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  • Writer's pictureNeil BeatBalance

How can I use the charts to improve my timing?

Diagnosing timing inconsistencies using BeatBalance's performance charts

One thing which makes solo drum practice difficult is that you have to multitask - as well as trying to perform the exercise well, you also have to assess your performance. The problem is, that performing a difficult task means your ability to perceive is affected by cognitive load.

Every drummer has had the experience of feeling that they were sounding great in the moment, only for the harsh light of a recording to show this as a bit of an illusion.

To help address this, BeatBalance gives you both audible feedback while you are playing, and a breakdown of your performance after the exercise is complete. These visual representations can highlight issues which are difficult to spot but contribute in subtle and important ways to an unsatisfying sound, as well as hindering performance at higher tempos.

This post concentrates on using the Timing and Balance diagrams to identify problem areas.

EXAMPLE 1: A 1000-point (or good) performance

Timing diagram showing a performance that's close to ideal

This first example shows a performance of a single-stroke roll which scored just over the 1000-point 'target' Consistency score necessary to earn 5 stars.

The Timing diagram shows your performance relative to the target time you're aiming for - the dotted line in the centre. The higher the curve at a particular point the greater the proportion of hits which landed at that point.

The red curve shows the timing of the left hand, the grey shows the right.

In this performance both curves are highest at the dotted line in the centre, which means that both hands are most likely to strike exactly on time. Which is what we're aiming for! If the curves were highest to the left of the dotted line, that would indicate that we're ahead of the beat, and anything on the right is behind it. In this example most strikes fall within 10 milliseconds (or 1/100th of a second). Sounds spaced less than 10ms apart are perceived as being simultaneous by most people.

Balance diagram for a 1000-point performance.

The Balance chart breaks down the performance differently, allowing you to look at each step of the pattern individually, from the first step of the pattern at the top to the last at the bottom. The bars are colour-coded according to which hand they are played in the same way as the Timing diagram.

The lighter bars show the maximum error (the most out of time strike) for that step, while the solid bar shows the average.

Although this is overall a very good performance, we can still see that the 4th stroke of beat 2 is a little early on average, and that the most out of time stroke in the exercise occurs on the 4th stroke of beat 3. These are not anything to worry about though- every human performance is not quite 'perfect', and the Consistency score is designed to give a sense of what will sound good without being machine-like.

EXAMPLE 2: Early left hand

In this Timing diagram, the left hand (red) is ahead of the beat.

This example shows what you'd expect to see if your left hand (or foot) is rushing ahead of the beat. The right hand curve is still well centred on 0 as before, but is noticeably less smooth than the previous example.

This also illustrates why a few milliseconds of average timing can make a difference to the sound and feel of your playing even though that amount of time is well below what is perceptible as simultaneous- the dotted 'time window' shows where strokes start to be perceptibly out of time, and as we can see, shifting the left hand over a small amount means considerably more strokes are audibly out of time.

The small grey lump on the left hand side is a single right hand strike which would certainly be noticeably out of time.

Balance diagram showing left hand ahead of the beat.

The Balance chart for this performance confirms this - overall the left hand is significantly early on average.

We can also see that the very out-of-time right hand strike occurred on the 3rd note of beat 2.

EXAMPLE 3: Problems with individual strokes of the pattern.

Timing diagram exhibiting some issues.

In this last example, we have an inverted paradiddle pattern which is generally OK but which exhibits a few little inconsistencies which are worth paying attention to.

While the timing diagram overall is well-centred, the overall shape is less smooth than that of the 1000-point performance, indicating that timing was less even than in the first example.

There's also a small lump around 25 milliseconds out, which indicates a stroke which would be audibly out of time .

This is reflected in a lower Consistency score of around 750 for this pattern.

Moving on to the Balance diagram, we can see that the first and third strokes of the paradiddle pattern on the right hand are late on average, as is the first stroke on the left hand, while the third stroke on the left hand is early.

Balance diagram showing inconsistent paradiddle.

This pattern is repeated for the second repetition of the paradiddle pattern, further highlighting that this is a systematic timing inconsistency in the performance of this exercise.

Since this kind of uneven spacing will be highlighted further when the tempo of the exercise is increased, it's therefore a good idea to practice this exercise further at this tempo (or slower) until it's more even.

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