Myth: drummer's main role is to keep time

back2drumming

Junior Member
I never understood why people say that. If a band needed to keep time, they could turn on a metronome or wear earbuds with a click track.

A lot of acoustic acts don't use drummers and they keep time just fine. For example, the Indigo Girls.

My opinion is that drummers add the visceral percussive sounds that melodic instruments just can't. They also provide a beat to dance or nod to. They provide a groove. They give a texture that other instruments can't.

And, yes, a drummer has to be on time. But a band or musician doesn't need a drummer to keep time.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Repectfully disagree. I think it's Job#1. Playing/feeling a song at the right tempo, and having even meter are admirable skills that IME most non drummers don't have. Most, not all. But definitely most.
 

Mongrel

Silver Member
I think of it this way....

It is the drummers responsibility to SET the time...it is the rest of the bands responsibility to KEEP IT. (This assumes of course that the drummer has the skills to do it). The drummer establishes and maintains the time and the others follow and keep the time...

Or not....

Sometimes the guitarist sets the time...and then I have to "keep it". Sometimes the vocalist slows the whole band way down (on purpose, in a good way). Sometimes the whole band slows down or speeds up together. Sometimes the bass player drags the tune down... Sometimes March comes in like a lion and goes out like a wildebeast... Lol

Now in the world we live in today...the world on the other side of the "looking glass" it is impossible to know or state anything with certainty. There simply are no longer any rules in life....lol.
 
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toddbishop

Platinum Member
It's true that it's the entire band's job to play good rhythm and hold the tempo. Unfortunately the reality is, whenever someone perceives or imagines the time to be rushing, dragging, or feeling bad, the drummer is the first person they blame. You can't teach them that they are mistaken and that it's a group responsibility. You just have to be the time cop, and force the issue on it. Because if you're not forcing the issue, half of the other players are going to form the opinion that you have time problems, and they'll share that with the group, and with other people. Best to just give up on this issue and embrace it as soon as possible.
 

BruceW

Senior Member
In my opinion, the drummer is keeping time not only for just the band, but for the audience as well. It's job #1. Everything else is nice, and adds considerably, but it has to start with keeping time.
 

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
I go one step further. If you are a drummer and you are keeping time, the band will NOT sound good.

Drummers are not supposed to just "keep" the tempo, we are supposed to "drive" the band. If you are not driving the band, then you might end up having some band members off time. I don't know if I can explain the difference between playing along with the band keeping time and driving the band and keeping time; but most of you know what I mean. And you know the difference when you hear it. If you play like a click track the band will not sound good.

So in my opinion, the drummer's main role is to drive the band; and drive the song. We own the tempo, we are the boss of the song. Ask yourself this question, how come no one in the band can stop the song except the drummer. The song ends only when the drummer stops playing. The bus driver is the only one who can stop the bus.


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tcspears

Gold Member
And, yes, a drummer has to be on time. But a band or musician doesn't need a drummer to keep time.
That's certainly true in most styles of jazz. The drummer is no more responsible for time than the piano player. We're an instrument and worry about interacting with, supporting, and complementing the songs.


From what little rock/pop experience I have, I'd say the rock drummer is much more concerned with groove, or creating a rhythm based on a back-beat... so they sort of are keeping time... not that it is their responsibility alone.


In jazz, we have the freedom to bend time, and play over bar lines, but if you tried that on a rock song you'd probably get some dirty looks.
 

Wave Deckel

Gold Member
Yes and no, I'd say. Although you have some freedom in jazz that you mostly don't have in rock/pop, it is nonetheless the drummers job to keep things together, to keep the time, to steer the band through the song. (Of course, everybody in the band has his responsibility to keep time, but the center of it all is still the drummer, I'd say)

Joe Morello and Peter Erskine said repeatedly: "It's the drummers primary job to keep time." (in the sense of driving the band through the song without accident) And this in any musical genre. I think that they are right. Of course you can bend time here and there in jazz, but in the end, you have to get all group members together again for the "gran finale", otherwise it will be a mess. Unless you are into free jazz - then you want a mess (well, sort of). :)
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
I just heard a very popular, professional drummer also agree and say that it is everyones job to keep time not just the drummer. That why orchestras have conductors to keep everyone alert to the time. Big band leaders also use to have leaders.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXaeNg5ut04
 
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Frank

Gold Member
Ah yes - This topic.

My two cents:

- Nope, it's not the drummer's job to set time. It's the job of whoever starts the song. If the band gives the drummer the start/click for every song, ok.

- Nope, it's not the drummer's job to keep the time. It's every player's responsibility.

#1 cause of a band not sounding tight: not all players in the band being able to stay in good time in a solid groove. Can't tell you how many guitar players I have run into in my journey who can play any lick - but can't play anything complex in good time. Time drops everytime anything gets beyond beginner. There are an Army of those crappy players out there quietly killing the grooves of many bands. Like the kid in the Sixth Sense said: they don't even know they are dead/breaking time.

If you can't play it in good time - don't play it.

Simple, in time trumps complex, out of time - every time.

Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?
Uhbout time?
 

poekoelan

Member
I agree that it is every musician's responsibility to keep good time. So why is it that many people say it's the drummer's job? This is just my opinion, but I think it has to do with the sound of the drums. Think about the bass drum and snare drum. The two main drums of a kit. And the ones that establish the groove. They produce very short, staccato sounds. And these sounds must fall in time every time in order to establish the groove. Now, I don't think that keeping good time is only the drummer's job. Everyone should be able to keep good time. But keeping the groove is the drummer's job. And it's impossible to keep a good groove without good time. So maybe that's why people say that it's the drummer's job to keep time?
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
And, yes, a drummer has to be on time. But a band or musician doesn't need a drummer to keep time.
Per the topic, Myth: drummer's main role is to keep time, I think that if you ask the question "what is the primary responsibility of a drummer?" you'll get the answer that your topic alludes to. I know what you were getting at, but as written, the sentence in your topic is not a myth. It is in fact the drummer's main role to keep time.

Now, if the topic read "Myth: drummer's the only one responsible to keep time", that's a different concept and I would agree that it's a myth. Staying together - meaning, staying with the drummer - is everyone's responsibility.

Bermuda
 

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
Per the topic, Myth: drummer's main role is to keep time, I think that if you ask the question "what is the primary responsibility of a drummer?" you'll get the answer that your topic alludes to. I know what you were getting at, but as written, the sentence in your topic is not a myth. It is in fact the drummer's main role to keep time.

Now, if the topic read "Myth: drummer's the only one responsible to keep time", that's a different concept and I would agree that it's a myth. Staying together - meaning, staying with the drummer - is everyone's responsibility.

Bermuda
Now I'm confused........

I hope I don't get confused about what I am supposed to be doing the next time I play with the band. LOL


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drumdevil9

Platinum Member
My job is just to keep time? Great I'll bring a metal pipe next time and just bang on that.

I think the OP conceded in his post that it was important to keep good time but that our other very important role is to bring a percussive element to the music. What we do is compliment the music and give it texture by using different surfaces, in time of course. This is true whether we play simply or very complex. So our main role is to do all that and do it in time.

As for whose job in the band it is, it's everyone's responsibility. If some in the band don't have good time then the drummer might have to be more dictatorial but that's not ideal. I've played with people who can't count to 4 and it's no fun. I want to play together not be a damn metronome.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
My job is just to keep time? Great I'll bring a metal pipe next time and just bang on that.
No, your primary responsibility as a drummer is to keep time. Your job as a drummer includes much more.
 

Captain Bash

Silver Member
The main job of a drummer is time keeping. but there is a vast continuum of ways the time is relayed to the other musicans.

Let's spin this on it's head, it's actually very hard for a human to not play a rhythm on a drum set and thereby play some form of time. Have ever tried to play 5 mins of non repeating playing on a set - it's very hard indeed. Or try to play a beat with sections that are deliberately wrong.
 

Chollyred

Senior Member
My job is just to keep time? Great I'll bring a metal pipe next time and just bang on that.
MORE COWBELL!!!

No, your primary responsibility as a drummer is to keep time. Your job as a drummer includes much more.
Agree with Jon (but who could ever disagree? :) ). First responsibility is to be the metronome. Once the basic timing is in control, then the drummer can embellish the music when ever/where ever it fits. It IS the responsibility of all of the musicians to keep the time as well as possible, and drums are not always necessary. I used to play guitar with a bluegrass group. No drums allowed. But in bluegrass, most of the guitar and bass parts are a boom-chick rhythm that takes the place of drums.

I recently played with a group where there would be a lot of solo vocal/guitar sections in the music (contemporary worship) where the tempo would change drastically from the rest of the song. My job as the drummer was to get everybody back to the same (correct) tempo when everybody came back in. Sometimes just a bar of 4 on the floor so we're all on the same page.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Looks like Back2drumming went back to drumming.

I was gonna ask, if time isn't the main role, what precisely is the main role, since there seems to be a main role of some kind.

But I think our friend got the hell outta Dodge.
 
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