I was extremely flattered to be contacted by the nice lady from Makers4Good the company that produces the Backbeater tempo measuring gadget. They offered to send me one that I could keep in return for me writing a review. Wow! I’ve really made it. Someone wants to know what I think. Of course I agreed to try it out.
The Backbeater is fairly useful for measuring your tempo if you’re playing grooves with a steady two and four backbeat but as soon as you play a fill or any groove where the snare isn’t on the two and four, it freaks out. I might use it as a tool for working on my internal clock and also to improve my ghost note playing (using the sensitivity settings) but as far as I can tell, it’s usefulness is pretty limited. I can’t imagine using this in a live setting as it doesn’t seem to work for different snare patterns and the fact it freaks out whenever you play a fill is quite distracting.
How It Works
The Backbeater consists of a sensor that you attach to the snare by slotting it under a tension rod. Very quick and easy. You then connect it to your phone or tablet and use it in conjunction with the Backbeater metronome software. Included was a headphone splitter that allows you to monitor the sound coming out of the phone. The software is very straightforward and, as I understand it, it’s still under development so some of the features might be different when the product is released to the world at the end of the Kickstarter campaign that’s running for the product.
The software is meant to allow you to monitor your tempo by “listening” to the snare drum. It can be used either with a click running or without. There are a bunch of settings that you can adjust to allow you to configure how the software measures the snare strokes. You can adjust the sensitivity so that the app ignores ghost notes; you can adjust the sound of the metronome; you can adjust the number of strokes that are averaged to give you the tempo; you can adjust the number of beats used to calculate the tempo (for example you need to set it to “2” in order for it to grok that your backbeats are reflecting a tempo of, say 120 and not 60BPM).
If you’re only playing a groove where you’re hitting the snare on 2+4, this seems to work pretty well. I had some fun practicing playing at a bunch of different tempos and keeping myself spot on. But as soon as I played a fill, the app got befuddled and stopped giving an accurate reading. If you play extra snare strokes it thinks you’ve sped up and displays MAX as the tempo (as it can’t seem to count above 200BPM) or if you move off the snare it thinks you’ve stopped. It takes a few seconds for it to recalculate when you come back to the groove. This is distracting.
You can adjust the sensitivity of the sensor so it can ignore ghost notes although the scale is from 0 to 100% but only the bit from 80% to 100% really does anything (unless you want to use it with your jackhammer) so it makes finding a setting quite fiddly even on the screen of my iPad. Having said that, it makes quite a good tool for practicing your dynamics if you can find a sensitivity setting that works well. Play a ghost note too hard and your tempo reading goes haywire.
When using the app with the metronome playing it only gave a literal reading of the tempo (so would call my 120BPM 60).
So I think the Backbeater has some utility as a practice tool. It could help you develop your internal clock by playing simple grooves and learning to keep the tempo consistent. But you can work on this skill well enough with a normal metronome. It can be used to refine your ability with ghost notes but you can also use your ears for that. If it were sufficiently “intelligent” to monitor a wide variety of grooves, maybe it would have some utility at a gig but a click in the headphones is fine for time keeping. All in all I don’t think this product does anything all that useful and having spent a good amount of time checking it out, it’s not something that I would want to use on a regular basis.