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What's the best way to tell a drummer he needs to work on his time?


Graham English

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My drummer's time is weak. He's an amazing musician, very creative and extremely passionate. But he can't count off a tune in the proper time and speeds up whenever he gets excited. Then when the gig's over, he likes to say that we weren't tight because we weren't listening to each other. But everybody else knows that what we were listening to wasn't solid.

I don't want to hurt his feelings or put him on the defensive. I just want solid time. How would a drummer prefer to hear criticism about his time?

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Oh, I thought it was a set up line for a joke...

 

Give him a drum machine for his birthday...no? I dunno...playing to a click seems like it would help here. I have heard of drummers playing to a click in headphones.

 

How to put it to him? Well, a good way without singling anyone out is to make it like it's the band's fault as a whole...you know...blame it on another member(s) to the drummer..."The bass player's rushing, and I think we're all speeding up to keep up with him. Maybe if you used a click that would keep the tempo consistent all the time"...

 

An old drummer of ours had a problem with dragging on occasion. I'd just say outright..."That dragged a bit last time we played it, let's pick it up a notch". Helps to have some cues too...like the ol' rotating hand to "pick it up" or a lowered palm for either bring the dynamic down or slow down.

"Cisco Kid, was a friend of mine"
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Hey, Transrational:

 

This can be a very sticky situation. Your course of action should be dictated by the drummers attitude and personality. If this guy wears a chip on his shoulder, you may ignite a powder-keg!

 

I would suggest a universal approach. By a rhythm watch or other type of metronome. Suggest that the entire band needs to improve their timing skills. Use the metronome to start the song and I suggest one with a tempo light that blinks the tempo. Place the metronome so that everyone can watch the light against the time of the song. This will not only improve the drummers timing (which will solve your problem), but will improve *everyone's* timing, thus producing a better band of musicians!

 

Hope this helps.

 

DJ

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Thanks for your replies. Good advice.

Lately, I've been setting up a simple drum pattern on my keyboard's sequencer and we've been playing to that. It makes a huge difference during practice and I hope it'll carry over to our gigs.

I think you're right about a "universal approach." I don't like the idea of singling him out and putting him on the defensive. And the rest of the guys are willing to use this as an oppurtunity to improve their own time. Great ideas. Thanks http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/biggrin.gif

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Hey, Great!

Glad we may have helped.

Please let us know how it goes!

Advise is only good if it is applied and schtuff is learned.

Your feedback to the results of efforts with this situation may prove valuable to the next person looking for like advice.

Thanks,

DJ

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You know somethin'...

 

It's everyone's job to keep the time, not just the drummer's.

Why isn't the bass player keep it down solid? If the band is happenin', you shouldn't even have these issues. The drummer is the main timekeeper, but if all of you are keeping time, it makes a *HUGE* difference, than if everyone's head goes numb. Make sure the drummer can feel the bassist's notes, and not just hear it.

 

If this isn't possible, suggest playing with a click with the drummer wearing headphones during practice.

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I hear ya when you say time is eveybody's responsibility. But when a drummer speeds up and slows down, it's difficult to keep your groove. The bass player is keeping it super-solid. But you're only as strong as your weakest link. If the 3/4 of the band plays in good time and 1/4 plays out of time, what do you have?

 

Shouldn't shmouldn't. http://cwm.ragesofsanity.com/otn/other/jpshakehead.gif

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I've heard some drummers say that if you want to really tighten up your groove, you should have your left foot going on the high hat, or at least moving your heel up and down, at all times. Not being a drummer, I don't know if this really helps or not, but it seems like having something going all the time, like an internal metronome, would keep your drummer from speeding up too drastically during his fills or any "exiting" parts. At least it would be more noticable to him when he does it.
~clockwirk~
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Here's something that I have done with my which really seems to work. The setting is different (teacher vs. student), but the concept is the same.

 

Try recording your gigs, listen back and make notes of sections where you can clearly hear your drummer rushing or dragging.

 

Schedule a private meeting with your drummer; invite him over to the house for dinner or something. Sit down with him and discuss your concerns. Start out by letting him know that you appreciate him/her and what they bring to the table. Let him know that you have something that you would like to hear and get his/her thoughts on. Listen to the areas that you have found that clearly demonstrate a problem drum-wise. Don't say anything and just ask him what he thinks about what he heard. If he doesn't hear what you are hearing ... you are very probably out of luck. All the words in the world will not help him hear the timing issues he may have. If he does hear them, chances are he will want to fix them far more than your words could ever encourage him to do so.

 

Now ... in the drummer's defense. I've played in MANY bands where they use the drummer as a scape-goat. Everyone in the band had bad time ... and wanted to blame me ... the drummer. So I did the reverse. I recorded the band, and let them hear it. I would also play to a click so that when they felt like pointing their accusing finger my way, I would just point to the metronome. Seeing me nail the groove with that flashing light would usually shut them up pretty quick ... but not always. I've had it get pretty ugly and nasty ... all because of the time.

 

So, before we start beating up on the drummer, let's make sure everyone else can play in time as well. Run the metronome through the P.A. during practice and have each player perform his/her part with the click going. You'll see very quickly who is on and who isn't.

 

The drummers main job is to make the music feel good. Keeping a steady tempo is one of the ingredients to making the music feel good. It's hard to make the music feel good when several other players are rushing like there is no tomorrow. The drummer feels like he's got a team of wild horses by the reins ... eventually giving in to the (rushing) tempo offenders.

 

With all this said ... love one another by treating everyone in the band the way YOU would want to be treated. Tempo discussion doesn't have to lead to band break-ups or brawls.

 

 

 

------------------

Bart Elliott

http://bartelliott.com

Drummer Cafe - community drum & percussion forum
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Ok, now that I'm off my soapbox... http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/smile.gif

 

Got an idea. Good ideas mentioned. However, if you don't want confrontation, there is a way of sneaking in the solution. If the problem exists more so on certain songs...maybe add sequenced percussion. It is easier to follow than just a click track. Something simple, like a tambourine part (eighths with accents on two and four, a shaker part, etc). Something that will force him to lock in with it. If you can. run it through the PA and headphones. Sometimes its difficult to lock in to just a PA, especially if you he doesn't have his own monitor. Don't expect instant success with a click, cos some people don't take to it immediately. Patience will be needed. But between all of this, hopefully you will have a solution.

 

If you do have a talk with him, the thing I tell the high school drummers that I teach, is to subdivide the tempo either into eights or sixteenths (depending on how slow the tempo is.) If it is a ballad, think 1-e-and-uh 2-e-and-uh. 1-and-2-and for the upbeat stuff. It works wonders, cos they're "filling in the holes" where they stand a chance of speeding up/slowing down with counting.

 

Good luck.

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maybe start a new feel in your band- "the motion of the ocean" and go with it...if you guys were really good at it you could turn all your 4/4 tunes into waltzes LOL-just having a little fun here...nothing personal. I think we have all been confronted with this problem before.

 

I don't think it is a great idea to pound out the down beat all the time with the foot on the hat or get used to following it...if you try to follow a cat that is into linear playing you guys would be all screwed up.

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Thanks for all of your great ideas! I've already started implementing the click track. Like Cymbals said, we use a subdivided beat to lock us in to the groove and it really helps. He has no trouble playing to the click. I think the main problem is speeding up during fills and when he gets excited. Which is where Bartman's great idea of recording gigs comes in. I'm sure that will be an eye opener for many other issues as well. Thanks so much for all of your help http://cwm.ragesofsanity.com/otn/happy/clock.gif
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The other thing to remember is that perfect time kinda sucks. It doesn't feel human, and it doesn't "breathe" with the music. Nothing wrong with practicing to a click but don't get too caught up in the idea of having perfect time. If the rushing or dragging is really extreme, that's one thing, but a little fluctuation here or there doesn't hurt anything. That mentality is an unfortunate product of the drum machine era. http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/mad.gif

 

--Lee

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sounds like you've already recieved advice along the lines I would offer [recording w/click,using supplemental timekeepers(machine OR human)]but I would make this further suggestion (especially for new visitors looking for solutions to this problem): negative criticism can really cause problems for some people [see that topic elsewhere] & EVERYONE feels better when they discover things themselves, so I suggest that you introduce clicks,etc., with the statement that they're to help everyone in the ensemble, to allow for overdubs, editing,etc., & let the offending players hear the problems themselves. Not to sound too "touchy-feely" http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/eek.gif but personal interactions will run more smoothly, believe me !Also, don't discount the advice offered to allow the music to "breathe".

 

------------------

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I don't think were talking about the time moving a bit. We are all human and don't have "perfect" time.

 

But if the entire band is noticing the drummer rushing or dragging, then there is a problem, even if the time moves a little bit. Why you may ask; because the rest of the band is obviously not feeling the time where the drummer is placing it. Pushing or pulling the time is part of being human, but the entire band needs to be feeling this together. This is when it's a "natural" movement of the fixed tempo. If one person is "rushing" or "dragging" a bit, and the rest of the band isn't following or feeling the music in that manner, there is a BIG problem. I think that's what we were addressing here. The entire band was feeling the time move and wasn't comfortable with it.

 

Also, let's be sure that we don't use the "human feel" as an excuse for poor time keeping. The argument goes both ways! B-)

 

 

 

------------------

Bart Elliott

http://bartelliott.com

Drummer Cafe - community drum & percussion forum
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If one person is "rushing" or "dragging" a bit, and the rest of the band isn't following or feeling the music in that manner, there is a BIG problem.

 

yep...but this is a drummer forum so the drummer's always right http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/wink.gif.

 

I think more often than not the drummer is blamed for the fact that other players can't adapt to different feels and grooves. ESPECIALLY when the writer/guitar player/keyboardist plays with a drum machine a lot...it's not always right to expect the drummer to play like your toys.

 

I have to admit there was a time when I fell into the trap of wanting drummers to play exactly like my sequences...I'm happy to say I've grown out of that.

 

But back to the other side I go...my brother benefitted greatly from drum machine emulation...a drummer has to trust his own feel but machines help sometimes.

 

OK, now that I've said all that without committing to anything http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/biggrin.gif...

 

If you just record your rehearsals and the drummer listens to them he'll probably hear where he needs to improve.

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Here's a not so secret trick that really tests the ol' internal clocka rino.

 

If u have programmable drum machine...program the click in for 4 bars/beats whatever and then have it go out for that long, you know silence, and then see where you are when it loops back it. lots of fun...when u are really good, program the silence for longer. Talk about learning how to feel the pulski.

 

Uh, I don't do this as much as I should, in fact I havn't really been practicing to a click lately. I guess I should start again. I'm into this

"elastic" time thing when I play my piano and I have rushed and dragged purposely with my band for shits and giggles before. They find it funny for awhile but don't like me to do it when people are watching LOL. I guess I'm off the point again...sorry.

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Billy Ward addresses this very issue in this month's (June) Modern Drummer Magazine ("Learning To Groove 3", pg. 144). He mentions "The Beat Bug", a device that "sits on your snare drum and measures the time between backbeats. It allows you to check your time while you're playing a song." Sounds like an interesting tool.

 

Alan

 

www.4hiddenagenda.com

Houston, Texas

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Originally posted by Steve LeBlanc:

But this is a drummer forum so the drummer's always right http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/wink.gif.

 

Actually, you are more correct than you might think Steve! LOL

 

My philosophy has always been that the drummer is always right. This isn't an arrogant attitude but one of confidence.

 

99% of the time, the drummer is the one who is playing all the divisions of the beat (e.g. hi-hat, etc.). This being the case, it only makes since that the other musicians in the band line up with what the drummer is doing. Someone has to lead and give direction to the music. For me, whomever is playing the most consistant subdivisions in the rhythm section takes on the role of "leader". Most of the time it's the drummer, sometimes the bass player, sometimes it's a team effort.

 

Most musicians enjoy being able to rely on the drummer for time so that they are free to play the music, as opposed to trying to keep the time happening. It's everyone's responsibility to have good time, but it's the drummer's job to make the music feel good. Sorry to say that music that changes tempo in every other bar just doesn't seem to feel good to me. Obviously I'm not talking about music that is to be "expressivo" such as a classical piece or a "rubato" piano accompaniment; you all know what I'm referring to.

 

One thing that I always mention in my clinics is that a good drummer will take on a leadership role. The groove, feel, fills, tempo, dynamics, etc., are all ingredients used to drive the song. If the drummer doesn't give direction by what he/she plays, the song will just sit there and not go anywhere. The rest of the band needs the drummer to direct the song, giving meaning and purpose to the phrases; connecting all of the sections in the song so that they have purpose and meaning.

 

The analogy I use is that of a bus. The drummer is the bus driver and the song and band is the bus. You can communicate to the bus driver where you want to go or where you want him to take you; but he is the one driving the bus. I'll continue with this analogy on another thread sometime; I personally think there is a lot there to think about.

 

The other instruments in the band can try as the may to speed the song up or slow it down ... but unless the drummer changes it will never happen. There's something about the drums that is very dominant. The air that it moves, the snap of it's sound, the volume it can express; it's all what gives the drummer the right AND responsibility of sitting in the driver's seat.

 

So somebody has to lead; someone has to drive the bus. If the drummer rushes or drags ... it still comes down to the fact that during the performance, the drummer is always right. Unless it's one of those times when the vocalist forgets the words and drops complete sections of the song, and everyone freaks out and there's total chaos. In this case, the vocalist gets to be the leader ... only because the band freaked out and didn't maintain ... scrabbling around to figure out where the vocalist went! LOL

 

If you have a problem with the drummer really rushing or really dragging all the time ... you need to point it out, get them to work on it and to try to do better. But during the performance is NOT the time to bring correction or try to push the drummer out of the driver's seat. No one suggested that however; I'm just making a point.

 

One of my favorite quotes:

Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way!

 

------------------

Bart Elliott

http://bartelliott.com

 

This message has been edited by Bartman on 05-14-2001 at 10:48 PM

Drummer Cafe - community drum & percussion forum
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