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Tempo issues

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by TobyBrodel, Sep 11, 2008.

  1. TobyBrodel

    TobyBrodel Guest

    Mar 3, 2008
    Hi guys, i've got a little quintet that's been cooking along for about a year now. What i've noticed lately is that in quick tunes we start out really nicely and then the tempo starts to sag. i try to push the tempo when this happens but it really is like swimming upstream. it also happens whenever i take a solo. what can i do to fix/prevent this? maybe experiment with some micro-timing?

    thanks for your help
  2. uprightben


    Nov 3, 2006
    Boone, NC
    Get the group to rehearse with a metronome. You might have to amplify the click, but that really gets people to look at thier tempo issues in a public way without actually pointing fingers.
  3. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Excellent advice. In the recording biz, we call that a "click track" and it can be a real challenge to stay with the click, especially with a large group going on in the headphones. It might be tougher to stay with a metronome out in the room, but worth a try (although you'll find that constant beat unmusical and annoying).
  4. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    +1 on the click idea. Might be a drummer issue. You could get together with just him and do the click thing. Maybe on phones. Playing with a drummer that drags feels like wearing a backpack filled with lead. Whenever I'm playing with a guy like that I just an very vigilant and being on top of the beat. You feel beat up by the end of the night but it makes the group sound better which is your ultimate job.

    BTW What is this 'micro-timing' thing. I seen it a few times. I'm not smart enough to get it on my own.
  5. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Or better yet, tell him to go home and practice with a click by himself!!!;)
  6. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004

    It actually bugs me when the drummer is the problem. Not much gets to me but that is definitely one of them. The worst is playing with a drummer that does all kinds of fancy stuff but their time sucks.
  7. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Maybe it's the drummer, maybe it's not, but someone's dragging the beat -- not keeping up. So, if you're looking for consistent, metronomic time -- and who isn't -- then somebody has to step up and force the issue. "Listen up y'all, HERE'S the pulse, HERE IT IS". As Marc pointed out, you feel beat up after a night of doing that. It doesn't feel good to have to force the issue, and in my opinion, it doesn't sound good having the time forced. You may be keeping the time steady for the ensemble but if it takes tremendous force to do so, the end musical result contains much suck-itude in my opinion.

    The reason the thing slows down in accomodating a dragger is that -- within the small scale scope of bar to bar, not the large scale scope of a whole tune -- it actually sounds better. I'm Canadian, so I'll use a hockey analogy -- the players (probably the rhythm section) are skating with their heads down, paying attention to making this bar sound good, now this bar, now this one, etc. There's an effort being made to keep a pocket happening, a groove, but it takes a group to groove -- if the groove is happening with reference to a dragger then the tune will slow down. It's a form of listening and reacting, but the wrong stuff is being heard and it's the wrong reaction being made. They lose sight of the big picture, the fact that the whole damn thing is sliding into the pit...

    I have certainly been there, done that, learned the hard way that if nobody is stepping up for the time then I have to. Spend the night feeling like I'm getting beat up, that is....
  8. Fred W

    Fred W

    Feb 21, 2002
    Bronx, NY
    First thing, you should bring it at rehearsal, without singling anyone out. On a gig, unless you are leader, all you can do is try to keep it yourself, but that is heavy lifting. One way to approach tempo problems like slowing down fast tempos or speeding up slow ones is to feel lighter or heavier, respectively. Another is to feel a longer pulse at faster tempi, and subdivide for slower. Above 200 bpm you could try feeling the half note, above 300 the whole note (one, one one, one etc.). One mental image I heard for fast tempo is skipping along the furrows of a plowed field. instead of walking up and down.Of course the big simple is Relax! Bring these concepts up with your bandmates I'm sure it will help.
  9. Scottgun


    Jan 24, 2004
    South Carolina
    Don't go metronome just yet. Rather, record your rehearsals and play them for everyone and ask innocently, "Does it seem like we are dragging?" and get everyone in on the diagnosis.
  10. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    If you're recording the group, another thing you can do is run the recording into a DAW and match up a click. Then you can actually measure the degree of change in tempo. If it's really bad it will become totally evident very quickly.

    You could do the same thing with a metronome -- measure the count and first four bars (is the group even aligned with the count?) -- go forward a chorus, take another reading, etc.

    Admittedly, it's a little more hard-edged than listening to the playback and having a chat, but the numbers make it pretty clear.
  11. It's nice sometimes if it's a drummer or anyone else to make them aware of the time more cause often the problem is awareness and they're either not playing with their own internal pulse or they're not aware enough of their pulse slowing. With drummers or bass players we tend to think too much of the pulse in our hands pulling the strings or hitting the symbols with the stick if you're a drummer but the pulse is inside you. So one thing I'll do is if it really starts feeling like it's dragging I just slow down more intentionally enough so that they look up and feel like whoah why is he dragging so much. Then when you've got their attention you can start driving the band together. Maybe something to try in a rehearsal first and then have a conversation about it, but it will wake him up more than just pushing too hard to keep a tempo and force you guys to hook up which is more important.

    You might ask him to play quarters on the ride and just relax and make it feel good cause if your pulse is solid honestly not only the drummer but every other musician in the band can latch on to it. Plus if you THINK you're playing fast in the first place you will probably slow down and so you have to get your head thinking this isn't fast because 300 bpm is nothing when you're practicing 350 because it became a med fast tempo.
  12. lofreek


    Jul 19, 2004
    St. Louis MO
    Over the years I have detected an odd phenomena related to this. There is a tendency to get caught up in an adrenaline rush, especially on live gigs, which can make one think the tempo is too slow. I have witnessed many bands who play everything too darn fast, and I believe that this is the cause. In a pop cover band where the established tempo is part and parcel of the song, it is very noticeable. In jazz, not so much. Remember this - a drummer who has tempo problems and does not realize it may be better off doing something else! Cruel, but true.
  13. TobyBrodel

    TobyBrodel Guest

    Mar 3, 2008
    Thanks for all your help guys. Our drummer is mainly a rock guy but i've been playing with him for years and he'd follow me to the end of the earth, and vice versa, i don't think he's the dragger really.

    I get the feeling it could be the keyboard player, she's classically trained and new to jazz and improvisation. Maybe she has trouble feeling the pulse and the rhythm section as a group has a tendency to drag as a whole. I think we could try the metronome thing at rehearsal for a bit, could do wonders. But at a gig what can i do to keep things pushing ahead? At the moment i'm am working my little a$$ off and yeah things sound forced.

    fingers, micro-timing is playing in front of or behind the beat, does anyone think if i played ahead of the beat it could imply some more urgency in the time?
  14. TobyBrodel

    TobyBrodel Guest

    Mar 3, 2008
    we're pretty good like that actually, there are no big egos in our group so if someone says, 'it felt like we were dragging' or 'the intonation was a bit dodgy guys', no-one gets offended and we have good open discussion, i'm just looking for ways to improve our time, especially on the gig.
  15. christ andronis

    christ andronis

    Nov 14, 2001
    How about playing WITHOUT the drummer and see if the time drags? Do that with each person in the group and see how the time feels. It might open up everyones eyes. Time isn't just the drummers' domain (although a drummer with bad time really makes it hard to get a groove going).
  16. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Concentrate on holding your ground timewise. You'll know who's dragging immediately. Chances are, the drummer will keep up and the pianist will drag. I"ve had the same situation too in a drummerless trio.

    I didn't have a solution. I just stopped playing with them. :eek:
  17. uprightben


    Nov 3, 2006
    Boone, NC
    This is kind of off topic, but a horn section that rushes can make it sound like the rhythm section is dragging. Just a thought before anyone hangs thier drummer.

    Here's another way to look at the dragging drummer situation: bass is really the time keeper, not drums. A good drummer shouldn't need anyone to keep time for him, but if he's having a problem he should be riding the bassist's time and just play. Of course communicating this to a drummer requires that he has big ears and a vocabulary beyond BEER, WOMAN, ME HUNGRY.

    Personally, I'd rather play without drums than a bad drummer.
  18. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    I'm not a fan of this idea. That is what has been taught to me in my time as a student but in recent years I have come to think time is EVERYONE'S responsibility. True, a bass player with good time is key but if the whole group is groovin time seems effortless and you don't even think about. Dave Holland's music is in all kind of crazy time signatures but everyone grooves so hard that we don't care... we just feel the groove too.

    Yup. I know it has been said over and over but truer words have never been spoken.
  19. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    A small example of how time is everyone's responsibility: in a rehearsal band years ago, we were attempting to play "Lil Darlin", at a nice relaxed Basie-at-the-end-of-the-night tempo, and we kept speeding up. The leader kept blaming it on the rhythm section. I suggested the horns play without rhythm section, no foot tapping or conducting allowed. They made it about 4 bars (first long note) before they fell apart. Lesson learned.
  20. conte2music

    conte2music Supporting Member

    Jul 11, 2005
    Dobbs Ferry, NY
    We haven't talked about volume/individual clarity or your groups' formation. Can everyone be heard clearly, and can you make eye contact easily with all members of the group?

    -I play with a piano player that likes to play on the very back side of the beat at times. Making eye contact with him made it possible for me to understand what he wanted to do, and now we are locked in pretty well. He gets to lay back and some really cool stuff is happening without loosing overall time.

    -Consider playing softer on the more brisk tunes. Bass players must play lighter to play faster, and I think the same is true for all instruments. To create volume, takes more air, or more force with your hands, sticks, pick, however the instrument makes sound. On slower tempos you have time to factor in this extra required force. It takes a really long time to gain the strength and musical concept to play loudly and quickly. For the time being, try playing lightly and quickly as an ensemble, and I think it could help. "Acoustic jump swing type groups" like Django's Quintet are a great example of this. I'm sure it isn't the style you're playing, however the time stays very crisp in part to individual clarity, group balance, and the concept of playing lightly. Keep us updated!

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