Note: this is more some general stuff on how to keep time and develop good rhythm. I wish now I had saved some good discussions from years ago on, mais, c'est la vie! [Chris]

From: (Todd Jones)
Subject: Anticipating the drummer

I've been fortunate enough to have been able to play with the same drummer for about six years now. We know each other so well, sometimes it's scary. We look at each other and think, "How did we do that?" But we know that every drummer feels time differently. I've found myself several times in the position of timekeeper in a situation, and I don't dig that. I don't feel my role is that of timekeeper as much as "feelkeeper" (some literal license there). So when I find myself asking " what's he gonna do next?" in a new situation, I usually expect it to be a macho, machine gun triplet kind roll and just lay back. Expecting this every time until I feel more confident in the pairing always helps control the train wreck possibilities. Seems kinda common sense, but I've ssen far too many players try to show their chops, and the groove suffers for it. So now I wnat to know how * you * handle this kinda situation.

Teach me, O Great Ones of the Net :)

Todd -- Don't ask me, I'm just the bass player.

From: (Mark S Fraser) cj079@FreeNet.Carleton.CA
Subject: Re: Anticipating the drummer

I've been playing bass seriously for a couple years, and I get to work with one of the finest jazz drummers in the midwest every Thursday. About a year ago, I asked him what the timekeeping role of the bassist was, if any. He said the bassist's job is multifaceted - to keep the time along with the drummer, and play a harmonic pattern appropriate to the piece. For years I just followed the drummer's time, but after our discussion, I've assumed more responsibility for the time. It's been difficult, and it still is. I have to take the metronome out and play along with it so it clicks on only 1 beat per bar; with so much time between clicks, I can tell if I'm accelerating, dragging, or am on time. If I don't do this regularly, my time suffers. Since I've taken a more responsible timekeeping role, the drummer has responded by playing more adventurous fills because he can depend on me to keep the time together while he goes "out" for a second.

-Brad Bolton

From: Some guy named mark

It also helps to play time with the metronome on 2&4 or 1&3. A drummer friend of mine used to pratice with a drum machine- he'd program it to play four beats to a bar for four bars then to rest for four bars, then come back in four beats to the bar. Then he'd make it eight bars, then 12 bars and play a chorus of blues with the drum machine then a chorus without it. You get the idea.

From: (Tim Potter)

If a drummer is overplaying, I tell him/her. Almost without exception, when we try the tune with less drumming, the drummer agrees that it's an improvement.

We try to give our drummer a chance to bash at appropriate times, to get it out of his/her system ;^)

Tim Potter

From: Tim Fegan

I like what Todd said about beeing the "feelkeeper". This involves being able to sense what the other members are doing musically _and_ being a very good timekeeper as well. Practicing with a metronome is essential in developing a good sense of time. Playing with other musicians is just as essential in becoming a good "feelkeeper". BTW, having a good sense of time isn't just for bassists (or drummers) anymore...any musician should strive to develop this.

As far as playing with a new drummer (or other musician) is concerned, I would recomend to be a bit (or a lot, depending on how you play) concervative...and begin from there. It leaves room for the other musicians to add to the song; it allows everyone to build a musical rapport as a group. Imagine having a conversation with someone you never met before...and they did all the talking! Then, imagine the kind of impression you would portray to them if you did all the talking. Making music is much the same.

Personally, I try to isolate what the drummer is using as his (or her) "constant" timekeeper. Most likely it's the snare and/or kick. If I can hear the kick, that's great...but often it's the snare that I'll play off of. Either way, there's usually something external (outside of their mind) that they will use to indicate where they perceive the beat to be. Look for that to help cue you into what they're doing. Of course, when all else fails...ask them! :-)

One more thing. There may be times in a song when a drummer won't play an "external" constant for timekeeping, but will have an internal one. This is where it's important to be a good timekeeper yourself. For example, you might be playing through a song fine...and just when it seems that everyone is playing the bridge, it might seem as if the drummer is going off the bridge! Don't get might just be that their taking the scenic route! In time (pardon the pun), he (or she) will be back with the group....well, that's the way it's suposed to work anyway. :-)

Have fun!

From: (gary watts)

Jerry P Morrow ( wrote:
: >> Hi there!  I was wondering what you bassists look for in a good
: >> drummer. 
: -
: - doesn't 'overplay'
: - consistent volume on snare drum
: - solid tempo
: - good use of the h-hat/snare/bass drum
: - some dynamics between sections
: - wrist action, drums sound 'snappy' 
: - REALLY knows how to tune drums
: - simple and solid bass drum beats
: - doesn't consistently play with the h-hat
:   half open
you forgot:
-Actually shows up to practice and gigs ON TIME!

Gary Watts

Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 12:13:56 -0600 (CST)
From: Chip Chapin

Norm Melanson wrote:

>Don't just lurk, jump in!!  Got any good ideas on how a bass player
>and a drummer can get tighter in the music?  I know about practice,
>practice, practice, but can you suggest any exercise type stuff that
>may be beneficial?
When I married in 1979 I had already been playing bass for a dozen years, and was pleased that my new wife wanted to learn to play the drums. But it's taken until really just the last year or so that I've felt our music together was really tight. In thinking about what has changed, besides practice-practice-practice (which is REALLY the most important thing), I'd say it's been a matter of developing a shared sense of what the music SHOULD sound like.

This is not as trivial as it sounds. With some drummers, you find instantly that you agree on what you're striving for. But others may have very different ideas of how to approach the music. This is especially true for worship musicians who may have limited exposure to playing non-worship music. Most worship music lacks the "big groove" to begin with. Also, worship drummers typically endure continual criticism from members of the congregation: too loud, too strong, etc. A drummer who doesn't play anywhere else may learn to back *way* off on the beat and become tentative, or even start play more like a percussionist.

The antidote for this is just communication: frank discussion of what you want (one thing at a time) and lots of patience.

OK here's another thought: If you're having trouble locking in, stand on the drummer's LEFT side if possible. Many drummers tend to focus their attention toward their left (snare and hi-hat) and it may be uncomfortable for them to look over their right shoulder at you if you're on that side. Also, with most kits, you will get a better look at their feet and hands from their left. This simple strategy sometimes works amazingly well.


Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 12:31:47 -0600 (CST)
From: Marc Miller

I can't seem to lock in well unless I am standing on the hat-side of things.

I'll tell the one thing we've left out of this discussion, and perhaps because it is a bit on the esoteric side. I always considered my groove playing to be my biggest musical strength, but it grew exponentially when I picked up a pair of sticks and started playing those things. Not that I am a great drummer (don't have the patience to learn it through and through) but I learned to play the drums from the same point of view that I learned bass playing- In All Things Solidity. As soon as I started thinking like a drummer (a little, anyway) I was more able to anticipate the fills, play in the holes, and lock onto a kick (if that's what the tune needed). I can't be more enthusiastic about this recommendation- LEARN 'EM! You'll be glad you did- and believe me, you're drummer(s) will thank you, too.

-Marc Miller

Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 15:49:33 -0600 (CST)
From: Reuben Rubio

At 12:19 PM 3/14/96, Norm Melanson wrote:
>>Tom said:
>>You need to experiment musically with your drummer.  Having signals
>>to communicate with the drummer is also very important.  Rolling your
>>eyes, crossing your eyes, jumping up and down, stomping your feet,
>>those are a few of my favourite things. (no...... please don't sing)
>I never thought of trying to do this.  Can you give me a few examples
>of whereand how you would use signals like this.  We try and
>sync up now on the ending of a song, but that's about it.
Another practice tip - sometimes during rehearsal, I'll park my bass amp right behind the drummer's throne, propped on something so the speaker is aimed right at his torso. I'll then sit down sorta half propped against the bass drum. We don't have to hear each other that way - we feel each other. We do that when we just can't seem to get it together, and it always works.

When we can't get it together, we have to try deferring to each other. We'll try something his way, something my way, and then ask the group what they think. Unfortunately, half the time the vocalists are yakking away and aren't paying any attention.

Everyone cracks up when the drummer and I talk to each other. I'll say, "hey, why not try "dinka-dinka *dank* a dinka-dinka *dank* a . . ." and he'll tell me why not try "boop uh bo-bip-ba-bop uh boop uh . . ."

Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 16:21:32 -0600 (CST)
From: Donl Mathis

| OK here's another thought: If you're having trouble locking in, stand
| on the drummer's LEFT side if possible.

My drummer *makes* me stand on his left side! He complains if I wander off. Worse, we push the drums as far stage-left as we can, to keep them away from the vocalists so they can hear there monitors, and what's left over there is a little tiny space about as big as a phone booth, and its filled with mike stands and monitor speakers and stuff like that. Often, there is no clear path for me to leave the platform when we're done -- I either have to climb over something, or take a (very) long walk around the back all the way across the other side.

But all this trouble is so that I can see his foot, and I'm intimately connected with his snare and high hat, and so he can see my fingers -- sometimes he takes his beat from me, and when the monitors are mushy or I'm not loud enough, he just watches my fingertips, and takes his cues from that. And when I'm lost, and we're not syncing, I stare at his kick pedal. This is a very intimate form of communication! We need each other.

- donl

Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 22:04:02 -0600 (CST)
From: Marc Miller

I've been thoroughly enojoying this latest thread of answers to that age-old question- How To Groove.

It's absolutely true and essential that good communication skills can get you over a lot of hurdles; still more hurdles are past with good stage set-up techniques; and the race is almost won with a good monitor mix. I thought I might indulge myself (and hopefully y'all) with some application (musically speaking, of course...)

The one thing in this entire thread that is universal to all of us is the groove. Not just any groove; but that Spirit-led, emotion-packed, Peterbilt constructed groove that we've all felt, and the Lord has seen fit to shine down upon us for the merest of moments, and let us get a glimpse of, every now and then. Remember that? What was that? What made that SOOOOO special? The moment? The environment? God, Himself. Yes to all, and more.

I know they're a secular group (boy, are they...) but listen to some old Parliament albums. (If you can get past the lyrics....) What's happenin? What the heck is Bootsy doing that makes us all wrinkle our noses and do that stupid chicken-necked bass player dance.

The first thing is to know space. Since the majority of time, drummers are hittin' on 2 & 4, the first thing to do is respect thy drummer's snare drum, and play on 1 & 3. Or 1, &2, 3 like that dotted 1/4 to 1/8 feel. Lock to the kick, and the trick in the old dotted-to-eighth feel is to not show any holes. There is no difference between drums and bass, boys and girls. One is melodic, the other rhythmic. Listen to Jaco and Alex Acuna on Weather Report's "Heavy Weather", specifically the song "Havona" (last song). This is a very thick piece, and yet, you can pick out every part, because Alex and Jaco let each other breathe. Sonically, it's always interesting to juxtaposition your part against the drums, i.e., stay low under a ride, go higher on the hat parts.

The next thing to be aware of is- (gasp) the vocalists. Follow 'em! Do what they do, but always be supportive. In passages where men are singing unison, stay out of they're octave (go low) but for women's parts, move up. If there is a vocal syncopation, nail it. Good example of this is the Maranatha version of "I See The Lord". The rhythm part is notated as half-notes, but the vocalists stab the & of 2 on the word "Lord" in the verse. Try hitting that rhythm with your drummer's kick, and watch the fur fly.

When listening to vocalists, try hard to use passing tones from chord to chord in the middle of phrases, i.e., in a 4 bar phrase, use a passing tone from bar 2 into bar 3. When in doubt, play the 5th or the dominant 7th to the next chord as your tone, i.e. Gm7 to C7, I'd play a Bb to pass. If you have a flat-5 chord at your passing point, play the flat-5- a Bb against an E flat-5. If you have a progression that runs to a phrygian mode (G to C) then play the 3rd (B under the G on the last 2 beats of the measure). The 3rd is the most powerful weapon in the bassist's arsenal. USE IT!

After vocalists, listen to your next dominant rhythm section member, usually the pianist. If you're gonna make root substitutions (like the flat-5 trick) it's best to talk over those with the keyboardist before-hand. Also- don't be afraid to suggest to keyboard players that they tie their left-hands behind them! They sometimes forget that that's why you're there! Try to stay away from each other, especially you 5-6 stringers (who have a greater range) and fretless players (intonation strangeness). When in doubt, you're the guy for the bottom end.

Since you are responsible for the groove (not the drummer, surprisingly) realize the musical power that you wield. You can stick 300 guitar players in a room and tell them to strum a C major chord. If you, by yourself, play an A, that makes the chord an Amin7. A band is only as good as it's drummer, and it's groove only as deep as the bass player. A great bunch of vocalists with a weak band is a weak group; a mediocre group of singers with a great band is a great band (think about it..) We are the foundation, and we count.

Lastly, don't worry about speed and ease of chord changes. James Jamerson spoke VOLUMES with 2 notes in "My Girl", when's the last time you heard Les Claypool or Geddy Lee do a studio date? The guys that EVERYONE respect, either now or later, are the Marcus Miller's, Will Lee's, Leon Gaer's, Abraham Laboriel's, Anthony Jackson's, Neil Stubenhaus's of the world. These guys play the right notes at the right time. Nothing else matters. Except praising God.

In Him,
Marc Miller

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Last updated June 19, 1996