Locking in with the drummer

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by JimmyM, Nov 30, 2005.

  1. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Why, oh why, is this so doggone important? Bass players on here repeat that phrase like it's the ultimate in playing, and I feel like nothing could be farther from the truth.

    First off, if anyone locks in, it certainly ain't going to be me locking in with the drummer. If anything, the drummer will lock in with me. I have never changed a part to suit a drummer and I never will. And yet drummers love me. I don't know how many drummers tell me how easy I make their job. Of course I never tell them that I'm leading them around by the nose, but I am.

    Second, music that's played with a constant sense of locking in sounds boring to me. Do you hear James Jamerson following the bass drum? Or Jaco? Or Paul McCartney? No, you hear boring stale bassists following the bass drum. Some of the best music I've ever heard has been played by bassists who have a total disregard for what the drummer's doing. Think about it..."Reach Out (I'll Be There)," "Sloop John B," "Shining Star," "Teen Town," the list goes on and on.

    Third, let the music breathe a little! Maybe you're locking in tight when you should be playing behind or ahead of the beat a little. Maybe the drummer would like you to get off his sack for a while. But you're so concentrated on this myth of locking in with the drummer that you're always right on top of him, zigging when he zigs and zagging when he zags. That's a lot of Z's, and you know what that looks like? ZZZZZZZZZ...yep, you're putting the music to sleep.

    Of course, I realize that the idea of a band is to make several instruments sound like one large whole, but gee whiz, mix it up a little! It doesn't mean you have to play static lines just because you want to follow the bass drum. And yet I hear so many people discuss the importance of locking in with the drummer. Quite frankly, the drummer can bite me, and I hope he feels the same way about me. Locking in with the drummer makes for boring basslines.

    Don't believe me? Go back and listen to your favorite songs, and tell me how many of them truly have a bassline that is in lockstep with the drums. Not as many as you originally thought, I'm sure. And the ones that do...is the bassist following the drummer or leading the drummer? 999 times out of 1000, I guarantee the bassist is leading the drummer. You think Ringo did a drum pattern and had Paul follow it? Ha, and double Ha, I say!

    So do yourselves a favor and do away with this notion of the bassist locking in with the drummer. It was all started by bands who had weak bassists who had no earthly idea how to play, so they would tell the bassist to lock in with the drums. I'm sure you all aren't weak, so stand up for yourselves a little!
  2. PunkerTrav

    PunkerTrav Guest

    Jul 18, 2001
    Canada & USA
    I thought it was a mutuallistic relationship.
  3. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    That's cool...it's common to think that. And it certainly makes the drummer feel better about himself if he believes that. But do you change parts to suit your drummer? I sure don't do it often. Even in bands I've just joined with a well-established drummer, I will hear the drummer change his part to fit what I'm doing a lot more than vice versa.
  4. PunkerTrav

    PunkerTrav Guest

    Jul 18, 2001
    Canada & USA
    Fair enough. Idealistically (... in a perfect world), the bassist and drummer are tight to one another. Nobody leads; nodoby follows.
    I definitely agree that there are crappy bassists/drummers that will follow the other lest they be totally lost, but, IMO, the idea is to strive for a harmony between the two.

    I don't consider Zender, Redding, or JPJ to be weak in any way.
  5. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Jimmy, locking in with the drummer doesn't mean playing a part that's exactly what he's playing. It means feeling time, and placing time, the same way the drummer does. That's not even to say placing notes in the same place - if you're playing ahead of the beat, and the drummer is behind, and it feels good, you're still locked in with the drums.

    It's more of an understanding of where time is, and placing notes exactly, according to that understanding.
  6. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Jon, if only everybody believed that locking in with the drums was how you describe it, then we wouldn't be having this discussion. But listening to many average bassists in real-world situations leads me to believe that the majority of people think locking in means the exact opposite of what you consider locking in.

    As for PunkerTrav's comments about JPJ and Stuart Zender, I'm not real familiar with Jamiroquai but I always thought that JPJ took the lead in the JPJ/Bonham dynamic. Actually, Page took the lead in that dynamic and JPJ followed him more often than not and Bonham took his cues from them. It certainly wasn't Bonham taking the lead, I know that for a fact. As for Noel Redding, he was a play-it-safe guitarist-turned-bassist who was good but by no means great. Of course, when you have to contend with musicians with the force of Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell, there's not a whole lot else you can do but stay clear and try not to get mowed down.
  7. SpareTomato

    SpareTomato Guest

    Oct 27, 2005
    I agree it is a mutualistic relationship, and one that should extend across the whole band.

    We all tend to feed off each other, sometimes I follow the guitarist, sometimes they follow me, and on another song, the drummer changed his fill to fit around with a nice bass fill I'd improv'd.

    As for 'locking in tight' I only tend to do this when necessary. A couple of songs it makes the song, such as a country-style song we play sounds great when the alternating bass line locks tight with the drums, yet others it's more free flowing, as that is what suits the song.
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I agree in that way, but I think Jimmy is more being a "grumpy old man" and bemoaning the state of rock today...

    So it seems that all rock music you hear nowadays is heavy guitar chords and bass and drums playing like an "extension" of that...:meh:

    They are locked into very static rhythms without variation.

    Whereas, when I was growing up as a teen - rock bass playing was really interesting and exciting!!

    So the first few rock gigs I went to were Genesis,Yes, Led Zep - Beck, Bogart & Appice - where the bass players were doing incredible stuff...:eek:

    I'm sure if I was a teenager growing up today, listening to rock music, I wouldn't be inspired to be a bass player...?
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    So to add to the above, I do agree with Jimmy to a certain extent -that it could be "dangerous" for young players getting into rock music - if they keep reading on forums like this about bass playing being all about "locking in with the drummer" - they will associate it it with monotonous rhythms and playing strictly along with everything else, with no variation or interest!! :meh:
  10. I sortof agree with this assessment. My interpretation of locking in with the drummer is locking in with his groove(or him locking onto my groove). When I first started playing I was sortof awed by having to lock in with the drummer, but when I started jamming with a drummer I changed my views. If its just me and him jamming I get to play around in that groove, solo a bit. Then I lock into his kick/snare beat so that he can solo if he feels like it. Works well. If its in one of our bands songs, depending on the song I will lock onto different parts of his drums. Sometimes just the kick, sometimes just the snare, hi-hat, whatever. It doesn't have to be monotonous kick snare kick kick snare stuff that you lock in with. Then again I don't really know what I'm talking about, so feel free to disregard my opinion. But I do agree with you that recently rock music has been monotonous and boring and that it does not really inspire teens to pick up the bass. The ones that do(from what I've seen) all want to be like Flea and do slap/pop stuff. Sure that stuff is cool, but thats not all there is. I made a decision of wanting to play 'bass' and not really learn what rock music was doing at the time(5 years ago) because I thought it sucked.
  11. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    I never considered the idea of "locking in with the drummer" to mean playing without creativity, or gluing myself to a kick and snare. I never thought that "Reach Out" wasn't TOTALLY locked in with the drummer. I also never knew a drummer with any passion and backbone that was going to change his established beats around to fit my groove. Even if they were to eventually pick up on whatever I was playing (that went against what they were doing) it would be out of the sheer fact that the song sounded like crap until they gave in and said I gotta do something to fix whatever it is this guy's doing to the song.

    I respect your credentials, but I gotta agree with he grumpy statement someone else above made. Wuusup with the freakin on the youngens? :eyebrow: There are just as many young new bassists out there tearing it up with creativity as there are guys sticking to the roots. Alright, about 3 less. In the past month or so I've heard a handful of new guys that floored and inspired me bigtime with things they were pumping out on their basses.

    Haven't commented here in a while, so thanks for breakin me out of my shell. :)
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Of course - that's because you're experienced and have been exposed to a lot of stuff...:)

    I think the worry is that 13/14 year olds come on to TB as their first experience of anybody talking about playing music and reading that it's all about locking with the drummer -what are they going to think...? :meh:
  13. mingustoo


    Aug 30, 2002
    Isla Formosa
    As a bass player, I have to be sympathetic to the drummer and his motion. It takes a lot of movement to make one snare hit compared to the motion it takes to make a bass sound. Therefore, in the end I must defer to the drummer and his capabilities/sense of time. That said, it is imperative for me to give him clues as to where the true tempo lies. That is, if he is slowing down, my notes will start falling sooner upon his beat. This is in relation to where they were falling previously (in some songs it will be in front of the drummer, some after, and some right on depending on the feel or style of song). Conversely, if he is speeding up, my notes will fall farther back on his beat than they previously did. If the drummer is 'on it' he will pick up on my clues and adjust accordingly, and the audience (and most likely the rest of the band) won't even be aware of our 'communication'.
    If the drummer doesn't respond to my clues, I have to go with him as his tempo meanders around in order that the band doesn't fall apart.
    What happens on occasion is a drummer decides that he wants to play on the back of the beat when I am trying to play there, or vice versa. This can destroy a song.
    The more I play, and the more drummers I play with, the more I realise that in a sense I am 'playing' the drummer (in terms of time) and 'playing' the band (in terms of feel). A great drummer will always sound great. I have to try and make the less great drummers sound great.
    So for me, 'locking in' happens when the drummer knows (ie. agrees with me :) )where on the beat we each should reside, and is able to hear, understand, and respond to my nudges. When we lock, that's when the music flows like wine.
  14. I agree with Pacman. "Locking in" isn't really what you suggested it was in your initial post. It's a much more flexible concept, properly understood. That fact that it's sometimes improperly understood doesn't make it any less valuable or important.
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Yes, but without a proper explanation it can sound misleading to somebody with little or no experience...:meh:
  16. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Bruce, sometimes I think I am a grumpy old man. Quite often, I ask myself if I'm turning into my parents because I hear so much new stuff that is total crap. But then I hear some new stuff that I think is great and I realize that I'm not a grumpy old man. Well, I am, but not where music is concerned. And yes, what you're talking about when you say today's music would never inspire you to play bass, that is exactly what I'm talking about.

    Joe, here's the way I look at it. The bassist is playing a melodic instrument that is usually considered to be a bridge between the drums and the rest of the band. The lead rhythmic instrument is the instrument that takes the role in deciding what everyone else plays. It's only natural for the bass to take on a part that accentuates the main rhythmic instrument. And as the bass is usually the bridge between the main rhythmic instrument and the drums (and I'm disallowing bands where the bass is the main rhythmic instrument for the sake of this discussion), then I feel that the drums should take their cue from the bass and never vice versa. If the drums start trying to change around what's going on with the bass, then it may change the dynamic between the bass and the main rhythmic instrument. And not necessarily for the better. Therefore, I believe that the bass needs to take the lead in the bass/drums dynamic.

    Of course you have to take in the creativity factor, and if the drums do something really cool that makes the main rhythmic instrument player want to change what he's doing, then yeah, by all means change the bassline to suit it. But let's be honest here...how often does that happen? It's not a dis on drummers, either. But by nature of the instrument, it's not the one that should dictate the rhythmic flow of the song. It's not playing notes...it's playing the beat. Now if the song begins and ends with the drums as the main rhythmic instrument, that's another story. But it's usually the guitar or keyboards, not the drums.

    So I want to make it clear that I'm not saying that there should be a complete and total disregard for what the drummer's doing. If it sounds good, it sounds good and should be dealt with accordingly. I'm just saying it rarely happens where a drummer dictates what the other instruments should be doing because it's not the main rhythmic instrument. Nor should the bassist allow the drummer to take the lead in that dynamic because the bassist's first responsibility is to the main rhythmic instrument, which is usually a guitar or keyboard, and if I'm doing something that makes the rhythm guitar part sound better, following the drummer can screw up the dynamic between the guitar and bass. However, there are sometimes where the bass SHOULD totally disregard the drums.

    'Tis a fine line.
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Maybe we need a FAQ where these kinds of things are explained...?

    i.e. Locking in with drummer does not mean...etc. etc.

    But rather ....etc.
  18. True, but so can about a zillion other things in music, and that doesn't mean you shouldn't say them or that the concepts have no merit.
  19. Well, I kinda think you're creating an either/or relationship where none needs to, or probably even should, exist. I mean, it's not ballroom dancing--no one has to "lead" all the time. First, the idea that there's always one "main rhythmic instrument" that tells everyone what to play is, I think, wrong. Second, the idea that if there's one such instrument, it can't be the drums is also IMO mistaken.

    To me, rhythm and groove are reactive and interactive. It's not so much that the drums should be taking their cue from the bass, or vice versa, but that both should be taking their cue from the demands of the music, as well as from each other and every other instrument in the band (including the vocals).
    Though there are some cases when one or more of the other players is weak enough or unfamiliar enough or unrehearsed enough that you absolutely have to lead them to make anything happen.

    I mean, suppose in the course of working up a song, the drummer or flutist or whoever comes up with a really cool change? Are you supposed to nix it because, hey, I'm already playing this bass part and I'm not gonna change, so you have to work with me? Or suppose the drummer in one particular situation is flat out better than you, or let's say, is playing better this particular night? If his/her time and groove are more happening than yours that night, maybe you'd better follow rather than try to lead. Or what if this particular song is actually more about the drums that it is about the bass? Again, maybe you'd better ride shotgun on the bus rather than try to drive it. IMHO it's all about trying to do the best thing musically in a particular situation. There doesn't need to be a rigid protocol about it.
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Did anybody say that...? Not me!

    I think what Jimmy and I are picking up on is the apparent trend in a lot of current rock for the bass to just play roots "locked in" with drums and heavy guitar chords and we are worried that these things could be related and we don't want future generations growing up thinking that the bass role is solely limited to that!! :meh:

    I think it's certainly worth pointing out that "locking in with the drummer" is not as simple or restricting as that particular phrase sounds...?