(much revised and improved) “Playing Behind the Beat”

Posted: February 21, 2018 in Livin' in the USA, Politics
Tags: , , , ,

Why does some music sound so relaxed? It’s real simple — the musicians are playing behind the beat (almost invariably in swung time).

That means that they’re playing a few thousandths of a second after the beat falls. That’s common in blues, jazz, soul, and (less so as the decades go on) funk. Not at all in country, hard rock, metal or punk.

In those styles, everything is pretty much right on the beat — exact to the thousandth of a second. Some metal moves beyond that to being ahead of the beat.

Here’s how to think of all this: 1) Ahead of the beat: Nazis jacked up on meth and running meth labs in Kingman or Fresno, or half-a-block down from yours truly in years past (about 15 years ago, I came home one afternoon to find DEA agents in flak jackets and bearing automatic weapons busting a lab in the apartments across the street) — ahead of the beat is simply frenetic; 2) On the beat: common rock or 4/4 country — excited, but nothing to get excited about here folks, nothing to see, move along (please!); 3)  Anything behind the beat: Ah yes! Relax, groove into it. Enjoy it!

The best example of behind-the-beat playing I can think of is James Brown’s 16-minute masterpiece, “Papa don’t take no mess,” off of his otherwise awful “Hell” CD. Everyone playing on that tune is way behind the beat.

The best example of yours truly playing behind the beat is on the first Pinche Blues Band EP, with the cut Postal; I’m way behind the beat (on guitar), as is everybody else.

And do it yourself. It ain’t all that hard. Just find a tune where the musicians are playing behind the beat, and imitate it.

Seriously, it really isn’t all that hard: All you need to do is to play at the last moment you can stand it, just before it’d be wrong.

Enjoy! Make it funky, y’all. Or as Jones would say, “Whoa!” (If you’ve never read A Confederacy of Dunces, you’re in for a treat.)

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