For Musicians — Developing Good Time

Posted: December 8, 2015 in Music
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An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory: The Most Useful Aspects of Theory for Rock, Jazz & Blues Musicians

The number one attribute of being a good musician is having good time. If you don’t have that, you really don’t have much. You can have the greatest chops in the world, but if your time is bad, no one will want to play with you.

To cite one example familiar to almost everyone who’s played in bands, playing with a rushing drummer is one of the most miserable musical experiences in the world. (There are probably twenty drummers who rush to every one who drags.) You’ll try to hold him back, but it’s like trying to hold back the sea with a pitchfork. (Curiously, at least some drummers with bad time are entirely unaware of it, and take great offense if you point it out. In such cases, it often helps to record rehearsals–then they might admit it and be willing to do something about it.)

Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your time, they’ll help in fairly short order, and they’re all easy to do; all that’s necessary is to do them consistently.

The first and probably most important is to count out loud while you play, and to subdivide while you do it. If you’re playing a shuffle, for instance, you’d count it “One . . . a Two . . . a Three . . . a Four . . . a One” etc. (omitting the middle triplet). If you were playing rock or country with straight eighth notes, you’d count “One and Two and Three and Four” etc. With slow tunes you might want to subdivide further, using sixteenth notes rather than eighths, “One e and a Two e and a Three e and a Four e and a” etc. The important thing is to count out loud and to subdivide. In situations where you can’t count out loud, you can always count under your breath.

The second thing you can do is practice with a metronome. It’s irritating, but it helps. Beyond this, it’s good to turn the metronome off while you’re playing (and counting) and turn it back on 15 or 30 seconds later to see if you’re still in sync with it. For drummers, this is easy to do, as they can just keep the beat going with their foot on the bass drum. The rest of us have to stop playing but can keep counting and then resume playing after we’ve stopped the metronome; the same goes, of course, for turning it back on.

Front cover of The Drummer's Bible Second EditionThat brings us to the final point. A few nights ago I was talking about time with my friend and ex-bandmate Mick Berry, co-author of The Drummer’s Bible, and he mentioned something that had never occurred to me–that it also helps to play every note at the last possible thousandth of a second. He swears that it works, and that it helps tremendously in overcoming rushing. He has excellent time and teaches drums for a living, so I tend to believe him.

If you’re having timing problems and begin doing all, or even most, of these things, your time will improve significantly.




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