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  • Writer's pictureNeil BeatBalance

The BeatBalance story

Hi. I’m Neil.

I’m the developer of BeatBalance and I’d like to talk a little about why I made the app.

I’ve been a musician for about 25 years now, and for me making music is above all else a form of communication and of self-expression. I feel very fortunate that some of the music I’ve been involved with making has reached people and in some small way spoken to them, and I’ve been lucky enough to play with and to a lot of wonderful people in many different countries over the years.

As well as playing in bands, for the last few years I’ve been increasingly interested in polyrhythmic and polymetric music, and have been producing electronic dance music where I’m aiming at a sort of dreamy, timeless pulse. I’ve made some records I’m very proud of but I’ve always felt that the sound in my head was out of reach.

I reached a point where came to realise that to properly progress my ideas, it made sense to learn how to *play* my ideas. But integrating sequenced electronics and live drums in a way which feels natural is very demanding - to properly play what I want to play, in a way which feels confident and natural, I knew I needed to develop the kind of technical skills which can only be developed by a large amount of formal practice. In particular I knew that I needed to develop a very confident sense of musical time.

My aim was and is to develop my skills as quickly and efficiently as possible. I knew it would take a long time to develop the skills I need and I didn’t want to waste a second of time on practice which wasn’t developing these skills as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I read a number of books about the practice of effective music practice, and watched a lot of drum practice videos. The theme of effective, immediate feedback as crucial to learning and development was universal. I started looking for tools which would allow me to practise keeping a steady tempo, and allow me to analyse and track my performance.

I couldn’t find anything that really did what I was looking for. In particular practising building the ‘Inner Clock’ - the internal sense of tempo stability and solidity - seemed lacking. I started practicing using a metronome which mutes out periodically but I found the quality of feedback I was getting lacking - I was sometimes in time, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but with no idea when or how I’d drifted out.

What I needed was a metronome which would allow me to play without support for as long as I was keeping a steady tempo, but which immediately came back in to lety me know when I was drifting. I figured someone must have made this, so I went looking for it.

Since the skills the tool develops are universally acknowledged to be fundamental to drumming, it was clear that this idea would be useful to other drummers: not just new drummers like me, but anyone who was serious about the fundamental job of the drummer - keeping really good time. I built a working prototype and found that it felt really good in use. I researched the available technology and realised that I’d be able to further develop the app myself. As well as the silent metronome I’ve put in analysis to help track down and identify issues.

I’m interested in making this the best and most useful tool it can be to help other musicians express themselves. Although the app does a lot of measurement of formal exercises, ultimately speed and accuracy aren’t ends in themselves - like many other drummers I do formal exercises in order to train my nervous system and body to respond consistently so that when I try to play something, it comes out as close as possible to how I intend it.

Where am I now? I’ve enlisted the help of a friend and former bandmate, James, to help me on the business side of things, leaving me free to work on the app itself. We’re going to release the app soon, but if you are interested in helping us test it in its current state, use our contact form to get in touch. The more people who get involved right now, the better the final product will be.

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