What I work on the most rhythmically is just keeping good solid time on my own, without a metronome. One of my teachers said that practicing with a metronome is actually harmful for your time feel, so lately I play along with records and this seems to help.
Any advice on how to develop a nice, relaxed time feel would be greatly appreciated. I think it will take me a few times through your book to really understand some of what's in there.
Really cool stuff!
I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying the book!
Before addressing your concern, I’d like to begin by underlining the fact that:
I believe the metronome to be an extremely useful tool when it comes to practicing rhythm.
Among many things, using the metronome can help you understand how to transition between rhythmic concepts, and/or new rhythmic figures more accurately.
That being said...
Keeping time without a metronome is a challenging task that we have all struggled with as musicians. Here are a couple of suggestions that I think you could benefit from:
1. Playing with other musicians!:
There is no substitute for playing with live musicians. Find friends, jam session nights at establishments or schools, or even join a band program at a private academy. You should consider the fact that playing in your room and playing with/in front of people are two completely different things.
2. Playing along to records:
This one you already mentioned as doing, so I am not going to go into detail.
3. Using play-alongs/backing tracks:
The good thing about play-alongs/backing tracks is that your instrument will not be featured. Sometimes, when we play with recordings, having a musician who plays what we are supposed to play note for note can become a crutch. I have seen many students who can play a song perfectly with the recording and cannot play 1/3 of it with a backing track.
4. Practice genres/tunes that emphasize certain rhythmic figures to practice them:
When I say funk, 16th notes could be at the top of the list of things you associate the genre with.
When I say alternative rock, it could be 8ths.
When I say shuffle, you might think triplets.
In that same way, 6/8 could be associated with some Afro-Latin tunes.
Using these as a practice tool could really help you out with isolating problem areas.
5. Practice the aforementioned genres/tunes through the use of genre specific books/instructional videos:
This one is closely related to number 3 because a backing track is usually included with them. These books/instructional videos make practice fun because they include tunes and/or exercises that highlight certain techniques or rhythmic figures.
A bit more on playing “relaxed”:
How “relaxed” your feel is, could be decided by many factors such as: the genre(s) that you will be playing, the people you will be playing with, the particular material, if you are catering to the setting/location that you will be playing for, if you are just doing your own thing, etc., etc…
As a general example, some bands/trios/ensembles concentrate on being as accurate to the click as humanly possible. Some of them even have a click running while on stage. For them, practicing with the metronome is just about the only way to practice. (Because it is how they will perform.)
In contrast, other bands are very particular about having an extremely “relaxed feel”. For them, music is performed with a certain type of “elasticity”.
Add to all of this the fact that not all bands record with a click, and you might feel like you are walking into a real catch 22.
At this point, you might be asking yourself: “Wait. Should I practice with, or without the metronome then?”
You should do both. Play live and with “reproduction tools”. Play with the metronome, and without it.
Eliminating either the metronome, “reproduction tools”, and/or playing live altogether, will only prove to be a disservice in the long run.
All my best,