As a drummer, I have always been working on my time. However, in the way I have been practicing & playing, one (or even two) of my limbs were always keeping time for me.

For example:

-the fixed swing beat on my right hand

-Hihat played with the left foot on beats 2 & 4, or on all the beats of the bar.

-‘Four on the floor’ on the bass-drum with my right foot.


In most parts of the transcribed material, drummers didn’t use a limb to keep time. Their INNER-TIME was so strong that allowed them to play or leave space (without the need of a ‘time-keeping limb’). Either they played or not, they felt the time.

So, I did my investigation and found some specific exercises that can help a musician strengthen his/her time-keeping:

1) Turn your voice into a metronome

-This exercise helps you hear the 'one' and feel grounded.


Choose a syllable that has a very short & ‘clicky’ sound.
For example: “Chea(t)”
Repeat this syllable out loud in a steady tempo and practice anything you want.

(Exercise demonstrated by Benny Greb1 on drumeo2)

2) Displace the metronome

-This exercise makes you comfortable with "uncommon" parts of the beat.

Put the metronome in different parts of the bar.
So, Instead of having it on the beat 1 of the bar, You can put it on 2 & 4, on 3+, on 4, on 1+ e.t.c.

(Exercise demonstrated by Benny Greb3 on drumeo4)

3) Use the metronome only once, every 2 or every 4 bars.

-This exercise helps you check that you remain on the same tempo.

For example, start with metronome on tempo 120bpm. (4 beats each bar)

When you are comfortable, put the metronome on 60 bpm. (2 beats each bar)

If you still play on tempo with ease, put the metronome on 30bpm. (1 beat each bar)

Then on 15 bpm. (1 beat every two bars)

and finally on 7-8 bpm. (1 beat every four bars)

(Exercise demonstrated by Gilad Hekselman5 on 'My Music Masterclass'6)

4) Sing the Rests.

-This exercise helps you become aware of the musical space.

"Here's something inspired by blending Gary Chester's7 singing concept with Alan Dawson's8 approach to developing coordination. While playing the swing pattern with your ride cymbal and 2&4 with your hi-hat, play the written comping parts and sing the spaces. Use the syllabes written - they're the ones that horn players sing - and be sure to swing what you sing. The result will be that between your snare-drum, bass-drum and voice, all the 8th notes will be "played". This exercise will help you feel the spaces between the notes and make your phrases lay better. It will also help correct rushing problems. Start at quarter note=70 bpm."

To connect it more with our topic, we can omit the ride cymbal pattern and the hi-hat on 2&4.


(Exercise from John Riley's9 book10 'The Jazz Drummer's Workshop' page 13)

Last but not least, watch Eric Harland12 taking this exercise to the next level, by turning his natural speaking into drum-phrasing.


(Video presented by SFJAZZ13)


Other musicians and especially, Ari Hoenig14, have created plenty of other exercises that combine playing & singing with odd groupings (like 5 and 7), thus creating even more complex rhythmical phrases.

Despite how interesting they can be, I exclude them from my research for the time being, because my purpose is to master basic rhythmical structures first.

5) Play free or stretch your phrases, while keeping a steady pulse

-This exercise forces you to feel the pulse internally, even when your limbs play beyond the quantized time.

Put the metronome on the 4+ of every other bar. Play free or stretch-out you phrases but never stop feeling the pulse. To check if you stay in tempo, alway the play 4+ when it comes, simultaneously with the metronome.

Another way of strengthening your internal pulse, is to imitate horn players who stretch time at a great extent.

Here is a video of me playing the solos of Ben Webster and Roy Eldridge on Billie Holiday's "Fine and Mellow"11.