Playing “around” the beat

Flaflaflafla

Junior Member
Not sure if this is the correct term, but I’ve heard drummers talk about playing at the rising or falling edge of the beat. I don’t mean constantly pushing the beat ala Copeland or laying back like Cissy Strut (or distorting the beat like J Dilla). You can clearly hear it in those cases. I’m talking about something more subtle that’s maybe done at points within a song. Is it useful? What does it feel like? Can a listener really sense this or is it just an imaginary conceit of a drummer?
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
What you're referring to is subtle but palpable. It requires masterful timing and feel. Playing around the beat, either just in front of it or just behind it, doesn't involve tempo changes at all. It's a matter of splitting hairs with notes. To do it well, you have to be off and on simultaneously, if that makes sense.

Willie Nelson does this with expert application in his vocal parts. He'll sing a tad in front of or behind the beat, then synchronize himself with it unerringly, all the while making the maneuver seem as natural as breathing, introducing no disruption to the music at all. Character abounds as a result.

Funk drummers employ this method quite a bit. It adds a rhythmic edge to the music. The sensation is similar to pulling yourself back right before you fall off a cliff, regaining your footing as though nothing amiss took place. The effect contributes a lot of spice.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
I can't be thinking about that stuff. I'm just trying to be on the same page as everyone else, and play good time. People put their time in slightly different places, and how the audience perceives the total effect, I don't know. It's not really in my control.
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
I can't be thinking about that stuff. I'm just trying to be on the same page as everyone else, and play good time. People put their time in slightly different places, and how the audience perceives the total effect, I don't know. It's not really in my control.
Nothing wrong with your philosophy. The whole "around the beat" approach is more stylistic than necessary. Also, it should be used sparingly, mostly as a means of adding verve to parts of piece. It loses its impact when it becomes monotonous.
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
It relies on the other players being very solid and independent with their time, or else there's nothing to play ahead of/behind. If I do anything like that, it's instinctive, not thought out.
Absolutely. I can't see it working without instinct -- or without a solid lineup of players.
 

GOOSE72

Well-known member
It relies on the other players being very solid and independent with their time, or else there's nothing to play ahead of/behind. If I do anything like that, it's instinctive, not thought out.
Mr. Bishop how would you define other players being independent with their time? And you said if you do anything like that, it's instinctive can you explain instinctive? The reason why I ask is other forum members are so wound up they are taking a metronome for a walk. Thank you Mr. Bishop.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Thanks for the questions-- by independent I mean they have their own idea about where the time is, and will not be messed up by me playing around with it. I can't play "behind the beat" if the bass player slows down with me, because he thinks that's where I want to put the time.

By instinctive, I mean that I'm following my ears-- my actual ears to tell me what the other players are doing, and my musical ear that tells me what's going to sound good. That means I may be playing behind or ahead of the beat sometimes, but I'm not going to try to analyze it.
 

dboomer

Senior Member
Can a listener really sense this or is it just an imaginary conceit of a drummer?
Interesting fact to throw in here The difference in timing is depends on where you are standing. Let’s just consider the drums and bass. If a listener is on the bass player’s side of the stage and drums and bass were absolutely locked, that listener would hear the drums as late as it takes aprox 1ms/foot for sound to travel. So if that listener is 10 feet closer to the bass player than to the drummer He will hear the bass 10ms sooner than the drums. Likewise if he is over on the other side of the stage and closer to the drums by 10 feet, he will hear the drums first.. Both listeners will hear the exact same music differently.

10ms will give you a flamming effect. If the difference was 25 feet you would hear two distinct beats out of time with each other.
 

Push pull stroke

Platinum Member
Interesting fact to throw in here The difference in timing is depends on where you are standing. Let’s just consider the drums and bass. If a listener is on the bass player’s side of the stage and drums and bass were absolutely locked, that listener would hear the drums as late as it takes aprox 1ms/foot for sound to travel. So if that listener is 10 feet closer to the bass player than to the drummer He will hear the bass 10ms sooner than the drums. Likewise if he is over on the other side of the stage and closer to the drums by 10 feet, he will hear the drums first.. Both listeners will hear the exact same music differently.

10ms will give you a flamming effect. If the difference was 25 feet you would hear two distinct beats out of time with each other.
And this is often a problem in orchestras and ESPECIALLY marching bands.
 

GOOSE72

Well-known member
Thanks for the questions-- by independent I mean they have their own idea about where the time is, and will not be messed up by me playing around with it. I can't play "behind the beat" if the bass player slows down with me, because he thinks that's where I want to put the time.

By instinctive, I mean that I'm following my ears-- my actual ears to tell me what the other players are doing, and my musical ear that tells me what's going to sound good. That means I may be playing behind or ahead of the beat sometimes, but I'm not going to try to analyze it.
They have their own idea about where the time is. You are following your ears. How would you explain that to a new student who takes a metronome on a walk thinking it makes his skill better as a drummer?
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
They have their own idea about where the time is. You are following your ears. How would you explain that to a new student who takes a metronome on a walk thinking it makes his skill better as a drummer?
I should have said I'm also following my own idea of where the time is. But people have to try things out and see what works for them. There's no harm in that.
 

GOOSE72

Well-known member
I should have said I'm also following my own idea of where the time is. But people have to try things out and see what works for them. There's no harm in that.

Mr. Bishop if you were my instructor and I came in and sat down on the drums and said I have my own idea of where the time is. Then I would play a little. How do you think that would go?
 

wraub

Well-known member
I am a big fan of playing around, through, over, etc with the beat...

As a bass player, finding the right drummer who was on the same wave was like finding the gold at the end of the rainbow...
Now, as a drummer, I'm finding the opposite side, and realizing why it can be a hard thing for a drummer to approach.

Much like with some music where melodic contrast is extreme but bolstered by a tonic center to play with/against, I'm finding that rhythmic contrast requires a "beat" center to play with/against , and, I imagine that, as so many musicians look to the drummer to be "the one", finding players who know "one" without needing a drum beat, and can feel it together, can be like looking for a red-headed stepchild with hen's teeth handing out bananas in a mining town. I know it was a struggle as a bass player. Not every player can actually count, or even count with a group. They may just have a guitar. ;)

I also find that bands that can walk the balance of melodic contrast and rhythmic contrast musically are as rare as having three winning lottery tickets in an afternoon.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Mr. Bishop if you were my instructor and I came in and sat down on the drums and said I have my own idea of where the time is. Then I would play a little. How do you think that would go?
I think it would go fine. Better than if you were clueless about where the time is.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Here's another POV.

What works for me is, no matter how anyone else perceives it, in my head, my time is dead center. That allows the other players and especially the vocalist, to push the feel, play ahead or behind a tad, as I am the known quantity, the constant. I feel they are depending on me to just hold it there and be the beat, which to me means dead center. I'm not ahead or behind anything. They can be ahead or behind me if they so choose. If I think in my head, play on top, or behind...I push the whole band into a new feel. That's what makes sense to me.

This discussion has been done in the past and I never reconciled it. What I do works for me, so I'm stickin with it.

I do flam the snare beat behind a tad, on purpose...in certain songs, to create a fatter perceived back beat. Usually accompanied by a 4 on the floor kick pattern. But if I played a tad behind with all my limbs, the tempo would drag a bit, so I flam the snare and in my mind I am playing behind the beat....with the snare only. I don't know if that is the true definition of playing behind the beat. If it is, then I have reconciled it.
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
Here's another POV.

What works for me is, no matter how anyone else perceives it, in my head, my time is dead center. That allows the other players and especially the vocalist, to push the feel, play ahead or behind a tad, as I am the known quantity, the constant. I feel they are depending on me to just hold it there and be the beat, which to me means dead center. I'm not ahead or behind anything. They can be ahead or behind me if they so choose. If I think in my head, play on top, or behind...I push the whole band into a new feel. That's what makes sense to me.

This discussion has been done in the past and I never reconciled it. What I do works for me, so I'm stickin with it.

I do flam the snare beat behind a tad, on purpose...in certain songs, to create a fatter perceived back beat. Usually accompanied by a 4 on the floor kick pattern. But if I played a tad behind with all my limbs, the tempo would drag a bit, so I flam the snare and in my mind I am playing behind the beat....with the snare only. I don't know if that is the true definition of playing behind the beat. If it is, then I have reconciled it.
Reconciliation would probably be only a ceremonial gesture, as there's no fixed description that suits this phenomenon. My first response to the OP is pretty abstract, as the topic tends to resist concrete discussion. It's more of a phantom than a fact. It conforms to meter but at the same time defies it. It's a contradiction that works, if that makes sense.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
It' not something to be taught and practiced. It's more of an innate reaction than an acquired skill.
That's not how I see it at all. If we're talking about the same thing. Keeping time is innate to the extent that all(?) normally-abled humans can do things like walking in rhythm-- time as a musical skill is different from that, and musical time with basically metronome-like consistency is another thing still. That can be learned and practiced. I'm not sure it's even a skill, I think it's an orientation. I linked to some comments on it in another post recently.
 

C.M. Jones

Well-known member
That's not how I see it at all. If we're talking about the same thing. Keeping time is innate to the extent that all(?) normally-abled humans can do things like walking in rhythm-- time as a musical skill is different from that, and musical time with basically metronome-like consistency is another thing still. That can be learned and practiced. I'm not sure it's even a skill, I think it's an orientation. I linked to some comments on it in another post recently.
Oh, sure. I see the distinction you're making. Metronomic time is certainly a virtue to be nurtured, though some individuals are more naturally oriented toward it than others. And yes, keeping time musically can, and should, be practiced systematically, even when it becomes so second nature as to seem reflexive. I was referring specifically to the whole "playing around the beat" topic, which, as you stated previously, "If I do anything like that, it's instinctive, not thought out." I agree with that statement. That's always been my approach toward the phenomenon.
 
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