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Playing in front of/on top of the beat

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by smarvelous, Jun 13, 2003.

  1. smarvelous


    Jun 2, 2002
    Albany, CA
    I took a lesson with a local bass player who really kicked my butt into gear. He got me dealing with some foundation musicianship issues that I had been neglecting (fretboard knowledge, plucking accuracy/consistency, left hand strength etc.)

    Here's the problem: he asked me to play along with the metronome, just quarter notes and he said I was playing in front of the beat. I couldn't hear it, and I pride myself on having good ears.

    So pride somewhat damaged, I went home and set up the minidisc player, left mic on the metronome speaker, right mic on the bass amp speaker, my ears were two feet away from both. When I listened back (I played half notes with the metro at 1/4=80bpm) indeed I could hear that the note was consistently making its impact slightly before the metronome click (very slightly).

    The only way I could get it right was by purposely playing what sounded like behind/after the metro click while playing; then the recording of the two pulses (mine and the click) sounded more aligned.

    For those of you who have already been through this experimentation with ahead/behind playing, i.e. you know what you're talking about ;) what thoughts do you have?

    I've heard of players who purposely play "ahead/on top" in order to compensate for the time lag of the note propagating to the audience. And of course playing ahead or behind for different musical styles.

    I'm particularly wondering why I'm hearing it in sync, when evidence suggests i'm ahead.

    Muchas gracias, in advance...
  2. Mike Money

    Mike Money Banned

    Mar 18, 2003
    Bakersfield California
    Avatar Speakers Endorsing Hooligan
    Dude, it is all about being behind the beat...
  3. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    It's about the ability to put the note where the music calls for it. In funk and r&b, for instance, behind the beat is the way to go. It gives the music a more relaxed "groovin" feel. In swing, however, top of the beat all the way.

    Practice, use your ears (they will continue to develop) and listen.
  4. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    Listen to some slow reggae to hear where "behind the beat" is. Also in the behind-the-beat category is the New Orleans "second line" groove -- a well-known example is Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken". Then go try and duplicate it. The difference is subtle -- it may not take much more than just feeling a little more deliberate as opposed to springy and jovial. Think you, an acoustic guitar, and a harmonica on the back porch on a sweltering hot summer night after a hard day replacing shingles on the roof in the hot sun, and you might get there quicker than you might expect.

    If you regularly play with a particular drummer, be sure to let him/her in on the fact that you are starting to mess with this. A drummer who has gotten used to you doing things one way may interpret changes as an attempt to speed up or slow down, unless they KNOW you're experimenting. As a matter of fact, practicing just the two of you with you ahead sometimes and you behind sometimes will REALLY tighten you up as a rhythm section. But this is advanced stuff -- don't get too excited if a younger drummer can't get the hang of it instantly. Use a metronome with a flashing light if you can find one.

    By the way, you have a HUGE advantage with the technology you are using to record then listen to yourself. As I always say, tape is a cruel master -- but if you wanna kick your own butt into gear, you're well on the way.
  5. Aaron


    Jun 2, 2001
    Bellingham, WA
    Use what the tune calls for. For a more relaxed feel, be behind the beat, but if you want to sound a bit more aggressive, play in front of the beat. Listen to some world-class drummers, you'll notice that they aren't always directly on the beat.
  6. ConU


    Mar 5, 2003
    La Belle Province
    I've done alot of gigs in a lot of different styles and I've never heard of that before.

    I would suggest that you work on "locking" with the beat before you start trying to move it around.The best way to do that is playing along with cd's...not "jamming" with them...learn the exact line from the disc and lock in with it,get it so you can't hear the bass on disc anymore.Start with the simplest stuff you can find and focus on matching the line perfectly,you'll find very quickly your feel for the "beat" will improve tremendously.
  7. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    And remember, when practicing with a metronome: If you can hear the click, you're not with it.
  8. smarvelous


    Jun 2, 2002
    Albany, CA
    I've done alot of gigs in a lot of different styles and I've never heard of that before.

    About playing on top of the beat in order to compensate for the delayed propagation of the sound wave: I met a player in Havana who was from LA but now works in Taiwan (!) who attributed that technique to Anthony Jackson. So, around the globe with no attribution, I don't know if its true.

    What I do know is that sound travels at about 1000 feet per second. That means that someone standing 20 feet away from you and your amp hears your note about 20 milliseconds after you do. For anyone who has fooled around with audio hardware on a computer where you can fiddle with such things, 20 milliseconds is actually discernable.

    Of course, that listener would hear the whole band 20ms later, so its cool. But what if you're not in the PA, and everyone else is? I suppose the baddest ass bass player would put his notes an extra 20ms in front of the beat for the sake of the audience.

    Now, I'm being absurd.

    Thanks to all of your highly useful comments. I've been shedding this stuff, and things are gradually coming together.
  9. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    Aaah... The extremely subtle art of grooving...
  10. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Sorry, but this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

    First of all, either the PA is going to be close enough to your amp that this won't make any difference, or you'll be going through it.

    Second, the "baddest ass bass player" would have to have to work out each song with a chalkboard and a calculator for an hour before he played them. And how would you account for audience members in the front of the room? The back? Reflections off the sound of the walls? Absorption of the sound by the walls and other objects? Destructive interference? I have a degree in physics with specialization in acoustics, and I can't figure that stuff out in my head. This is why you have a soundman, who, if you are lucky, will actually be competent.

    Third, playing that far ahead of the beat solely for the audience's benefit is going to seriously **** up your bandmates, unless your band is Meshuggah...
  11. smarvelous


    Jun 2, 2002
    Albany, CA
    Points well taken. Though I stand by the speed of sound thing, the rest of it was pretty absurd ;)
  12. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Sorry, I didn't mean to sound like an ass when I wrote that! Apologies! :)
  13. DeadPoet


    Jun 4, 2003
    playing 'on top' comes from a simple human thing: if you hear a metronome, you can kind of predict what's coming next, and when it's coming. So you're actually anticipating the next 'click'.

    Combine this with the fact that you're probably focusing real hard on the fact that you 'have to play ON the click' so that your actually a little stressed and your fingers are tensed up ...

    rhythm/pulse/time/groove are all part of a feel. There is no owner of the correct time, time should be 'between' the musicians. It is not wrong or right to speed up or slow down, as long as it's happening in an organic way...

    I know I'm oversimplyfiying here, but what I'm trying to say is: RELAX... if you're focusing too much on something you want real bad (eg. play with a steady time, play a world-class fill in the 4th bar, ...) you will probably not achieve, so try to let go.

    It's a bit like what a great piano player told me about playing up-tempo jazz: "You have to think you're playing slow"... while this sounds kind of stupid he was actually right: it's about being relaxed in your playing, your mind, your attitude and body.

    Hope this helps,
    (btw: I once saw this documentory on the human brain. they put a current on a particular place in a persons brain to let that persons leg contract. there was a 1/2 second gap between stimulation and contaction ... think about this.. does that mean that we're living a 1/2 second behind reality ??? :eek: :eek: :D
  14. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    It's all about context. If you're playing Stu Hamm or Jeff Berlin, you have to be right on the beat.

    If you're playing U2, it'll sound weird if you're not lagging a bit.
  15. At a Jeff Hamilton clinic, he said not to worry about playing behind, or on top of the beat, as far as the relationship between the drummer and the bassist. He said that if someone is trying to play behind, than consequentally, the otehr will feel the need to push the beat, and the time will get completely out of wack. He stressed locking into a groove with eachother, and as an entire rhythm section, relaxing, and playing together. This was only as a rhythm section though. He didnt talk much about playing with larger groups, because it was a trio at the clinic, but for example, listen to some Basie big band recordings. The horns are so far behind the beat that the rhythm section has to compensate and be that much further ahead of it, and it sounds great.

    Essentially, lock in a groove with the rhythm section, and drag those horns around. (or other instrument, depending on setting):bassist:
  16. Dondi


    May 3, 2003
    "the ombudsman" said it best: "the subtle art of grooving."

    I had never imagined playing anything but right "in" the beat as being correct, then I went to a clinic where the great studio drummer Gary Chester was describing three ways of playing "time." He talked about "Top" time, "In" time, and "Bottom" time. Next he brought out this kid of 17 that lived up in Westchester, NY, named Dave Weckl. Next he set up a metronome (the Electro-Harmonix electric metronome) and an amplifier so we could all hear it nice and loud.
    He then had Dave play some groove, and ON GARY'S COMMAND he could switch between the three ways of playing time; all the while NEVER getting out of time with the metronome.
    We all looked like John Belushi's character in the Blues Brothers movie when he "sees the light!" with James Brown preaching. We were awestruck with the ease that this kid jumped from concept to concept.
    There are times when each way of playng "time" is valid. One of our posters mentioned Count Basie, the king of "bottom time." There are examples of each kind of time depending on the style of music. This helps define the style.
  17. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    It must have been enlightening, indeed! This is a concept that is not easily achieved (for me anyway!), but i'm still working on it, because it is a very important aspect of the rhythm, IMO.
  18. TFR-bass


    Jun 3, 2003
    Central Jersey
    Perhaps this is a bit unneccessary of a reply, but the speed of sound is actually closer to 1130 ft/sec. That extra 130 ft per second makes a huge difference. On top of that, air pressure, humidity, temperature, and all other things like that will alter the speed at which it travels. As if that weren't enough, this is all frequency dependant as well. Meaning that lower frequencies (ie 20hz) will travel at a different speed than a mid range frequency (let's say 4-6k) and different still from a higher range (oh...we'll say 16-17k since most people out there probably can't hear much higher than that anyway despite the old 20-20k range that is used)Because of this, you wouldn't actually hear the entire band 20ms later. Why is that? Well not only because of all the physical properties that play a part in how sound travels, but because if anyone trained in Sound Engineering allowed this to happen they would be strung up and beaten to death for being a horrible representation of what a real sound engineer is capable of.
    on a side note, this post was mainly to make sure that i'm retaining the information i learn at school! :D