Humans with perfect internal tempo? Do they exist?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by RustfeatherBass, Feb 26, 2024.

  1. TL;DR - have you ever met anyone who has proven they have perfect tempo?

    I record a lot of people in my little home studio, and try to use a click when possible. Its always been my assumption that no matter how good a musician is, "nobody keeps perfect tempo" for the entirety of a song without a click. Meaning, there is nobody I have ever encountered who starts and ends dead-on 120bpm, for example, with no drifting in between.

    But for all I know, there may indeed be people who can provably do this. Heck, since I'm not somebody who went to a conservatory, it may in fact be more common than I realize in certain circles. To me that seems super human. But then again, so does perfect pitch, and that definitely exists.

    So I am just asking out of curiosity, do you know or have you encountered anyone who's tempo is "perfect" just like someone with perfect pitch? Are there people to whom you can say "play me a 131 bmp beat for 3 minutes" and it starts and ends on that exact tempo without drifting?
  2. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Surprisingly, I've never heard of or really even thought of the concept of "perfect tempo" -- even though, as you imply, if "perfect pitch" exists why shouldn't "perfect tempo" exist?

    But I suspect the reason is, because Really Good Internal Tempo is close enough to Perfect. And there are lots of musicians who have Really Good Internal Tempo.

    I'll bet drummer John "J.R." Robinson could get started with just a 4-beat click intro and 3 minutes later you'd discover that his tempo didn't drift discernibly; he's been described as a "human metronome" by some producers.

    Frank Zappa once opined that percussionist Ruth Underwood had a built-in atomic clock that was counting off 32nd notes.
  3. Interesting! Thanks for the reply.

    My base assumption has always been that perfect tempo is not a common thing, if it exists at all, and therefore a click must be used if one wants the tempo perfectly consistent.

    But sometimes I get the impression that other musicians are almost offended when I suggest that we use a click, seeing it as a lack of trust in their abilities. Meanwhile I just assume nobody has that ability. :)
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  4. KohanMike

    KohanMike Gold Supporting Member

    I can't say I have perfect tempo, but I'm pretty good. When I played rhythm guitar for almost 50 years starting in 1965, I was often told I should play bass, saying I had good feel and tempo, but I didn't want to be encumbered by a large electric bass, forget a standup double bass.

    About 25 years ago I was out on a date to Sushi on Tap in Toluca Lake that had open mic tap dance nights. A number of people came up using a boom box or such with music. Then an older guy came up who I recognized as one of the retired dancers from the movie Tap with Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. He didn't have any music and I could see that he was struggling to keep time, so I started slapping my thigh to help him. He carried on for about 15 minutes, and when done, he made a bee-line to me, shaking my hand, asking if I'm a drummer. I said no, rhythm guitar and my younger brother is an accomplished drummer. He thanked me profusely.

    A year after I joined a ukulele group (and gave up guitar), in mid 2014, the leader asked if anyone would take up the bass to fill in our sound. I discovered all the bass ukes/mini bass guitars and went for it. Bass uke is now my main instrument, and I make sure that everyone in the group keeps with me because we have member who tries to do percussion who can't keep time. I even got a compliment from the leader the other day that I'm the keeper of the time. She's always telling the group to stay in the pocket with the bass.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2024
  5. cxcxcx


    Mar 8, 2019
    Every top-flight musician has excellent time. It’s a product of knowledge that good time is important, the desire to play in that manner, and plenty of experience doing this with like-minded players. There may or not be a little drift in that. Harder to do in current times because everything means on a click so hard.

    I think there’s exemplars that come really close to perfect time, Anthony Jackson and Steve Gadd among them. Those guys were playing perfectly on the grid before the grid was even invented.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2024
  6. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Donald Johnson. Human Rolex.
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  7. Just guessing but I would imagine Omar hakim is pretty damn close.
  8. MuseChaser


    Sep 17, 2023
    Central NYS
    It's hard for me to accept the word "perfect" in any discussion that also includes the word "human." Even the concept of "perfect pitch," at least for me, is open to a need for more precise definition. If "perfect pitch" is the ability to identify any pitch simply by hearing it, then I have perfect pitch. If it's the ability to home in on A440 within a few cents reliably, then I have perfect pitch. If it truly means no errors ever, and the ability to know, upon hearing one A without any other A in comparison, whether it's A440 or A440.5, then no, I don't have perfect pitch. Somedays I'm off by as much as three or four Hz. When people ask if I have perfect pitch, I just shrug and say, "Nah.. really good pitch, maybe."

    As far as "perfect tempo" goes, I kind of view it the same way. A reliable "internal clock" is extremely valuable to any pro (or anyone else wanting to play music, for that matter of course), but equally valuable is the ability to keep one's ears wide open and mesh with what's going on around you. With great players, the tempo doesn't usually slide around too much, but if it does, it's more important to be together and groovin' than it is to be absolutely MIDI-clocked right. Click tracks, at least to me, are useful when "assembling" music via individual tracks recorded in different locations, but a death knell to the real magic that happens when musicians play together. I've played a lot of shows that use clicks, backing tracks, etc., including the authorized touring companies of Les Miserables and Book of Mormon (I was a local sub... I wasn't on the road with either show, just to be clear). The players were, bar none, great players, and the "product" was amazingly consistent night after night, performance after performance. Still, there wasn't any magic... might as well all have been machines.

    One of the most amazing feats of internalization I've ever heard is Bill Evans' "Conversations with Myself," where he recorded three tracks, left, right, and center, without a click or really any pre-planning. The tempi are pretty much dead-on throughout. I know a couple professional dancer/choreographers who are pretty amazing in being able to tell pretty accurately what bpm a given piece is, or able to count off a given bpm reliably without referring to a metronome.

    Like "perfect pitch," those with an extremely heightened sense of pulse certainly exist. Perfect? .. nah....
  9. Love it! By the way I love your mini bass collection :)
    KohanMike likes this.
  10. Sounds highly likely!
  11. This makes sense to me!
    Ostie likes this.
  12. Topkat13

    Topkat13 Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    No but androids do.
    RustfeatherBass likes this.
  13. Geogio


    Jan 15, 2013
    Human Tempo breaths. Metronomes and click tracks don't, however if you can make a metronome swing with a series of 16 or 32nd notes that's good time. If you go to YouTube and search for making a metronome swing there are plenty examples. Carol Kaye has one that's pretty good, it was very interesting. The first time I saw that I was astounded. It takes a bit of practice to get there but it's seems to be a common exercise, or a worthy goal.
  14. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Yeah, just as there are (at least) two aspects of "perfect pitch" -- the ability to recognize any pitch w/o reference, and the ability to discriminate between "that's an A440" and "that's approximately an A" -- it seems like this hypothetical "perfect tempo" would manifest itself in (at least) two different ways:

    - being able to maintain N bpm for some period of time (without reference)
    - being able to identify N bpm after hearing a brief sample
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  15. Artman

    Artman a.k.a. Eddy Garcia

    Dec 28, 2017
    Georgetown, TX
    I can't stand listening to music that has been quantized and snapped to a grid.
    It's artificial sounding, robotic, and devoid of any soul or feel.

    I sure hope perfect tempo still has enough variance to not sound like a quantized track. Ugh.
  16. naetog

    naetog Supporting Member

    May 26, 2006
    San Luis Obispo, CA

    The imperfections humanize things, and I find that far more interesting than "perfection."
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  17. KellyC

    KellyC Supporting Member

    Jul 31, 2023
    Scottsdale AZ
    It’s also an endurance skill. You have to train yourself to be focused on more than one thing, and to maintain that focus for an entire piece. I think it’s an advantage that classically trained musicians have over hodge-lodge trained musicians like myself, in that they are required to build that skill and get graded on progressively higher standards as they go through school.
    RustfeatherBass likes this.
  18. Short4since64


    Nov 7, 2023
    Can be acquired. In a 10 yr hiatus from live music I worked as a night club DJ (EDM), whump-whump-whump at 125 BPM gets so ingrained you hear the timing in your dreams!
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  19. I suspect that even the best drummer, like the ones mentioned, would be off to some degree when timed by an accurate device. It may be a matter of milliseconds, but not perfect.
    RustfeatherBass likes this.
  20. MegaSwing

    MegaSwing Your Obedient Bassist® Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 26, 2002
    Baltimore, MD USA