1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

On top or behind beat

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Kneehimiah, Sep 28, 2005.

  1. This kinda falls in line with the last thread that I started here, "Who keeps time, bass or drummer?" Is it best for a bassist to play on top of the beat or lay back? I find it different with each group, but I think it best to present myself as responsible to play on top from a time-keeping standpoint. This causes problems with an occasional drummer, but most relinquish to perform other responsibilities. If the drummer persists, then I let him do it, but then I expect this to free me up to do the same. When this isn't consistant, when the drummer decides to play on top of the beat and be Elvin DeJohnette (all at once) it can cause problems.

  2. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    It depends on the feel of the tune but generally I find bass on the back of the beat is an energy killer.
  3. nypiano


    Feb 10, 2003
    FWIW my brother said to me that a lot of the bass players in his neck of the woods (at least at that time), played on top but in a perfect world that would be not be his preference, but in fact the other way around with drums on top- that it swings more. In Denmark, bassists tended to be stronger than the available drummers. So they'd walk in assuming the drummer would drop the tempo. Your particular on top default would be your tendency to play the feel and the time. In a some ways my brother's is kind of the traditional view--which might characterize the answer to who plays time as the bass player. In other words (in gross terms)for him the drums play the feel and the bass plays the time. This may sound simplistic but in a way in might be consistent with the history of the combo. In early days, the bassist did his rather ordinary straight time:thump, thump thump with as best a sound he could muster on that big momma but the star of the show was the drums. My brother's preference in other words is a killing drummer.

    To be honest I don't think the comparison is exactly even. Somehow I think it's easier to compensate against a pull than a drag. Overall I would have to say that if someone pushes the tempo-only the very astute(tempo wise) notice when it goes from "on top" to rushing. I'm not defending it, it's just what is. For example everybody gives each other the whimsical rolled eye look :rolleyes: on the headout when the tune is twice as fast but how often do people go "easy does it!" while it's happening? But someone who's dragging--everybody seems to feel that. Grimacing faces during and everything. How can I say-it's easier to be an accomplice to the rush but it's more common to be a scowler during a drag. :scowl:

    One of things discussed on this board was the fact that without drums things tend to slow down. I would agree with that --with the qualification that it depends on the tempo. Everybody acknowleges that fast tempos are hard to keep but medium walk things will speed up in a heartbeat, drums or no. Which is a function of being overeager perhaps :bassist: Ballads can get slower and slower, especially after returning to tempo from double or triple timed passages--which really feels like an acid trip when you play the head out. :eek:
  4. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    NEVER never behind the beat. On top or in the center is best depending on the situation. I prefer on top with caution of speeding up the tempo. My son Jon is an up and comming Bassist. Now he's in College for Bass. I always tell him "Drive the band". When playing bass in a group or big band, you have to drive the band. You and the Drummer are ONE, Period. Any difference between the two of you and it is a 'Car Wreck'. A Bass player must have good time and a sense of the mood of the group. In a Broadway pit situation you have a conductor but still you have to BE the beat and not behind it. The Bass sets the pace in my book. I have had my share fo fighting drummers over the years. A tight rhythm section is not an option!!
  5. I agree with Ken. Behind the beat is bad...well, not necessarily bad, but definitely not good in most situations! I'm only 17 but I've had my fair share of performance experience already. I've always had the tendency to play on the "front half" of the beat, so much so that it is actually somewhat difficult for me to play behind the beat, even when making a concerted effort to do so. But like Ken said, a tight rhythm section is a must! And if the drummer is playing even the slightest bit behind, you have to drop back and let it hang there. The plucking hand and the ride cymbal have to breathe together. It's all about providing a steady undercurrent for the other musicians to flow on top of. Driving the beat is a must in my book.
  6. bassdogEmer


    Sep 14, 2005
    San Francisco
    Endorsing Artist: Mesa Boogie Amps, Bag end,Thomastik - Infeld Strings
    With all due respect to Ken Smith and his wealth of bass knowledge - I have to disagree w/Ken on this matter. You can't 'never' about anything. I understand the context of him instructing his Son but first of all - go and listen to PC play on Hank Mobley's tune - soul station - behind as a mofo . Sometimes he is behind and sometimes on top. I played w/Billy Higgins before he passed and down the center was where it felt best - but that was with Billy. I also played Mike clark of the head hunters both in SF when I was young and in NYC more recently. The first time he pulled me aside and said "kid your young - learn to drive it - not rush it - but drive it" When I moved to NYC I quickly learned that a bassist who lays back on everything doesn't get hired. However, when the tempo calls for it - and the drummer and you have the conection - the beat is everyones to play with (but always rememebr you are supporting) and laying back can be a wonderful thang and make the beat nice and cushy- having said that if both you and the drummer lay back - your screwed. like relationships - you have to compromise. Ed Thigpen told me once - Ray rushed like a motherF*ker and that he hated it. now go and listen to the ray-thigpen combo - it sounds great and feels great even despite how it may have felt to be actually playing it. this is tricky stuff - but generally speaking knowing how to push - play on top and lay back is what will get you there. go and listen modern albums and you can see how much room has been created in the pocket to pull off both behind and on top playing. I suggest the Chris Cheek fresh sounds release "Guilty" with Ben Street and Jorge rossi. good time is good time and it takes work but there are no absolutes in my opinion. If you 'argue' with cats tempo wise thru your playing instead of compromising, you wont get hired in the end of the day cuz no one is the absolute messiah of the beat and most people wont want to play with someone who thinks they are.
  7. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I am of this opinion as well...but I will concede some and say that if you're going to be somewhere else than on top of the beat, at least be consistent!

    That's what I strive for, ultimately. Playing with a drummer who is also consistent allows us to predict what we are going to be doing better and be able to stay locked in to whatever tempo a song calls for.
  8. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Yeah I started a thread on Ray Brown where I mentioned this and had a lot of fun arguing with people over it. It was the first time I ever heard him...a live recording with Andre Previn and a guitarist whose name I can't remember (Jim Hall?).

    They never locked in and it was unsettling to hear. But some people I think argued that this was a legitimate style that I should like it like I should like cigarette smoke. So in the end to each their own and put me down for "no" on that one...
  9. scott reed

    scott reed Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2002
    A view from flyover country:

    The way it begins is the way it will be...
    If you have to discuss it, it's not gonna be happenin'...
    Someone's got to be the straight man. If you can't
    ID him, it's you...
    Find the cut, then get into the pocket...
    Smile and act happy regardless of the feel...
    Remember Mingus, "Once the note is in the amp, it's
    out of human control."
  10. PB+J


    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    I think you should play on top but always relaxed, which means "behind the beat sounding." I hate a mechanical, dead on top feel--reminds me of rock music, white guys who play faster and louder and on top of the beat instead of playing with feel, "driving" instead of swinging. To me, the big bass swings entirely because of the combination of "thump/aaah," the percussive strike and the relaxed decay. That's why, again IMHO, it's harder to make an electric bass swing. I often alternate, in a song, between more on top and just a tiny bit behind--or rather, the "thump" is always on top, but I vary how much decay. I listen to Ray Brown, and I hear a guy who never rushed and was always in command of the beat, not a guy who was anxious about the groove and trying to force it. I never try to drive the band, I always try to listen to what the others are playing and play what makes the groove happen.

    If I had to choose between ahead of the beat and behind, it would definitely definitely be behind.

    But there you go, it's all different styles and different approaches work for different kinds of music, different sections
  11. IMO, the Drummers job is to set the beat and keep it steady. Its the Bassists job to set the rythmn and keep the time interesting. When the drummer and bassist play well together they can feed off each other. Depending on the song, the bass can push or pull the rest of the band, while the drummer stays in the pocket.
  12. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    No offense, but I think you need to read the rest of this thread before you post. We're not just talking about any music in general, but mainly Jazz. Maybe even look into what summa these experienced cats are saying. This isn't the plank spankers side of the board, this is the dark side. I'm sure you'll only stand to benefit.

    Besides, What the heck does "keep time interesting" supposed to mean? IMO, You either drive the bus or you don't. Everybody is supposed to keep time and groove it.
  13. scott reed

    scott reed Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2002
    If everyone in the band is playing on top of the beat,
    is it still the top of the beat?

    What if you're on a gig with no drummer? Are you
    in the center if you play on the top of the beat?
  14. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Double bass has got a crazy attack/decay nature that double bassists have to learn about. I know I did. That big ol' string doesn't give you everything it's got the moment you pizz it -- there's a slight delay, a "bloom" to the sound. In both jazz and bluegrass, I found I wasn't getting the nice organic swinging groove I was looking to produce and thought I was producing. To my ears, too often I was way soft behind the beat, soft enough to seem like a drag in many contexts. (To my ears, anyway -- none of my longtime colleagues thought much of my perturbances on this matter, nor did my teacher.) I had to learn to pizz a bit on top of the beat to produce that nice in-the-pocket groove.

    So I guess what I'm saying is it feels to me like I'm playing on top of the beat much more than I used to but that's not necessarily what comes out in the overall group groove. That just comes out swingin', much more to my satisfaction than it used to.
  15. scott reed

    scott reed Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2002
    Damon, I tried to pm you but your mailbox is full.
    I used to teach in Canada in a past life. Mike Downes
    was one of my students as was Gilles Fournier and
    some other guys from Winnipeg.

    You make a good point, especially for doublers.
    The time lag between the pluck and the sound can
    vary from bass to bass so you need to determine how
    far you have to "play ahead" to get the bass to speak
    where you want it. I'd always start with my rh finger
    coming to rest on the next lower string when the
    metronome sounded. I'd record it and see how far I'd
    be off and start my adjustments from there.

    Then there's the amp but that's another thread.
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    B - I - N-G-O and Bingo was his name-o. :)
  17. Hey cat, I didnt know I was in Double Bass. I didnt think the music was any different. There are many forms of Jazz. I was brought up on swing. I seen the thread and seem interesting, so I responded. My first but definiately not my last. No offense taken.
  18. perytojie


    Dec 2, 2004
    Nancy, FRANCE
    Have you had any experience in recording all instruments separately? i mean drums, then bass, then piano... And have you tried to put them back together in a virtual studio type software like cubase? Well i did and found that the right swinging spot is obviously not always in the place and that a few milliseconds change behind or on top can kill the swinging feel of the bass.

    I arbitrarly decided that top rythm sections (especially those in the early days) could not be that precise, that regular, because of human factors (even if top bass players must be more precise than i am!)

    That's why i like the idea of the importance of 'attack & release' of the bass. If the flow of locked rhythm section is broken at some point of a performance, how top players do to keep it sounding right? Individual swing? (ie 'attack & release' for the bass)

    I don't think there's a definite rule on where the placement of the bass must be (we don't execute military orders, we play music!!!), it depends to much on the rythmic the drums play, the feel it's played with, the sounds of the instruments, the tempos, the feel of the song (melody, chord chart), how many girls are in the room and the rate of good-looking ones etc...
  19. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Thanks for the 'due respect' part about my 'bass knowledge'. But, by the time you were Born I had already worked in several Broadway Shows, worked with Horace Silver, Mongo Santamaria, Buddy DeFranco/Glenn Miller Orchestra, Larry Elgart Big band, Warren Covington/Dorsey orch, Chriss Conner, Bucky Pizzarelli, Johnny Mathis, Recorded several Records as a sideman from MMO (music minus one), Authored Two double Albums from MMO as well as the re-mix for the same in drum versions, Recorded the 'Columbia House' Re-recordings for the Glenn Miller band as was sold back then on TV and countless other Gigs as I worked full time supporting myself as a musician and was already in my second apartment in Manhattan having moved from queens from my first place and was supporting myself 100% from Playing the Bass Professionally. I also set-up my own Basses, Owned a Bernadel, an 18th century Italian Bass as well as others and several bows including a master Sartory Bow.. Etc, etc, etc. AND.., I was only 22-23 years old at that time..I was 'also' known as a 'moth--f---er' on Bass back then...

    So, next time you or someone else does a 'in all due respect' disclaimer in front of my name in regards to a 'playing' the Bass topic, PLEASE do not forget that I paid my Dues as a full time player for 20 years in NYC as one of the top call Bassists in town!

    If it's not too much trouble to ask...

    NOW..... Laying back is NOT playing behind the beat in my book, it is playing on the 'center' of the beat instead of playing on top of the beat.. Just my 'humble' (not!) opinion !!
  20. PB+J


    Mar 9, 2000
    arlington va
    Well all this is hard to define--take one everybody probably knows, Paul Chambers on "All Blues." Is he on top of or behind the beat? I think we'd probably all call it laying back: I hear him slightly behind but would it look that way if I saw the tracks in protools? I don't know. If I play that tune live, and I try to "drive" it, it gets, IMHO, real bad real fast. It looses a jazz swing feel and develops a rock feel. It's the push/pull that gives that line any force--if it was all push it would be terrible

    Unlike Ken, I've never been a full time pro, just a local jobber, and my curse is guys that play hard and fast in place of with feel and soul. White guys whose idea of the blues, start to finish, is british rock bands from the 60s and 70s. I'm often trying to introduce the idea of laying back, or at least trying to gentle the beat a little so it grooves instead of yells. Does this make any sense? Think Al Green records. It's less pronounced on jazz gigs, because guys that want to play jazz usually have figured this out. But how many bar gigs have I played where laying back is an unknown quantity?

    I often think guys with a really strong classical background who play jazz don't understand laying back. They have a great metronomic pulse that's too rigid. Not always, of course, and it's a cliche, but I'm sure people have heard this.

    The above spoken with humility--my playing is far from perfect. But I think bassdogemer put it well