Playing to records

Duck Tape

Platinum Member
This is a bit of a time feel discussion, providing someone replies.


I was practicing yesterday, and it felt like a good day, I started off just playing on my own, creating my own time, I think I was sounding consistent, sounding good, very little rushing or dragging and some solid grooving. If someone had been listening I think they would have been impressed. I then did a little playing with the click, again, I was nailing it. Not bragging (because I have my shitty days too), just setting the scene.

I decided to put some music on for playalongs, do a bit of a refresher practice session for my cover band work, go over a few songs that I haven't played for a while.

It wasn't long before I caught myself sounding sloppy, each dodgy note was a crushing blow to my pumped up ego. I restarted songs just so I could have another chance at nailing them, but some things just weren't improving. How did I go downhill so quickly?

I was a mere mortal once again, and then something occurred to me.. To put it bluntly - Maybe the records had shitty timing and it wasn't actually me going out of time?

Rather, little nuances in timing have been recorded and imprinted on my mind and where I once trusted their accuracy, something has changed and I am now able to detect hiccups in recordings that I didn't before. Especially with things like crash accents, coming back in after a pause. Especially with some 90's music, think pearl jam, faith no more, fairly raw stuff.

This could very easily come off arrogant, so give me the benefit of the doubt.

But I feel like my sense of time has improved with all the practicing and playing I've been doing.. I am able to hear at a higher resolution.

I told 2 of my band mates this, one laughed a little bit, the other said something sarcastic, but then they are guitarists. But realizing this about myself has given me the confidence to trust myself over a recording. This is important because there are songs I felt I could never nail because of my own shortcomings but I now realize it's not completely my fault. It actually makes me not want to play along with certain music because I know I can't nail them perfectly and may even pick up bad habits.

So that's pretty much it, an epiphany of sorts. I can stop beating myself up a little bit now. Before anyone cuts me to pieces for wanting to sound "perfect", that's just what I enjoy, I like accurate sounding drumming.


"Uncle Larry"
You can check your theory by putting the songs you play along with to a metronome. That will tell you if you are truly listening at a higher resolution (I like what you did there) or if you are a little full of yourself. Sometimes it's hard to know which is at play.

My money is on the former. Click it out and let us know. And don't lie, because we'll know lol. Bernhard has spies everywhere. If you downloaded the mobile app, your own phone is doing the spying :)

New Tricks

Platinum Member
Maybe the records had shitty timing and it wasn't actually me going out of time?
There is no question that most (older) recordings aren't perfectly in tempo. Some will waver up to 10BPM.

But, you would need a damn good ear to hear it without something like a click for a reference.

Maybe you are just that good?

I will say that nothing analog will even near be perfect. At the very best, the tape will have been spliced at the choruses, bridges etc and there will be a slight deviation. Even 90's stuff that was digital isn't necessarily in tempo. "Newer" pop stuff will be spot on.


Platinum Member
Most of the music I love was not recorded to a click. Playing along to it is more an exorcise in careful listening than it is playing good time. You really have to either know the song inside/out and backwards so that your body feels the time flucs or you have to listen to the music extremely carefully and follow the time as it moves. You're correct, the 90's was a sort of golden era that had a lot of "real" music which was not slaved to clicks and was played with the purest most raw energy. No beat detective, no autotune, few producers worried about getting "perfect" takes with no mistakes over those golden moments of energy...

In short, you're right. Once your time is really good, you're much more likely to "feel" time issues with your body that you might not even actively realize you're feeling.


Platinum Member
To put it bluntly - Maybe the records had shitty timing and it wasn't actually me going out of time?
Almost certainly. As you improve your "internal clock" by playing with clicks and quantized material, then your ability to perceive even minor fluctuations in tempo improves as well. Your guitarist friends probably don't believe this is the case, because they themselves have not done tons of metronome training (yet?).

Many 90s alternative rock records were recorded without clicks, live in the studio with minimal overdubs. If a click was used, it was often used only through the first minute or so, then muted so the band could finish the track without it.


Platinum Member
Well plenty of songs change tempos too-so you have to know the song well and be on your feet for the changes. Some songs need perfect time others would likely sound odd with it. Lots of polyrhythms and polymeter in jazz that has more feel and then there are those extemporaneous solos-you just all have to know where to come in. I doubt much of the general population has perfect time so most might not notice? Then too live music is interactive to it's easy for the band to be drawn into an audiences excitement and increase the tempo a bit to get em rockin' or go off on a tangent a bit to play with the audience's mood-I love that.


Platinum Member
This may be hard to grasp for young'ins, but:

Time is a dynamic variable that used to change in songs, like volume and intensity. Writers/conductors/performers used to (intentionally) swell and diminish the timing for artistic effect.

While metronomes certainly existed, it wasn't till computerized DAWs came about that we entered into this period of static mono-dimensional time, grids, and quantization in songs.

If I had to pick a pop-culture-first-time I heard modern timekeeping, it would be "Heart of glass" by Blondie, with a nod to "Tomorrow never knows".
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Platinum Member
One of the drumming greats, cant remember his name, stated that time in music is elastic, and I agree. Its the little micro timing changes, playing before or after the beat, and speeding up very slightly that makes music exciting.

Some click heavy songs seem to drag to me but then I am a luddite. If it feels good it is good.

It could also be that you are so used to hearing a nice clear click that when you play to recorded music, with no click, you are thrown by the rest of the recording.


Platinum Member
Duck, I've seen some of the stuff you've posted, and you are clearly a very good drummer.

I'm starting with that, because the rest of what I am about to say would otherwise look nasty, which is not my intention.

Here's what I think is happening....

You aren't playing with the record. You're playing at the same time as the record. That means that if you happen to waver by 2bpm in one direction, while the record moves in 2 bpm in the opposite direction, you'll be out by (ta dahhh!!!!) 4 bpm.

Good as you are, I would be very surprised if your internal metronome is accurate to more than the 1.7% that is 2bpm in a 120bpm piece of music.

When you're playing with a band, part of your (the drummer's) responsibility is to keep tabs on the tempo. When you're playing with a recording, the focus needs to be on taking timing cues from the record.

Or, if that doesn't work for you, don't play along with the recording.

This is all 'what I think' stuff, and I'm very happy to eat a large helping of humble pie.

With ice cream, please.

Anon La Ply

Charlie Watts said that he can't play along with records. Just can't get into it, I guess. He can clearly play with other musicians, though.


Silver Member
I play to my local public (WYEP) radio station often. They tend to play a lot of newer (pre-mainstream) music. Many times I can keep up with the song even only hearing it the first or second time. I think most of those songs have somewhat of an electronic production either in the original production or mastering.

Now other times it will take me several attempts to get a good feel for a song. I believe those songs come with a soul. Sometimes it's hard to decipher another drummers grove but givin time and enough listens I normally get pretty close.

On song in particular I have difficulty with is Florence + The Machine - Delilah. To listen to it, it doesn't seem hard to play but somewhere in the middle I tend to get off beat. I think it's because there is more than one drummer.


Platinum Member
It depends on what music you're using as a reference. Judging by the groups you mention, I'd guess a big part of it is you've developed a more acute sensitivity to tempo and beat placement.

Pearl Jam and other 90s grunge-style music generally has pretty elastic time. It won't line up perfectly with a grid. I didn't notice the time moving around so much when the music came out 25 years ago, because I wasn't using a metronome all the time. But I hear all kinds of looseness in that music when I hear it today. My ear for that kind of stuff is much, much more developed now, thanks to countless hours spent playing along with a click. Yours probably is, too.

Duck Tape

Platinum Member
Thanks! I'll try to address everyone without getting all quotey.

Yes the music definitely was elastic, there were dynamic changes and tempo changes. I can handle a tempo change but it's virtually impossible to pick up tempo changes within 1 beat, and there are plenty of 90's Rock recordings where there are dud notes (off time) that you just can't catch if you're traveling in the trajectory of an even tempo. Easy by faith no more for example - no disrespect to their drummer but if you really try to nail that song you will hear yourself clashing with the drums on the recording, those hihat chokes are kinda clunky. And pearl jam - alive.. Actually s very good drum part but there are a few loose notes here and there.

People are saying modern music is the only note perfect stuff but I cut my teeth playing to Michael Jackson, David Bowie, George Michael and toto (tgis is mostly 80's stuff) and all of those artists had awesome studio drummers who could play to a click and sound fantastic.

The point that I'm trying to drive home is that I have realized it's not always my fault if I sound a bit off playing to a recording, and there have been songs over the years that I've tried to play to over and over and it's a bit like banging your head against the wall. I guess I agree to disagree with some drummers on my favourite playalong songs because I may never sound too much like them, which is good.


Silver Member
In a parallel to playing with records, I get frustrated with my guitar player uses his looper pedal. He never quite nails the timing with it and it fluctuates just enough that my playing will drift away from the loop timing.

I have zero issues staying on time to a click track nor do I have any problems playing with a band. It's when there's small errors in timing that really throws me off. I find that if I focus on the instruments rather than the drummer on records things go smoother and I'm at my best when I know the track by heart.

Fun fact: Dave Grohl tracked most of Nevermind without a metronome, except for Lithium. They were having issues with the track speeding up and losing the grooving feel. So a click track was used and despite having never used a metronome Dave played perfectly with the click.