with using a click and the metronome. When I first started I was terrible at it. I had no idea what it meant to play ahead of the beat, or behind the beat, or on the beat, and I had producers say, like, okay, try to relax more. Try to hit harder here and change this dynamic, and eventually, over time, after doing it, you really learn, and I mean, we perform live to a click track, so almost every single time I'm behind my drums in a professional setting, I'm using a click, so it's become second nature. And you know, they say you need your 10,000 hours or whatever it is, I mean, I'd like to think that by now, I probably have 10,000 hours behind a click.
I would think, with my old age.
So, I would really encourage a lot of drummers, especially when they're prepping for the studio, to focus on getting comfortable with different feels, playing with different kinds of click setups. And we can actually get into that now, 'cause we need to create the click for what we're gonna track.
We're gonna need him.
So, the song that we're tracking, Alpha, is fairly slow in tempo overall.
Right, so it's. (claps)
But a lot of it is like a halftime or just backbeat.
Right, and this is what I wanted to talk about specifically, so, let's say the tempo is about here. We could play this song or use this tempo a lot of different ways. We could go like, boo boo, bop boo, boo boo, bop boo, boo boo, bop, or we could go, boo boo, bop boo, I mean there's so many different variations, but within this particular song in this context, I guess you'll see when we play it, there's a lot of notes happening, especially on the guitars. The riff on top of this pulse is. (claps and vocalizes) So, I'm not a singer, but I would think of that as 16 notes. (clapping) One-ie and a two-ie and a, (mimics notes) you know? And I'm kind of clapping the eighth note here. So, when I play this song to a click, what I wanna hear is either a very accented eighth note or actually hear 16 note pulses. So, da da, da da, da da, da da, or, dat do, dat do, dat do, something like that really keeps kind of the overall, I guess, foundation of the pulse, representative of all the notes that are being played within the song. So, I can really feel supported and not necessarily feel like I'm listening for every quarter note. (tongue clicking rhythmically)
There's so much space in between those notes, it's really hard to kind of push and pull and stay consistent with however you wanna play. So, I personally like to really fill in the clicks as much as I can, as far as the subdivisions of the rate goes, so that it's just every little subdivision is supported and I can hear that and I know that the beats that I'm playing, the notes I'm playing, will fall within that sort of setting.
It takes some rhythmic ability, I think, and just understanding of rhythm, to be able to play to a 16th note click accurately.
Yeah, you're not going to be able to do it without that knowledge either. I don't know, you need to spend a lot of time just playing to a 16th note click and really locking in with every subdivision, whether the riff actually hits every subdivision or not, and practice being able to hit the e and the r without hitting the downbeats and things like that.
Once you have that framework in place, it becomes very easy. We all play to a 16th note click live.
So, and everybody in the band didn't do that prior to sort of me setting it up that way. Like, Misha would always be like, "You really want a 16 note click? "Are you sure?" And I would always say, "Yeah, totally." The analogy I used when I was talking about the clinic was, I think of it like this, let's say I'm standing on one side of a lake and I need to get to the other side of a lake. If I only had the quarter notes, that would be representative of having four logs evenly placed along the lake that I have to jump from one to the next. And there's all this sort of variable space that I might fall in, or I might not land perfectly, or I may not be able to do it at the same pulse or tempo, but if I start slowly filling in with more small logs, like, now I have eight logs to represent the eighth notes, I can sorta take, there's a little bit less risk of falling off and then if I fill in all 16, then I can kind of very comfortably just walk right across. So, that's the way I think of it in terms of what I hear with my click track is, I like to have that whole sort of foundation there so that I'm never really worried about falling off or moving away too much from the beat or diverting from it. Instead, I can, again, push and pull within that so that I don't have to worry about whether I'm not hitting those key notes or key tempo marks, you know? So hopefully that makes sense for everybody. But if there are questions, obviously we can take them. But we should set this click up now.
I'll let Nolly take the helm.
What I'm thinking would be cool, just from a sound perspective is to have accents that would be, I guess, eighth note accents, kinda like you would do like a Moeller stroke, like, dat do, dat do, dat do, dat do, dat do, dat do, and we can just do that all throughout.
Something that I like to do, too, is, there's always a count-in, so I try to do some kind of even note count and usually it's eight counts, like, One, two, three, four, two. Sorry, that's terrible. I'm a drummer, I can't count. One, two, three, four, two, two, three, four, and then that's when the cue would be. And if there's a pickup or something, you have enough space to really listen. A lot of times, working with certain producers, they would like, only give me two beats before and you end up wasting time because you almost miss it. You know, you have to have enough time to hear it and then catch it and then know how to click in. So, can we hear this one? (beeping) Okay, so this is a good example of, it's almost there. So, we're accenting now the first of every note. What I wanna do is actually accent the first and then have one that's softer in dynamic, and then the third note will also accent, so, dat doot, dat doot, dat doot, or, dat doot, dat doot, dat doot, dat doot, kinda like that. (clears throat) (beeping) So is this set as a quarter note, looks like?
Yeah, we got a quarter.
So, let's go to the eighth note. (beeping) Cool, so we're almost there. So, that's still kind of only accenting the first of the four notes, but we want to accent every two. Is there a way to do that?
Let's see. We go ... Yeah, so we can change the meter to 2/4 exactly. (beeping) You want more of an accent, even? I can turn that up a little bit.
Yeah, that'd be great to have just a little bit more of an accent.
Let's try that.
Yeah. (beeping) Yeah, that's great, so, with that in mind, I'd like to hear the space between both the notes, because it helps to keep me kind of where I need to be within the mix. If you have the notes all sounding the same, duh, duh, duh, duh, instead of, dat doot, dat doot, dat doot, if you're not used to that, you can kind of maybe get lost if you don't hear the backing track, so it's good to have the reference of the dynamic change there. Some other drummers, and even myself if I ever have a lot of time to really work to program a click, I'll even program something that would be kind of close to what an arpeggiator would do, which would really space out every note. So, instead of being like, dat doot, dat doot, dat doot, it would be like, dat doot, doot doot, dat doot, doot doot, doot doot, doot doot, dat doot, doot doot, doot doot, doot doot, dat doot, and really change pitch and almost dynamic up and down, which just helps to even more so carve out the space for all those logs, or 16th notes, or 8th notes, whatever you'd be using. So, it's really helpful, but that will be the one that we track to, so the only thing we'll have to do as we get the template set up is just in the beginning, have like, one, two, three, four, one, two, dot, dot, dot, dot--
And then it would come up. So, we don't need to do that now but we can--
Set that up. But just like an eight beat count-in.
Just before we go. So, that's pretty much how it goes setting up clicks. I mean, we would do this for performing live. We're in the process right now of switching over our interface as far as what we use in live performance, and because of that, we have to program all new clicks and get the whole live set-up, so I'm gonna be doing a lot of this coming up soon with every song that we're gonna be playing in our set on our next bunch of tours.
So, it's always a fun process.