Many years ago I was playing a gig with a great drummer and good friend of mine. I thought I played the gig quite well, but at the end my drummer friend pointed out to me that on a couple of the tunes I was pushing and playing in front of the beat slightly. The initial reaction in my head was that he was talking nonsense; after all I had spent years playing to a metronome, backing tracks and bands.
However, being the type of person that is willing to accept constructive criticism I decided to hear him out. He told me about a good exercise he uses that will show me how far out I am, and really improve my timing, and it was as follows; In a recording programme set a steady slow – medium tempo and put down a simple drum groove. Have four bars of groove and then a one bar rest that has nothing just silence. Repeat the four bar groove and then have a two bar rest, repeat the groove one last time and then have a four bar rest. The idea is to really “feel” the groove and tempo, lock your whole body into it continue to feel it in the bars of rests and try to come back in bang on time. He told me to go away and try it and that I will probably have a bit of a shock.
The next day I did just what he said, set a tempo at 100 bpm with a simple drum groove and came up with a simple riff, and then left the bars of rests. On my first attempt I was pretty much on it after the one bar rest, I was a bit early on the two bar rest, and on the four bar rest I came in about half a bar too early! I decided that my drummer friend was onto something, and so decided to really work on this aspect of my playing.
I think it is fair to say that most guitarists spend a lot of their time honing their lead skills and just expect the rhythm playing to be there. This is a bit crazy, because if you think about playing in a standard rock/pop/funk band situation then the majority of the time you will spend playing rhythm guitar with the odd solo here and there. Therefore, to become an all rounded guitarist and musician you should spend time working on your rhythm, timing and feel. It is important to understand that time has an elasticity about it and is not just a narrow line, think of it more as a block that you can move around in. You should get used to playing on the beat, but also behind and in front of it. You can experiment with this by setting a metronome to a slow tempo, try playing a simple chord bang on the beat, then try “leaning back” slightly on the beat so you are just slightly behind it, not out of time but just more laid back.
Listen to reggae music and you will notice that it has a very laid back feel as the musicians are all just sitting slightly behind the beat. Then try “leaning forward” on the beat so you are just slightly ahead creating a feel of movement, again not playing out of time. This will give a more urgent feel something that is more familiar in rock and metal. Playing on the beat, or often referred to as “sitting on it” can be heard in funk, jazz and pop styles. Experimenting with the elasticity of time can be great fun and will really improve your overall feel, groove and timing, it can also give you control in a band. If you feel that the band is playing too fast then start to lean back slightly, this should make the others come with you, tempo and timing is not always just down to the drummer!
In most situations it is normally best to either sit on the beat or lean back slightly, as leaning forward can often make things sound rushed and loose the feel and groove of the song. No matter what style you play music should always have a strong sense of groove. Once you get this ability down you can really notice when people are pushing the beat or lagging behind, and I now find myself being the one to point it out to players and students just as my drummer friend did to me. If they are the type of person willing to take constructive critique then it will only make them a better player, and if they are in your band, it will make your band sound a whole lot tighter.
The transcription shows how I applied this drum exercise to the guitar; it follows exactly the same format as mentioned above. You have a groove based around A Mixalydian and then the bars of rests. On the repeat’s I have put in some fills, this is also great practice to be able to play a rhythmic fill and then come back in bang on beat one. I have transcribed the fills that I played but of course you should also experiment with your own ideas.
Try doing all this without tapping your foot or hands in the rests, close your eyes and really try to get your whole body to feel the tempo. You can also try singing the groove in your head that you have been playing.
This is a great practice piece and when tried, guitarist’s are always shocked at how far out they are (especially in the four bar rest). Some of you will be coming in too early, some will start too late and there will be the occasional Person who has no problems and nails it first time!
Stick at it and it will make for a better player and musician, it also has the habit of making you a critique to any music you hear or play ever again!
|Resources for the Funk Exercise: Groove and Timing – © Lewis Turner|
|Guitar Jar Lesson – Funk Rhythm and Timing Tab (120KB pdf)|
|Guitar Jar Lesson – Funk Timing – Full track with metronome counts (2.4MB MP3)|
|Guitar Jar Lesson – Funk Timing – Full track with metronome counts (guitar removed) (2.4MB MP3)|
|Guitar Jar Lesson – Funk Timing – Full track (no metronome counts) (2.4MB MP3)|
|Guitar Jar Lesson – Funk Timing – Full track (no metronome and no guitar) (2.4MB MP3)|
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