playing in the pocket

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by 56_Special, Nov 21, 2005.


  1. 56_Special

    56_Special Member

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    I've been trying to work on my timing, which has always been the weak link in my playing. I've been playing with a metronome and recording myself (what an eye opener!). What I've discovered is that, even when I'm locked into the tempo, I have a tendency to play ahead of the beat. Often I do this very consistently. That is, the tempo is quite exact, just a little ahead of where the metronome is. It's subtle enough that it only became obvious when I looked at the waveform of my recording in my audio editor, which has lines which mark the beats.

    I realize that playing ahead of the beat is a style, but I would like to have control over it. Moreover, lots of songs would sound better, I think, if I was laying back in the pocket. Any advice?

    Best,

    Martin
     
  2. fr8_trane

    fr8_trane Member

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    I also struggle with time. I think a good way to improve it would be to always practice with a midi groove (I hate metronomes because they do not give me subdivisions or upbeats to key in on.) Also listen to and copy music that is in the pocket: James Brown, Bob Marley, Booker T and the MG's, steely dan ect. Get a method book that stresses rhythm. Tomo Fujitas Accelerate Your Guitar Playing seems to come highly rated for its rhythmic studies and if you've ever heard the guy play he definitely grooves hard. Now if I could only take my own advice...
     
  3. 56_Special

    56_Special Member

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    Thanks for the advice, trane! Listening (and playing along) with James Brown and Booker T would help alot, I'm sure. In fact, I worked my way out of a pretty bad rhythm slump in college by playing along with James Brown's "In a Jungle Groove" for hours on end. That set me right. Maybe its time to break out that album again.

    M
     
  4. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Member

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    Good suggestions from fr8_trane, and to that list, I would add The Meters, and a very unsung band whose heyday was the 60's/70's, known as Rare Earth (whom I *believe* were the only "white" band signed by Motown).

    Listen to a lot of "bluesy jazz" and "jazzy blues". Quite a few of the heads and more conversational improvisations are, by design, somewhat rhythmically 'behind the beat'. Kenny Burrell is a master of this, as was Hammond B3 organ grinder Jimmy Smith.

    Among modern guitarists, John Scofield plays behind the beat about as far as it's possible without sounding 'out of time'! I think this is very much by design though; it's his "style".

    In terms of musical genres, I would probably first suggest listening to (various and sundry varieties of) "swing", for the player that wants to focus on playing in a relaxed, unhurried manner. Masters of this style can sound like they're "loping" even at very quick tempos.

    Also listen to some of the great British rock drummers. John Bonham is an obvious choice, and additionally, Lee Kerslake (Uriah Heep) and Simon Kirke (Free, Bad Company) provide great examples of 'behind the beat' kit banging (and there's good reason it's called "backbeat"). Do not listen to Stewart Copeland (for your purposes)! Great drummer, very thematically intelligent, but decidedly a very 'on top of the beat' drummer. In fact, that was one of the "issues" with The Police (I'll sidestep the personality conflict thing) - Sting played very loping, 'behind the beat' figures, while Copeland always pushed the downbeat forward. That rhythmical "clash" is, to me, one of the things that made that band sound interesting, but, having been involved in several scenarios where there's different rhythmic perspectives among rhythm section players, I know that it can be more fun to listen to than to try and groove with, in the heat of the moment. Many of the rock "power trio" rhythm sections from the 60's and 70's played 'on top of the beat' (and of course were quite "busy" - product of the era). In the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitchell and Redding pushed forward, while Hendrix "laid back". Again, quite interesting, from the listener's perspective. Compare the time and feel of The Experience to Band of Gypsies. Among other notable power trios, I'm not sure what Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were attempting to accomplish... never mind.

    In his improvisations, Eric Johnson often plays 'on top of the beat'.

    For a style of music that (to me) most often represents dead-nuts time (neither behind or ahead, but RIGHT ON IT), I quickly think of Bluegrass. Accomplished Bluegrass musicians have such great sense of time that it should be illegal.

    As with many things, some of the most difficult scenarios for which to lay down convincing time are often perceived as being the simplest. For instance - playing a percussive chord "chank" on beats '4' and '10' within a 12/8 time siganature (try it!); playing upstrokes on the 'ands' in Cajun/Zydeco music (as well as within New Orleans-approved Blues shuffles); the much maligned (I'm too-cool-for-school and far-too-cerebral to actually get this RIGHT) root-five bass guitar move that is so integral to Country music (I've known guys that could play like Jaco, and yet could not properly deliver this to recording media 'in time', with a set of cans on their ears, for three solid minutes, if their butts were on fire).

    As for my own playing... I've worked really hard on my time, but because I'm a human being, I falter constantly. I've noticed a couple of constants, which, in my case, apply more to the bandstand than to the studio: if, for whatever reason, I'm stressed, or if I'm "thinking too much", my playing is slightly ahead of the downbeat. When I'm relaxed and happy, my time is where I want it to be - which is either slightly behind, or as dead-nuts ON as humanly possible (depends on the tune or style of music). I just listened to a live recording of a show I did last week, and sure enough, my time was more solid after the first number (I've always suffered from "first tune of the set syndrome").

    Since you mentioned the recording process, doubling your parts (and not just rhythms - try "learning" your improvised fills and leads, and double them) is a great way to get in touch with your innate sense of time, in addition to being an invaluable sonic texture for certain tracks. If you dink with it long enough, you can sort of "vary the delay time" (in ms) in "real time", as opposed to using a delay for such, which can add huge ambience to a track. Try playing an extremely tight and precise track, and then double that with a very loose, *borderline sloppy* take, and pan hard, right and left. It can sound pretty cool.
     
  5. Hank Linderman

    Hank Linderman Supporting Member

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    I designed this exercise to separate time from all other aspects of playing.

    You'll need a day with no distractions - no phones, tv, visitors, nothing.

    Clost the door to your room, start the metronome at a moderate tempo and play one note at each quarter note. The same note, over an over again. Don't change tempo, don't change notes.

    The first thing you will notice is how impatient you are, how bored you are, all the things you could be doing, etc. This stage can last a long time. Stay with it, it will pass.

    Keep playing the one note, focusing on nailing each click of the metronome. You will occasionally need to rest your hand, that's ok, but keep the metronome going.

    After about 45 minutes, you will be getting pretty good at hitting the click dead on for a few measures. As these locked-in periods lengthen, you may notice a feeling something like a meditative "high". Keep playing one note, and focus on the "high" feeling. If you want, change the tempo a little.

    When you can play nailing each click consistently for as long as you want, it's time to play with the beat. Start to play a consistent amount ahead of the beat - make the distance you are ahead consistent. Experiment with different amounts of rushing, from subtle to extreme. As you do this, notice how each approach feels. Repeat with playing behind the beat.

    When I did this, I spent 4 or 5 hours. I haven't had to do it since. That was 25 years ago. Be aware that you will be slightly unfit for human company for awhile after this - you'll be so deep into time that your personality will be supressed. It wears off in a few hours.

    The meditative high feeling is what you look for when you go back to playing music.

    Let me know if it works for you!

    Best....H
     
  6. 56_Special

    56_Special Member

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    Great observations Tim! I'm going to listen to some of those guys and try to get a sense of the way those different rhythm styles feel. One question about your terminology: by "on top of the beat" do you mean dead on or do you mean slightly a head of the beat?

    Crazy exercise, H! If I ever have enough time on my hands, I'll consider giving it a whirl. It will be like going on a zen retreat. I'm not sure I have the patience for it.
     
  7. Tomo

    Tomo Member

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    Everyone said great suggestion. I don't need to add anything.

    I would practice my swing groove with Rt 3 7 (Rt on 6th or 5th
    strings, 3rd & 7th on 3rd or 4th strings)... using simple Bb blues
    or Eb blues... I IV V changes with slow temp. around 40-52
    2 & 4(there are more ways to practice... but here just a few ideas)

    This way you can control your time feel, chord changes(harmony)
    and left hand muting technique for funk groove.

    I love funky groove myself... but I don't just jump into jam or
    groove.. I like to do things with purpose and prepare certain
    things. Swing groove will give you many thoughts on things
    that you didn't notice before.

    You record this to your tape. (now you have your
    comping & metronome) @@@@ You should practice
    cleaner, precise ... in order to do this right. You may
    want to practice without your metronome for a while
    until you can handle your groove in tempo.

    Now you need to practice "Melody" simple melody
    (I teach these, but I would like to give you just ideas
    here...ok) play that melody over and over...but please
    compare your melody, how you phrase it? each entrance
    and exit(duration), singing quality... check and compare
    these to your favorite musician, Ben Webster, Coleman
    Howkins... anybody who plays soulful...

    but if you feel you need to work on more technique
    then you need to practice some chromatic exercises
    with very slow tempo, kill all your bad habits (if you move
    your left fingers too much?) Watch out both fingers
    timing... many things you need to check.

    Back to the Melody. Now you record your melody..
    play melody 2-3 times, solo 2-3 times(imagining as
    if you are playing with the band, other instruments)
    back to melody.... Play like a performance, not sound
    like a practice. Record this and check your performance
    timing, singing quality, feel, tone, and everything.

    Then play swing groove over this recording.
    Check balance, performance quality. Just make sure
    you want to sound good just yourself.

    Just a idea.... Many many possibilities. Each person
    has own pace and order.

    Good luck.
     
  8. 56_Special

    56_Special Member

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    Hi Tomo,

    Great suggestion. BTW, I recently bought your video, Accelerate Your Guitar Playing, and I've started to incorporate some of the exercises I found there into my practice routine. It's great stuff! Thank you.

    Best,

    Martin
     
  9. Tomo

    Tomo Member

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    Hi Martin,

    I am glad that you liked my comment. I would like to practice
    way way slow so that I can hear tiny nuance on my time, tone.
    Thank you so much for using my AYGP dvd. Thanks.
    Please work on exercise 19. That's my worm up..
    Booklet suggested around 55 (2&4), but I make my students
    to play 40-52. You can practice "Blue Monk" over it.
    You can taste rhythm displacement ahead , dead, behind of beat,
    you can play short, long, even notes. many ways.

    Let me know your progress.

    Thanks,

    Tomo
     
  10. Free

    Free Member

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    Tim Bowen - very well said on the topic of rhythm, groove, and feel. Musicians, even educated ones, seem to forget about the effect of playing with a non-metronomic rhythm and realizing the effects of playing ahead or behind the beat. Nice work.
     
  11. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Member

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    "Slightly ahead" is what I meant. Not sure if that's proper jargon, but that's the phrase that was always used as I was being brought up in the trade.
     
  12. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Member

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    Free, thanks for the kind words.
     
  13. 56_Special

    56_Special Member

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    Tomo-- I will start to work on exercise 19 and do the things you suggest. I had been practicing chops on the 2 and the 4. But I see how ex. 19 is an even better warm up.

    Thanks for the clarification Tim. I`m going to listen to the guys you mention and try to hear the rhythmical subtlties that you note.

    Martin
     
  14. fr8_trane

    fr8_trane Member

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    Man I must be time retarded. I have always heard of musicians playing behind the beat, ahead of the beat and in the pocket. But all I know is a great groove when I hear one. Stewart Copeland's ahead of the beat? That's news to me - I think his grooves on "the world is running down, Walking on the moon, Voices in my head" and others are SMOKING but I just don't hear any rhythmic clash:confused:. I can hear 3 against 4 as a rhythmic clash or playing a solo with swing feel over straight 8ths (or vice versa) but I don't "get" ahead of or behind the beat. How the hell can a drummer be ahead or behind the beat when he IS the beat? In my limited world there is bad timing and "in the pocket". Now I understand that some advanced musicians play with time but to me this is on the same skill level as a Baseball player who intentionally slows his swing to hit to the opposite field. I would be satisfied just playing consistently in time and being able to switch from a straight eighth to a triplet feel or swing feel without skipping a beat. I would also like to be able to comp or solo in 5/4, 7/8 and other odd meters.
     
  15. Guinness Lad

    Guinness Lad Silver Supporting Member

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    Another great thing to practice which is very tough to do is set a metronome to play about 30 BPM and use each click as a count of 4. Since each click is the start of a new measure play between the clicks all the possible combinations between the clicks.

    For example: play 2 half notes, 4 quarter notes, 8 eigth notes, 6 3/2 triplets 5 in the space of 4, etc... get good enough to land on each click while putting all the stuff between the clicks. This is a real B***ch to do because the clicks are so far apart and you will notice a lot of drifting, well at least I do.
     
  16. 56_Special

    56_Special Member

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    Lol, trane. I often wonder the same thing about how a drummer can be ahead or behind the beat when he is the beat. But I would guess that it would be something like hitting the snare late relative to the pattern being played on the highhat. Is that the idea Tim?

    Great excercise harry. Sounds like a killer.

    mtlin
     
  17. Tomo

    Tomo Member

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    How about this?

    1) play F jazz blues walking bass line...
    same time, you sing melody, Straight No Chaser,

    2) Play shuffle bass line ...keep it simple..
    sing improvised melody against your bass line.

    Time management.


    Tomo
     
  18. Free

    Free Member

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    Great point - can Tim or someone elaborate on what exactly the technique or touch would be to convey the effect of a Drummer playing behind the beat - is it all relative to things the high-hat tempo and vica versa or something? Thanks.
     
  19. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Member

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    That's an interesting question. I suppose I've never really looked at it from exactly that angle. Either the bassist or the drummer sets the pace, and when both can get together on it, it's really great. Acoustic-electric guitars can act as a melodic "hi-hat" within the band format, and if that player is convicted enough, all should follow him or her.

    One of the drummers that I work with pushes toward the downbeat moreso than the other drummers I play with. In his case, it's everything - kick, snare, hat, cymbal splashes and rides, tom fills. There's nothing whatsoever wrong with his meter, it's quite consistent - he simply likes to push. His sense of time is a lot like Copeland's. Which is interesting, given the fact that he idealized Bonham when he was learning to play in the early to mid 70's.

    I would think that combining different sense of the downbeat between hat and snare would/could sound a bit seasick. I do enjoy drummers that tastefully/artfully superimpose time other than four over four, as Bill Bruford has been known to flirt with in working with Yes, but that's not really about how meter feels in relation to the downbeat.

    Sometimes I'm the timekeeper with projects, other times I'm following someone else's time. As guitarist and mandolin player, I'm usually embellishment and gravy. When I play bass, I've a fairly strong groove, and if the drummer is prone to floundering, I'll make him follow me. If the drummer is strong, I'll default to the fact that the drummer should be the timekeeper, and I'll lock in with his foot. Whoever's time seems to be the most convicted is what I hook up with.
     
  20. 1-Take-Wonder

    1-Take-Wonder Member

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    I suspect we're all coming at this from different angles. Those of us with "band geek" history are probably looking at it from a notation stand point on the sheet music. The straight rock guys see the tempo as "whatever the drummers' playing." From a notation standpoint the tempo is dictated to you. Hence "Presto" at the top of the page gets you into the 100-150 BPM tempo range, for example. In the rock setting, I tend to think of this as the "beat" or the tempo of the song. It lives objectively from the rhythm section's ability to set a tempo in that range and stay on it.

    A good rhythm section is able to both establish a tempo, and push it or drag it without losing track of where the beats are landing if they just played it straight. So the drummer might "be" the beat, but if he's losing or picking up time from the initially established tempo in an...'unmusical' way, (chuckle) it creates the nausea that was referred to earlier.

    Is this helping or am I just trying to find some value in all those years in the brass section???
     

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