Developing Good Time

Posted: October 5, 2019 in Music
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

(First off, apologies for any grammatical or other lapses in the following: I haven’t slept for two nights, now, and am feeling a bit tetchy.)

Anyway, getting to the topic at hand, I played two-and-a-half sets at one of the local bars on Thursday night, and two songs in I wanted to kill the bass player (no drummer).

Why? His time sucks. He was pushing the tempo in almost every song. And that was exhausting for me, trying (unsuccessfully) to hold him back. His poor sense of time/rushing robbed me of most of the joy of playing music. I felt like King Canute, trying to hold back the tide with a pitch fork.

And that’s totally unnecessary.

It’s easy to develop a good sense of time. It’s boring, but it’s easy. Spend fifteen or twenty minutes a day on it for maybe three months, and you’ll have at least a decent sense of time. Most amateurs never attain that, which is why they remain amateurs.

My pal/bassist told me something the other night that was incredibly revealing: we were playing with another friend, a drummer, and the bassist was screwing up all over the place. At one point, when I waved my hands and said “Stop!” he was half a beat in front of me. His excuse? He couldn’t hear the bass drum — as if keeping time wasn’t his responsibility (as it is for everyone; but in a band it comes down like this: drummer first, bassist second; guitar/keys third; and in the absence of a drummer, it’s the bassist’s job.)

So, how do you develop a good sense of time? As I said, it’s easy but boring. Here’s how to do it:

  • Use a metronome. Play scales, play along with tunes (the drummer is almost certainly playing along with a click track). Metronome apps are easy to find and are free. There’s simply no excuse for not using one. Use a metronome or metronome app fifteen minutes a day for three months, and you’ll have decent time. You’ll find it boring, but it won’t kill you. And other musicians will want to play with you. If your time is crap, the good ones won’t. Suck it up and do the necessary work.
  • Subdivide. Get in the habit of doing it. In straight time, count 16th notes (“one-e-and-a two-e-and-a” etc.) or in swung time (“one and a two and a” etc.). I went out dancing with the GF recently, and she told me she could see me mouthing the subdivisions. It’s a great habit to get into.
  • Play slow. And count. It’s way easy to get into playing fast passages and then telling yourself, “Damn! That sounds good!” Slow it down, count it, and you’ll have it.

If you think that’s too boring, and won’t do it, you’ll never be any good.

 

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