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The rhythm section - locking in with drums

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by static0verdrive, May 1, 2015.

  1. I'm not sure if this is a question, an observation, or a rant. I am very curious to hear what you guys think though... and I hope I don't offend anyone (oblig disclaimer: I do NOT mean to offend!)

    How do you sync up with the drummer? As a drummer since before starting on bass, I know that my ride/hihat hand is my time-keeper, not to mention the base rhythm for a song. It's by far the best thing to lock onto as a bass player; however, I often hear (both here on talkbass and elsewhere) bass players saying "lock onto the kick drum"... but I never understood this philosophy.

    The kick drum is often played on the one (first beat) in a lot of western music, true... but not always. In fact, I find it not all that predictable in my own playing (I'm by no means a drum god or anything, but bear with me here) and when it really is predicable, often the drummer sucks! It practically borders on dance music territory. It gets worse if it is a crappy drummer at all, because then his kick drum may not even be well timed with his own time-keeping hand.

    More importantly though, the kick is used to accent or emphasize a BEAT, not the RHYTHM. I think this is the core of my issue with the "lock onto the kick drum" train of thought - you'd be locking onto a beat instead of the rhythm the drums are layin' down.

    Thoughts? Experiences? Opinions?
    MuffledBoomy likes this.
  2. Torrente Cro

    Torrente Cro

    Sep 5, 2013
    As a bass player I also lock to a hihat.
    I gues that locking with bass drum makes more sense when you must figure some bass line on the fly. Sometimes when drummer is playing something different than usual I pay more attention to a bass drum.
    Last edited: May 1, 2015
  3. That's a good point. It also reminded me that as a self-taught, decent, inventive drummer who's a little sloppy, I didn't always keep the rhythm going with my cymbal hand. There was a time where (let's use a shuffle for blues as an example) I would have the hihat or ride going kinda straight-eight style and get the shuffle feel going between kick/snare. I now think that's wrong though, because it essentially turns a 12-bar 4/4 shuffle into a 6/8 beat that isn't really 12-bars anymore. Luckily my bassists back then knew better than I did lol
  4. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    Never intentionnaly listened to the drums and try to lock with it. I just play in the right tempo and play the right changes and everything will take care of itself if others also play the same tempo and same change ...

    But from my experience on TB, few can do that... most people rely on other and lock with the drum the point of almost discard everything else that is happening.
    denton57 and grapevine like this.
  5. That's an interesting response... So what are you listening to when you play?
  6. Jon Moody

    Jon Moody Commercial User

    Sep 9, 2007
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Manager of Brand Identity & Development, GHS Strings, Innovation Double Bass Strings, Rocktron
    So, instead of playing WITH the other musicians, are you just playing on the same stage? I'll +1 to the "interesting response..."

    To the OP, I've found that while the Hi-Hat is keeping the downbeat and tempo of the song, the Bass Drum is going to give me a better idea of the feel. So, locking in with the Bass Drum is more advantageous to me, as it's going to help me solidify the groove and style of the song.
  7. Torrente Cro

    Torrente Cro

    Sep 5, 2013
    There's one more factor, I don't know if the problem is just in my ears...
    To me, the bass drum is the quietest part of a drum, very often I just can't hear it in a loud enviroment (as there is no-loud enviroment in band situation ;))
    Maybe problem is in my ears, I had eardrum rapture in my both ears about 20 years ago.
    All other drum parts I hear just fine.
  8. It's not you. Bass drums project their sound forwards and backwards, but not out/around/side-to-side like most of the rest of the kit. Unless you're standing in front of it (you're probably to the left or right of the drums, right?) you won't hear it very well. This is another great reason I forgot to mention why I don't bother trying to listen for the bass drum, and why I stand on the hihat side of the kit (the ride tends to be a little more audible, depending on the models of hihat & ride anyway). :thumbsup:
    HolmeBass and Torrente Cro like this.
  9. Yeah, kinda depends on if the kick drum part is good/cool/interesting.

    Drummers with good kick drum foot are definitely my favorite to play with. The hi hat does the 16th notes, and the kick for the essential call/response rhythms.

    If the kick is not that strong or definitive of the groove, I step back and try to see what part is best to listen to, sometimes ride (jazz swing), sometimes snare (on bluesy shuffles) sometimes hi hat (reggae).
    Last edited: May 27, 2015
  10. Torrente Cro

    Torrente Cro

    Sep 5, 2013
    Thanks for explanation, I always wanted to know about that but I was afraid to ask :)
    static0verdrive likes this.
  11. thabassmon


    Sep 26, 2013
    New Zealand
    I feel the underlying subdivisions (8ths, 16th etc) and listen to the drummer's phrasing and feel.

    it's the overall groove that I try to lock in with, not just a bass drum.

    I also play drums too, they came after bass though
    MuffledBoomy and ed morgan like this.
  12. Bunk McNulty

    Bunk McNulty It is not easy to do simple things correctly. Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2012
    Northampton, MA
    I play dance music. In rehearsal, I will sometimes stand behind the drummer to watch the kick drum, because there are dynamics at play and sometimes he accents hard, and sometimes he doesn't, and I can't always hear it, but I can see it. I know we're really cookin' when the kick and the bass sound like one instrument.
    Johnny Crab and Not yet like this.
  13. Watch your drummer. They will play around the beat. That is their job. As a bass player we lock onto their beat. Strike your note the same moment the drummer strikes the drum. Be very mindful of the one. Gary Willis says to center your grove around the hi hat. If slapping, thumb with the bass pop with snare.
  14. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    At the very least one should maintain awareness with what their drummer (and the band) is doing.
    I tend to listen to the hi hat or the snare , which tend to have the most constant rhythm.
    When the phrase calls for it, I play what the kick drum plays.

    The meaning of "locking with the kick" is vague and depends on who you ask.
    sometimes it means "play exactly with the kick drum"
    others it means "Play in tempo with the kick and with a supportive rhythm" -in other words "play well"

    If a the drummer and the bass player is on the more amateur end of the skill spectrum,
    and inexperienced in the rhythmic conventions of various genres
    and are enthusiastically exploring their instruments and abilities instead of listening to each other
    then suggesting that the bass "lock with the kick" is a useful (tho lazy) piece of advice
    if the goal is to help them tighten up, pay attention to what they play, and start listening to each other.
    danyosound likes this.
  15. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    If everyone know the changes, you don't need to follow anyone. I prefer to have a musical discussion if the guitar, piano or whatever instrument than the drums that is only a glorified metronome in too many genre.
  16. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    It just mean that I prefer to listen and respond to lyrical instrument than a glorified metronome.
    dc-upright likes this.
  17. Jon Moody

    Jon Moody Commercial User

    Sep 9, 2007
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Manager of Brand Identity & Development, GHS Strings, Innovation Double Bass Strings, Rocktron
    Then you're playing with the wrong drummer, if they're just taking on a glorified metronome role.
    SteveC, lfmn16 and Febs like this.
  18. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    Everyone in the band is the timekeeper, of course. But I listen to the hihat to match tempos, and listen to the kick to either play with it or against it. If you just play with the tempo, you will not sound REALLY tight with the drummer. In most styles, bass and drums should be tighter to each other than to the rest of the band. I feel bands that are really together are composed of musicians that each have great rhythm on their own, but ALSO "resync" and correct to each other constantly. That's why they sound better than metronomes.
  19. I don't listen to any particular drum just the overall sound/feel. And I certainly don't think about it. One thing I've noticed recently after joining a second band with an electronic drum kit is that I find it much easier to lock into acoustic drums. The electronic kit seems very sterile and distant - hard to feel.
    ed morgan likes this.
  20. rtav

    rtav Millionaire Stuntman, Half-Jackalope

    Dec 12, 2008
    Chicago, IL
    When I was 14 or so, we did our first studio recordings. We went to Memphis (and got to use the same board that Zep III was recorded on!) and after a couple of takes the producer took outside to the sidewalk and asked the drummer and I, "How long you been playin?" I said "About a year and a half, two years," and the drummer said about the same. He nodded and asked, "Do you know what it means to 'lock in' together, as bass and drums?" We both shrugged and he explained to us, "When the drummer hits the kick, you should hit a note. When the drummer hits the snare, you may want to hit a note. And if the drummer is doing neither, find out what the hell the drummer is doing and do that, too."

    We took it to heart, and every single beat from the kick or snare was duplicated verbatim on bass. Of course I had my own things, and he had his own fills, etc., but as time went on and we got better those fills began to lock in beat for beat, note for note, tom for tom, through the entire roll. It didn't help that we were huge Rush fans, having discovered them when "Farewell to Kings" came out - it was Geddy and Neil, more than anyone, who lock in phenomenally in the same way. "Cities full of hatred, fear and lies..." That's it.

    Fast forward to now. I'm privileged to play with an incredible drummer who is a Portnoy devotee, playing all of Transatlantic's catalog, most of Dream Theater's, all of Neal Morse and a good bit of Rush. His masters is in music and he teaches music full time, playing several instruments. We've been playing together for 7 years now, and are as tight as we can possibly be, meaning that when I pop a fourth lower of a root for emphasis and do it very quickly it's almost intuitive that he does it too with his kick (as found in Cinderella Man, for cryin out loud!) Note for note.

    A cymbal may get picked up as a harmonic pop that hangs over a riff, the closed high hat might get duplicated as a high fast tapping thing or whatever. But if his kick is pulling triplets, the bass will be right on top, playing triplets, not straight time, even though that might line up (eventually). Now of course there are places without drums but have bass, and vice versa, and places where we pull back and funk it up a bit with some improv, but we've played together so long it's almost presciently doubled anyways). We go to great pains to insure that every fill on the drums is matched note on the bass (where and in what technique is up to me, but if he doesn't like what I'm doing I'll usually toss it), so I have to double very fast fills, and some with crazy splash cymbals or a timbale thrown in here or there. Keeps me on my toes.

    Just last night at rehearsal, we were playing one of our new originals and he wanted to change something so that instead of JUST having the drums hit a whole note in the intro, the bass would (ta-da!) double it by hitting E on the 12th and dragging down to G on the 3rd in time and then fast muting. So we're still doing stuff to double one another.

    There are places where the bass doesn't follow the drums but follows the guitar (Dream Theater's "Erotomania" for instance) and then locks back in with the drums in an unexpected way, and of course, lots of places where the band all lock in together for crazy stuff (again, Dream Theater comes to mind, and some of our originals as well).

    But generally, the way it was explained to me all those years ago still fundamentally holds true: "When the drummer hits the kick, you should hit a note. When the drummer hits the snare, you may want to hit a note. And if the drummer is doing neither, find out what the hell the drummer is doing and do that, too."

    That's lockin in to me. YMMV.

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