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How do we perceive time?


Nillerbabs

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Sup folks.

 

 

For a long period of time, I've been struggling with achieving total rhythmic precision, also known as time. I've been given exercises to improve this area, but I've been struggling with them as well, not really knowing how to "get it".

 

Not so long ago, my teacher said "You haven't even got one single triplet in your body, so let's work on that". In the same class he mentioned that a drummer friend of his advices his pupils to imagine time as a bouncing ball that just keeps going and going. Today I reached the conclusion that if I don't have a triplet in my body, why not just put it there? So, in true Kenny Werner style, I very clearly visualized said bouncing ball first in my neck, then in my head, my stomach, on my hand, my shoulder etc. It was quite strange at first, but once I got comfortable with the feeling, it was absolutely astounding how liquid yet precise my playing suddenly became. The aforementioned exercises suddenly seemed childish games. I "got it". I have had but a tiny taste of this, but I want more, more and more.

 

This lead me to think - how do you guys perceive time? Do you count, have you counted, how have you practiced developing a sense of time? I thought some interesting things might come out.

 

 

Niels

When in doubt, superimpose pentatonics.
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I use a the metronome. Besides practicing over various subdivisions of the beat, I don't do any mental tricks.

 

You can certainly work on groove by playing games with the metronome. For example, set it to click on the first beat of the measure and see if you come in right on the "one" each time.

 

I suppose if I wanted to tighten up my timing any further I'd also take drum lessons.

 

It also helps to record yourself and listen back to see whether you play ahead of or behind the beat consistently.

 

-John

I make software noises.
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I agree with John. Use a metronome and practice various subdivisions of the beat.

 

You want eighth notes? Say "apple" between each click of the metronome. There's your eighth notes (each syllable of the word).

 

Want triplets? Say "strawberry" between each beat of the metronome.

 

Sixteenth notes? "Huckleberry."

 

My mom taught violin and viola for 40+ years, and I can't tell you how many times I heard her using these "fruits" during lessons to teach her students how to count rhythms. S**t works, that's for sure.

 

Noah

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I don't count, don't even really tap my foot or anything. It wasn't anything that I was taught to do when I was taking lessons. At the same time, I'll bop my head or move my body at times, but it's not necessary. If I need to tighten up my time, I tend to vocalize - it locks better that way for me.

 

I think that time is something that is relatively natural for most people - there aren't too many folks who have a totally arrhythmic sense of time, regardless of what you see on a dance floor. Some folks are born with a very, very natural feel for musical time, and it doesn't take much to develop it. Others need more work, but I think that most folks can improve their time just by being attentive to it, working on it. Even my wife who was near clueless about musical time when we met has come a LONG way - I would have thought her arrhythmic when we met. Now she can tap out the beat to a song with ease.

 

I think one thing to focus on is not only improving your time in a strict sense, but also your time feel - where you place notes against the beat. Different grooves call for different time feels (there are more different shuffle feels than you can shake a stick at), and some more modern grooves call for very displaced feels against the beat. A bad time feel can KILL a gig.

A ROMpler is just a polyphonic turntable.
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About ten years ago I started air drumming on the stair master, with one hand, then gradually it became two hands. It's a kick ass extreme workout and it makes what is drudgery fun. It's improved my time immensely, even more than using a metronome, (which I finally started using frequently a few years ago). If I had time I would try to be a real drummer, but work, trying to be a good keyboardist, vocalist, guitarist and left hand bassist plus racing karts weekly is enough plates to spin.
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The question was how do you perceive time (internally). Answering "I use a metronome" is like saying "I use an external machine to perceive time."

 

I move slightly, like dancing, to really feel time. It can manifest as slightly nodding my head but my favorite is gently tapping with my left heel. Human beings often have an innate rhythmic sense in their ambulatory limbs (legs). Even a 2 year old can march in rhythm with a marching band. Tapping my left heel is the closest thing to dancing as I play piano. I don't have a digital clock ticking in my head but my leg (left heel) can tap a really steady pulse. Of course when I was very young my time wasn't so steady and I paid some dues with a metronome, but in the end a musician has to generate the time internally.

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." Find 700 of Harry’s piano arrangements of standards for educational purposes and jazz piano tutorials at www.Patreon.com/HarryLikas

 

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Ah...yeah I get in trouble at work too when I don't read emails all the way...arghh Sorry. Ok it's perceived by me by counting,thinking ahead and at times moving my head up and down. It can get better, I went from having some of the worst time of anybody to being one of the most improved time guys. Now I'm the one telling people to speed up or slow down.
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I have a pretty good sense of time. I often feel sections of songs, whether as a player or a listener. So you can imagine it drives me nuts when my singer comes in on the third time instead of the fourth half our shows. I tap my heel, nod my head, rock my body. I count if I know it's gonna be tricky and I don't trust myself.
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Some interesting aspects :)

 

I definitely practice with a metronome. My problem has been that when I got out of sync with the metronome, I'd be able to hear it - but not feel it as it happened. I feel as if I have come to a higher level of understanding time.

 

Kanker, it's intersting that you bring up the time feel, and I definitely agree that it's very important. And I'll get to that soon enough, but I should have a foundation on which to build - ever since I started school, I've been brought back to the basics on many aspects that my previous teacher never paid attention to or knew how to describe properly. And my gosh, have I needed that.

 

As to practicing with the metronome, I set mine only to strike on the counts of 2 and 4 (granted that I'm in 4/4). Once I develop a stronger time feel, I may even have it only on the 4th beat. My theory is that the musician should do as much of the time-keeping as possible, the metronome is only a guide to make sure that you practice in a steady tempo and don't (de)accelerate or get sloppy. My current teacher has confirmed this theory. We recently had a clinic with Bob Gulotti, who told about a guitar playing friend of his who practices with the metronome on 10 BPM. How's that for time feel?

When in doubt, superimpose pentatonics.
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I visualise marching, like playing in a Samba school. Doesn't work so well on waltzes though...

 

And I agree with the comment above about being driven nuts when someone comes in on the third time round a vamp. It just feels... wrong. I get the same reaction when music on TV and ads is edited so there's not a neat 2/4/8 structure.

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Sup folks.

 

 

For a long period of time, I've been struggling with achieving total rhythmic precision, also known as time. I've been given exercises to improve this area, but I've been struggling with them as well, not really knowing how to "get it".

 

Not so long ago, my teacher said "You haven't even got one single triplet in your body, so let's work on that". In the same class he mentioned that a drummer friend of his advices his pupils to imagine time as a bouncing ball that just keeps going and going. Today I reached the conclusion that if I don't have a triplet in my body, why not just put it there? So, in true Kenny Werner style, I very clearly visualized said bouncing ball first in my neck, then in my head, my stomach, on my hand, my shoulder etc. It was quite strange at first, but once I got comfortable with the feeling, it was absolutely astounding how liquid yet precise my playing suddenly became. The aforementioned exercises suddenly seemed childish games. I "got it". I have had but a tiny taste of this, but I want more, more and more.

 

This lead me to think - how do you guys perceive time? Do you count, have you counted, how have you practiced developing a sense of time? I thought some interesting things might come out.

 

 

Niels

 

Niels,

 

Just so you know a lot of what youre talking about has to do with what skills you are born with. For example Sunday I just sat in with a Salsa band that is forming. The other keyboard player sat down and was teaching me a progression. He had to play a descending melody line that picked up on 2. He couldnt get it, he just did not have the feel or understand the timing. The Cuban singer was yelling at him and we started the song 11 times at least. I did not know the tune myself but after a couple tries I got the jist of it. Some people just dont have that instinct. I used to see classical players come to a gospel class I was taking here locally at the Eastman school. This a world renowned school that is part of the University I work at. These guys are playing tough shit like Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich. But they could never sit in with us because they could not feel the music 90% of the time. That is the feel aspect of the music. I hate, absolutely hate, when people say music is math. It is math to a certain to extent but people that think that way usually dont have a good sense of groove or are very rigid in their playing. Music is about feel instinct and being expressive, not so much about analyzing the shit out of it.

 

As for time I dont really perceive it but put parts where they are supposed to go while playing whatever style of music I am into. I never thought about unless it is a difficult passage or something that stumps me. You can use a metronome to help time, I still do it. I know a drummer I played with back in 1994 and his time was bad. Now he plays with a R&B band in western NY and sounds a lot better because he worked at it. I still believe good feel will result in good time. Not everyone is good at the same things so you may have to work a little harder. I would have to hear your playing to make an honest assessment but this is a big problem. Some people have it more inherently than others and have more finally tuned instincts. Others may have to develop it.

 

 

"Danny, ci manchi a tutti. La E-Street Band non e' la stessa senza di te. Riposa in pace, fratello"

 

 

noblevibes.com

 

 

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The question was how do you perceive time (internally). Answering "I use a metronome" is like saying "I use an external machine to perceive time."

 

Ha, yeah I realized that after I posted. So, as others and the OP have said, the metronome is for improving the "internal" clock.

 

Otherwise, it's purely a feel thing for me... no mental pictures, just well-timed nervous impulses. I don't purposely vocalize or move to keep it going, but I may find myself moved to do that.

I make software noises.
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I haven't asked myself this question so maybe that is your answer?

 

As part of my std warm-up that I do almost every day that I have access to the piano I do 1/4 notes, triplets and 1/8th note scales to varying metronome settings, switching back and forth between the two, for about 10 minutes. Usually covering all the major scales. 1-2 octaves at 1/4, 3 octaves triplets, 2 oct 1/8, back to 3 oct trip. Usually 125-135 bpm. Gives you an opportunity to both speed up and slow down to the triplet feel.

 

Since I started this regimen I feel my timing is much better.

You want me to start this song too slow or too fast?

 

Forte7, Nord Stage 3, XK3c, OB-6, Arturia Collection, Mainstage, MotionSound KBR3D. A bunch of MusicMan Guitars, Line6 stuff

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I feel slow ballads with either a triplet subdivision (think Ray Charles "Georgia") or sixteenth notes (modern jazz). I often switch gears between the two as I am playing.

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." Find 700 of Harry’s piano arrangements of standards for educational purposes and jazz piano tutorials at www.Patreon.com/HarryLikas

 

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I'm self-taught, and as a kid playing mostly alone I had no idea that my timing totally sucked. When I got my first real job, I got a 4-track reel recorder, thinking how much fun it would be to play keyboards and guitar etc on the same tune.

 

What an eye (ear?) opener that was! I had no idea that my guitar parts and keyboard parts for the same songs wouldn't even fit together, sometimes. And most of the time, my timing wandered all over hell. I realized I had to do some serious remedial action. 35 years later, I've worked up to "average", which I consider an enormous accomplishment! ;-)

 

Metronome, definitely, and using it different ways (1-2-3-4, 2-4, 1-3, etc). Work on triplets against 2 and 4 a lot, because this comes up a lot in popular music, and if you're thinking about it when trying to play it, it won't work.

 

I had a friend who was a world-class percussion student (lead player at UMich, which at that time had a percussion section that was ranked among the leading orchestras). I remember her meeting one of the better jazz drummers in town and they hit it off pretty literally, trading tricks just tapping their laps. (They were doing things like fast Swedish triplets, or X against Y where X and Y were about any number you could imagine, stuff like that.) For me, the take-away was how useful it is to work on timing just tapping ones lap, which you can do anywhere without any gear. You might get some odd looks, but I'm used to that. ;-)

 

For a lot of music it's fun to keep the 3 and 4 running in your head at the same time, all the time. It adds a nice twist. I bet most of the folks here do this without giving it a second thought, as well as triplets against straight time at different levels simultaneously (e.g., 1/2 note triplets along with 1/8 triplets, while playing mostly in straight time). That stuff makes my head hurt, but sometimes I can do it organically. No way can I count it.

 

My soul band plays Try A Little Tenderness. The first verse feels like it's in 3, but when a closed hihat click comes in on the 2nd verse, it's in 4. At first I had to always start out thinking in 4 while playing in 3 or that tap caught me offguard. (I'm more used to thinking 3 while hearing 4, rather than the opposite.) Happily, it's no longer an issue. Eventually the whole thing gets internalized and however I start off, when the 4-click comes in it's right as rain.

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I feel it in my gut. If the time is off or starting to vary, it doesn't feel right all of a sudden. But then, I can adapt to that too, for in salsa it is common to goose the tempo up as the song progresses, for the dancers. I'm just keenly aware of when it's happening. I tend to be a big foot-tapper, which means when I record I tend to take my shoes off, LOL. At various points in my tutelage I was instructed to tap foot, even feel certain rhythms as a dance with my body. Some of that stuck, I suppose.

 

Many years ago I did a solo piano recording (never released it) and I had a couple of songs with an ostinato in the left hand. At one point, the engineer put the two tracks I recorded next to each other in ProTools and said, "you are remarkably consistent." I guess that has good and bad connotations ... but in terms of time, I think mine's certainly adequate.

 

I have done some work with a metronome, but not as much as other musos I know. It's easy for me to play to loops and click-type tracks if I have to, and, like Kanker said, one aspect I find particularly useful for playing to those is to play around with "time feel." In Afro-Cuban I want to be on or even slightly on top of the beat; but in the Brazilian stuff I play, I generally want to be behind it a bit. What is going on around me -- ie, how happening the drums and bass are -- have an impact on how I interpret the feel live, for sure.

Original Latin Jazz

CD Baby

 

"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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In college I had a class called Rhythm Studies. I learned some things in that class that I use every time I play. One of them was not to trust your foot to keep time. The thinking is that the delay involved in tapping one's foot can actually throw your time off and that it's better to do something internal like nodding, vocalizing, or even clicking your tongue. I tap my foot from time to time but I don't depend on it to keep me in time.

 

The other important thing I learned there is the difference between a beat and a pulse. If you're listening to a metronome the clicks are the pulses, the time between them is the beat. That distinction made all the difference because it gave me a framework for playing with the beat while keeping the pulse steady.

Instrumentation is meaningless - a song either stands on its own merit, or it requires bells and whistles to cover its lack of adequacy, much less quality. - kanker
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MD, you bring up a good point if we're trying to explain what keeps us in time ... I DO NOT depend on my foot to keep time, I'm saying the tapping happens naturally ... along with whatever dancing, head nodding, or whatever that I might do. The dog is wagging the tail, not the other way around. :) It's definitely internal. In my case I don't know how else to describe it than to say I just feel it in my gut.

Original Latin Jazz

CD Baby

 

"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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Michelle, the gut-feeling is kind of where I'm headed. I'll want my time feel to be absolutely internal, which I have been thinking is steadier and more reliable than any external source - you people seem to support this line of thinking. And until now, this quality has received far too little attention for my part. My previous teacher, or any other teacher I've had, never really brought up that subject, so I was quite shocked to become aware of this, as I did recently.

 

Regarding physical movement, obviously there's something visually pleasing about a 'dancer', in that his/her groovin' with the music is very evident. But I'd actually rather listen to a player who's calm, yet plays as tight as the dancer, if not tighter. My aforementioned previous teacher convinced me that my playing would improve if I could channel the energy that I subconsciously put into moving into my playing, and he was right. I think this feeling also comes from my own pursue of 'calm'. Regardless of what music I play, I want to be in the calm, have a solid grounding and such. Still working on that one, though :cool: in this process of developing an internal sense of time, my teacher actually assigned me to tap my foot on 2 and 4, which I have never done purposely. Monk, I totally get you on the delay thing, but I'm also working very hard on that movement not becoming my time reference - which is the basic point.

When in doubt, superimpose pentatonics.
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I had a friend who was a world-class percussion student (lead player at UMich, which at that time had a percussion section that was ranked among the leading orchestras). I remember her meeting one of the better jazz drummers in town and they hit it off pretty literally, trading tricks just tapping their laps. (They were doing things like fast Swedish triplets, or X against Y where X and Y were about any number you could imagine, stuff like that.) For me, the take-away was how useful it is to work on timing just tapping ones lap, which you can do anywhere without any gear. You might get some odd looks, but I'm used to that. ;-)

 

I agree. I'm an ok drummer, but my mind is much better. I've been tapping out beats, crappily beatboxing and imagining rhythms for as long as I can remember. I think it's helped my time. Chick himself believes drums rudiments are essential for young pianists to develop time, precision and independance.

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Niels, I think regarding external movement, do whatever works for you, but keep the sense of time and pulse internal, since you get the sense that your time is developing in the "gut" direction ... that would be my suggestion. In other words, ideally you'd not be too concerned about whatever body movements you are making and just let that be natural -- but for some players, perhaps developing that internal clock comes through external movement first; I can't vouch for that, since I feel the sense of time was always internal for me from what I can remember. Do you feel the tapping is creating a sense of time which you are trying to hold internally?

 

I've seen players who seem to have almost no extraneous external movement as well as those on the extreme other end of the spectrum. Both kinds of players can be mesemerizing to listen to and masters of time. As long as the music coming out is what you want it to be, it's all good. :)

Original Latin Jazz

CD Baby

 

"I am not certain how original my contribution to music is as I am obviously an amateur." Patti Smith

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Do you feel the tapping is creating a sense of time which you are trying to hold internally?

 

It's the other way around - I seek to maintain an internal pulse, and have been given the task of tapping my foot, keeping a specific LH rhythm, playing a RH scale in a specific rhythm, things that all 'challenge' the pulse, and will ultimately enforce it. I must admit that when I begin this exercise, the tapping doesn't start by itself, but it quickly becomes natural to me.

When in doubt, superimpose pentatonics.
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In college I had a class called Rhythm Studies. I learned some things in that class that I use every time I play. One of them was not to trust your foot to keep time.

Tapping one's foot= bad (for most people). Some teachers still teach it, they shouldn't.

 

When complex music comes up, the toe-tappers are screwed. Hard to tap along to the Rite of Spring. When we did "Symphonic Zeppelin" a few years back, I watched a woman attempt to play the lick in "The Ocean". She couldn't. She was a-tappin' like Fred Astaire, and you can't as it messes everything up.

 

OP: try subdividing. It's the sole reason why classical cats can sight-read Stravinsky and Bartok, everyone is subdividing like mad. Constantly hearing 8th or 16th notes in your head will be very helpful if you play anything that switches meters.

 

 

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But I'd actually rather listen to a player who's calm, yet plays as tight as the dancer, if not tighter. My aforementioned previous teacher convinced me that my playing would improve if I could channel the energy that I subconsciously put into moving into my playing, and he was right. I think this feeling also comes from my own pursue of 'calm'. Regardless of what music I play, I want to be in the calm, have a solid grounding and such.
Good point!

 

I only tap a foot for two reasons. One is when it's not even conscious, the other is when I'm learning a new ryhthm and I haven't really understood / internalized it yet. Like many things we learn, it's a step to where you want to be; not really where you want to need to be.

Chick himself believes drums rudiments are essential for young pianists to develop time, precision and independance.
After all, piano is a percussion instrument!

... the engineer put the two tracks I recorded next to each other in ProTools and said, "you are remarkably consistent." I guess that has good and bad connotations ... but in terms of time
I'd take that as a huge compliment.

Niels, I think regarding external movement, do whatever works for you, but keep the sense of time and pulse internal, since you get the sense that your time is developing in the "gut" direction
I agree. I'd add that it's best to do all sorts of different things in order to get where you're going (internalized sense of time).

 

When it's working, I don't think of time at all, but I know right where the notes need to be. I'm not saying I'm particularly good at it, but everyone has their good moments, and at least I know how it feels when it's working. :-)

 

Niller, I get the sense you're dead on the right track. Keep it up and it'll steadily improve. (As my grandfather used to say, "steady in spurts, like a toad a-walkin'.")

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