It's About Time by Fred Dinkins is one of the most important books I own. I have practiced and taught material from it extensively for about 10 years and it has tremendously influenced the way I approach timekeeping and ensemble playing. In the foreword, studio drumming legend Harvey Mason writes that the book "is a guaranteed solution to time problems," and likewise I'm convinced that the concepts and exercises presented by Dinkins will produce excellent results for anyone who practices them consistently. Included are two CDs containing exercises, demos, and play-along tracks. Although the book is designed for drumset players, I think it's equally valid for every kind of drummer. I have applied many of the ideas and tools in teaching taiko lessons, workshops, and instructional videos. Here are my top eight reasons why all drummers should own It's About Time.
1. Emphasis on using your voice – Dinkins designed exercises to make us aware of different parts of the subdivision by learning how to sing it while playing a basic beat. It's challenging at first but very rewarding.
2. Excellent CD tracks – there are many practice pieces included, and they serve as useful tests. When my students are able to play the charts comfortably with the recorded music, they pass that lesson and move on to the next. I appreciate the real-world notion of 'either you can do it, or not.'
3. A section covering count offs – counting off a tune might seem like a minor issue, but it's something I take very seriously and emphasize with my students. The exercises in the book help to make your count off tempo consistent with your playing that follows immediately.
4. The 2 & 4 pocket – many styles of music have a backbeat (emphasis on 2 & 4) and working to "bury" the backbeats on the play-along track will help your sense of groove and consistent note placement.
5. Feeling the beat – talking about how the beat can feel on top, in the middle, or behind can be a frustratingly nebulous topic. Dinkins provides clarity by delivering a play-along track where the feel shifts in each new section, requiring the player to adjust slightly but noticeably.
6. Fills workout – another useful tool in the book is a chart where fills are required at the end of every four measures. Each fill must be the length specified, and the play-along track goes silent during these fills. Because fills are a common area of tempo insecurity, this exercise is very useful in improving steadiness and boosting confidence.
7. Hits workout – emphasizing certain accents is another area where the tempo can change, and the play-along track does a great job of addressing this problem. There is also attention on setting up these hits with lead-in fills.
8. The final exam – the very last thing in the book is a chart called "Time Maze" where all of the concepts presented in the book appear in one play-along track. A very welcome bonus: you can hear versions played by Dinkins, Harvey Mason, Ricky Lawson, Dennis Chambers, and several other celebrated drummers. Studying their vastly different approaches to the same piece of music is very eye opening.