How to practice counting off?

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
Is there any way to practice your count off? It seems most metronomes click along and you just start counting, it but that isn't usually the way it works when playing with others. Maybe I could record a couple count offs and some click tracks that would imitate the real thing.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
Is there any way to practice your count off? It seems most metronomes click along and you just start counting, it but that isn't usually the way it works when playing with others. Maybe I could record a couple count offs and some click tracks that would imitate the real thing.
Play something simple for a 4 count, then stop and count the next 4 out loud. Repeat. Make sure you don't miss any clicks when transitioning between playing and not playing. Some guys like to knock their sticks together for the count in, so it's good to practice that, as well.

Another thing to do is count the beats out in songs you hear throughout the day. Understanding how time works and how it's applied is ultimately going to be the best way to understand how to count a band in. Remember, the speed that you count in will be the speed you play at. I'm often surprised at how many musicians just starting out don't get that the tempo as well as the start point and time signature are all being specified when counting in a band.
 

Joe2112

Junior Member
Good topic to discuss. Took me a good few years of playing to realize how extremely important the count off is. A good rule of thumb to go by is to always get the "tune" of the song flowing in your head at a comfortable tempo before you start counting off. Personally, I sometimes find myself bobbing my head to find the right tempo way before anyone else is ready to play, even if it looks a tad unprofessional.

If you're in a group that's playing originals, talk it out with your band mates, decide on a good tempo (maybe even an exact BPM) and internalize the s*** out of it! Your idea of recording click tracks to count in the song would put you in perfect time every time, and would probably be good practice.

I'm not a pro by any means, just my 2 cents
 

MPortnoy

Senior Member
A good rule of thumb to go by is to always get the "tune" of the song flowing in your head at a comfortable tempo before you start counting off.
This is also how I do it.

The singer of my band usually talks between songs (as a way of giving the crowd a bit of time to breathe and to leave some space between songs) so I just get the tune in my head during that time and begin counting as soon as she introduces the name of the song.
With practice and after listening to each song quite a few times, the tempo just flows automatically.....that's why I like to record our originals, so I can listen to them over and over again.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
I was kind of thinking about it the other way, how to respond at the right time and tempo, after the count off, someone else counting off.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
I was kind of thinking about it the other way, how to respond at the right time and tempo, after the count off, someone else counting off.
As the band leader is counting off, do a Vulcan mind meld with him/her. :)

Seriously, though, it will help to have a friend start a metronome or count off for you at various tempos, in order to get used to the tempo coming from an external source with little to no warning. You'll have to judge the tempo based on two or three clicks, given that you've just realized that the count-off has begun on the first click. This is definitely one of those skills that improves with experience, and yet is hard to practice completely by yourself. Familiarity with the material at hand definitely helps, but that is often a luxury.
 

denisri

Silver Member
Good topic! For live gigs. We have the tempo and key of each song written on the set list.
The set list is to my left next to my metrone. I set the tempo and count in most of the songs. Denis
 

mrmike

Silver Member
Great suggestions so far.
It's also a good idea to subdivide in your head while counting off as well as during the song for a nice solid start.
 

BacteriumFendYoke

Platinum Member
I was kind of thinking about it the other way, how to respond at the right time and tempo, after the count off, someone else counting off.
Practice.

I used to play in a Swing band with a conductor that had very little experience. We worked together in most of the count-offs. She would check with me the speed sometimes (I would respond with a rough tempo on the hi hat if she gave me the cue to do so) and would be looking at me when she counted off, if she saw my face contort then we'd abort!

What I learned though is that it's very important to practice the beginnings and ends of pieces. You absolutely have to know exactly what you're going to play in the first four bars because you'll be concentrating on the rest of the band for that period, making sure your dynamic is right and that the band are following. There's no space to get it wrong in those first four bars - after that, you're settled in and the tempo can be more fluid, with the conductor - of course.

Usually, I would get two bar count-offs. One-Two, One-Two-Three-Four. Something of that ilk. I made sure I could see what was going on because we were responding to visual cues. The only major incident of a count-off going wrong was (sadly) in my last concert with that band, where I couldn't see the conductor (stage issues - fatal error, drummers always need to see the person that's counting off) and the count-off was far too slow. The first four bars were a disaster and without decent monitoring, it was very difficult to hear the band. Not my proudest moment. I was furious!

So really, it's about communication (however you're doing it) and knowing exactly what is in those first few bars. If mistakes happen after that period, you can correct them but in the period where the time is being established with the rest of the band, you have to be absolutely sure about what you're playing and be able to respond immediately to any errors. It's usually better to go along with the 'wrong' speed for the first section of a piece and try to change it when there is a musical break, e.g. a chorus or particular cadence approaching. It's much less jarring but needs to be done gently. It's much easier to speed up than it is to slow down too - chorus sections are often more energised so it's easier to 'drive' towards them.

Just a few observations.
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
I was kind of thinking about it the other way, how to respond at the right time and tempo, after the count off, someone else counting off.
Start counting in your head along with them and then continue your count through the first couple of bars (or more).
 

BillRayDrums

Gold Member
My theory is that if you generate some forward motion before you land sticks on the drums then you are going to be "inside" the tune way better and deeper than if you just launch from a cold start.

When you're about to start playing the song... say the guitarist is playing a lead-in, then you should maybe play 8th notes (or quarters or whatever gets you in the mood as they say) on your leg to get the feel of the song. Then when you begin it's only a matter of transferring the stick from your leg to a drum or cymbal. Counting off is just as much an act of playing the tune.


And if it's you who is responsible for counting the tune off, don't be shy to get your head around the tempo. If it takes you a minute to "hear the song in your head", then do that because hearing it internally is the way to go. That's the best time to still your mind, get inside what you're going to play and lock in tight. And when you hear it internally chances are you're less likely to rush the tempo. Play from the inside which comes from hearing the tune in your head rather than trying to stay one-up on the guitarist who probably drags or rushes anyway. It's just that we drummers always get the blame. ;D Just "lock it down" to what the music tells you.

That works for me anyway...
 
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