Playing “around” the beat


Senior 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.
Willie seems to this quite a bit with his guitar work as well.


Senior Member
Videos of me playing reveal I sometimes play ever so slightly behind the beat on the snare ie… 2 & 4 and it bothers the heck out of me. The tempo is ok but I'm trying to just think on top of the beat or push it for the left hand. I can't really think about playing around with the beat. I've got enough problems as it is.

60's Drummer

Senior Member
And this is often a problem in orchestras and ESPECIALLY marching bands.
Oh so true! Listen to Mr. Bill:

My very last gig as a "professional" was with Glen Campbell (member of the Wrecking Crew). We were in this HUGE room at the Cowboy Hall of Fame here in OKC for the Prix de West Art Awards. Glen was the only musician on stage - us hired guns were on the floor way off to the side. He walked over to where I was set-up, looked in the distance to where the spot light was shining on his mic, clapped his hands once and listened, then casually told me - just play ahead of me all nite and we'll be fine.

But all this is different from the micro-timings of the OP. When I started recording, there were no click traks (we didn't even have monitors on stage). Later when everything went digital and you could visually see how you were lining up with the beat - I discovered that depending on the tune - not only would I be ahead or behind other band members(and the beat) I played parts of the kit ahead or behind other parts of the kit. Not the same for every song - sometimes the snare ahead of the bd, sometimes the hi-hat ahead of both snare & bd. And it was all acceptable!!! It was called "feel". ProTools beat alignment ruined the flavor that every musician brought to the table ... in my opinion.


Well-known member
Lately, I've been using a metronome for counterpoint and shifting the beat around with that as the rhythmic center... It's nice to have the "one" there sometimes, just in case.

Rock Salad

Junior Member
For me, at this point, ahead and behind the beat is something to notice in other players. Because if I don't notice and just play along, it turns in to a race to the finish or a plodding dirge.
So many players are almost completely dependent on outside sources for their tempo.


Gold Member
I think about it sort of like a fractal zoom. If you keep zooming into the area around the beat, it becomes more and more interesting.

At certain point I feel like changes in the timing are experienced harmonically, kind of like a phaser delay that drops or adds a millisecond each beat.