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Playing "ahead of the beat"

Discussion in 'Bluegrass [DB]' started by Ed S, Dec 31, 2019.

  1. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    I often hear people speak of playing ahead of or behind the beat. Can someone explain how or if that applies to bassists? To my mind, there is only 1 beat, and that is generally played by the bass - whether I'm playing 70 bpm or 130. Now, your mando chop (or other instruments' backbeat) can vary, to give different effects, and the bass can speed up or slow down, but I don't understand how the bass plays anything other than THE beat.

    Thanks - and happy new year - in advance, guys!
  2. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    Augusta, GA
    The band sets the beat. Individual instruments can play behind or in front of it. Might be just that all the songs you play have the bass playing on the beat.
  3. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    If you have occasion to look at the digital waveforms in a multitrack recording made with a click track, you will see that the different instruments - including bass - do indeed tend to play a little ahead of or behind the beat.

    For bass, especially in a bluegrass context (2/4 and 3/4 time signatures), the question is not so much about being ahead of/behind the beat, but: Who is driving the beat, and who is following? If all the players have great time, then the question need not be asked... but that's unusual. If everyone is following, the tempo will slow.
  4. Acoustic356

    Acoustic356 Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2014
    Rick Beato provides a good example of playing ahead/behind the beat here:

  5. Acoustic356

    Acoustic356 Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2014
    and a better example...

  6. Acoustic356

    Acoustic356 Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2014
    and finally...

  7. I play mostly jazz, but from time to time I play with some bluegrass players around town. I'm used to pushing/driving the beat, but the bluegrass players always tells me to relax, stay behind, and leave the driving to the mandolin(s) etc.
    unbrokenchain likes this.
  8. bengreen


    Jan 26, 2016
    San Diego
    Seems with some issues someone should hang a sign, "here in lies madness". Placement's an orchestral issue too. Common for conductors to say, "basses, you're dragging". Sometimes its that we're too focused on our own line and losing the big picture. Sometimes it's that you feel like you're moving your bow arm on the beat but by the time the instrument responds you're lagging so you're faced with this weird calculus of how much to move ahead to stay on.

    But more to your point of intentional placement: can't remember what composer it was offhand, but recently had to play a piece with divisi arco and pizz on the same notes...arco sustaining the note and pizz giving it an attack. Principal asked pizz players to play ahead of the beat for effect. In rehearsal it worked well and was a totally cool sound. But for some reason in performance got nervous about it and choked. The whole thing came out weak and unfocused. Oh well.

    And click tracks...it's enough of a tug of war between what you hear from the orchestra and see from the conductor. Add to that a click in one ear and the singing from a film in the other...madness.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2019
  9. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Yep, for bluegrass being on the beat or slightly behind (but not as much as in blues, say) is normal. When solo breaks come up, the soloist usualy gets ahead of the beat to create excitement. Think of the typical start of a fiddle break. The mandolin chops (and to lesser extent the guitar strums) act like a snare drum and can be on the beat, ahead or behind as the song requires. The bass acts like a bass drum so there's usually no reason to get ahead of the beat.
    longfinger likes this.
  10. Selim

    Selim Supporting Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    New York City
    If you focus solely on drummer & bassist, their role in creating a feel together - if one is pushing the beat, tension is created that can be purposely exploited for musical purposes.

    A good example in a jazz context is Charles Mingus and Danny Richmond. Mingus (one of the more aggressive bass players in jazz) often pushed the beat, but Danny Richmond held it from getting faster, creating this marvelous (musical) tension. And they were masters at playing with that tension, and then often releasing it into a slamming on the beat 4/4.
    Keith Rawlings likes this.
  11. ugly_bassplayer

    ugly_bassplayer Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2009
    Ahead of the beat.
    Go listen to Ron Carter....if you can't hear it there.....you're on your own.

    Fat bob likes this.
  12. This thread has a lot of comments about Jazz and other genres that work differently than Bluegrass.

    Go listen to the old records and you will hear the bands speeding up and slowing down together. The bass player is working with the mandolin to push and pull the band according to the verse/chorus structure as well as responding to changes in tempo from the singers and soloists.

    In my experience about 80-90% of the time that means playing slightly ahead of the beat. The odd 10% when you want to play on the beat or just ever so slightly behind are during waltzes or when someone is taking a break way too fast and you need to rein them in.
    JRA and AGCurry like this.
  13. nbsipics

    nbsipics Unstuck in Time Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2016
  14. There must be an app for this now.
    JRA likes this.
  15. Ed S

    Ed S

    Nov 14, 2019
    I guess I was thinking more about in jams, than in organized/rehearsed groups. Usually I "lock in" w/ at least 1 other player. Between us, we establish either a driving, lagging, or spot on beat. And I usually expect the rest of the pickers to follow.

    But every once in a while, I have difficulty meshing w/ a picker who seems to me as tho they are rushing things. They will say they are playing ahead of the beat and I am lagging. But it seems if I speed up any, then they speed up more...
    unbrokenchain and nbsipics like this.
  16. nbsipics

    nbsipics Unstuck in Time Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 8, 2016
    I am pretty sure you are correct. Not to mention human ears :)
  17. Unfortunately, humar ears are notoriously unreliable. :)
  18. My experience: in jazz you push them forward, in blugrass you hold them back, in string-swing you stay right on the beat, as a metronome. (All this is of course overly generalized).
  19. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    if you have decent time keeping skills and looked at your playing (sound waves) while playing to anything metronomic: you'd find that you have a natural tendency to play generally ahead or behind the sound wave made by "the beat" of the click/metronome. i think the skill is about being able to manipulate your own natural tendencies. only savants get close to consistently playing in the 'center' of the beat...and they are by no means perfect at it. and of course, who wants/needs 'perfect'?

    i hear ya! but those ensemble speedups and slowdowns are a little different than playing "ahead, on, or behind" the beat. i think Acoustic356 nailed it with the second video when the drummer talked about the "intentionality" (the skill) of placing the note/strike ahead or behind --- on a location in time.

    FWIW: when i owned/operated a recording studio i got to see what i was hearing (analog or digital), and many top players (some famous) had consistent "tendencies." a few were all over the place and a few could not help themselves no matter what (couldn't intentionally 'manipulate' themselves :D --- mostly horn players!). AGCurry referred to this.

    i have generally ( :D ) found this to be true, myself!
    Fredrik E. Nilsen likes this.
  20. In jazz it is going to depend on where each drummer, and each bassist find the pulse with each other.
    To my ears, across this album where Sonny Dallas primarily plays quarters, I feel like he is improvising with his placement of the beat rather than doing fills, skips or accents. Other may hear it differently.


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