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Learning to Keep Time


by The ActiveBass Community
From Lesa McCabe:
As bass players our job is to hold together the "pocket" - to merge the drums and other instruments in the band together to produce a smooth rhythm. In order to do this properly, the bassist must be able to keep time. As bassists we have all had experiences with drummers that speed up or slow down. There is a post in Fretbuzz about a bass teacher and a student. The student is having difficultly playing quarter notes in simple time. He is a very willing student, he loves to play but the rhythm is not there. This has brought a lot of responses.

As individuals, if we were given the same task to learn, we would approach the learning process differently. Many excellent suggestions have been brought up in order to possibly find the one technique that may help this student learn to "feel" time.

I thought these ideas are wonderful and should be available to others that come to ActiveBass long after this post has died. And if you don't mind, to keep things easy I will simply cut and paste these direct quotes. And I hope those quotes I am using are alright with those that wrote them, because if you are reading this, the article is already posted!


The Problem

Amit Leon:
ok, this is getting frastruating! i have a young and hardworking teenager taking private lessons from me and despite all his motivation and hard work the kid just can't play in time. he's rythem sucks big time. i've tried everyting from giving him all kinds of metronome excercises to playing with him quarter notes for half a lesson. he is really trying and is making excellent progress in the theoretical field. the guy can play any scale in any key from the lowest to the highest note in his bass easly but is having a hard time playing quarter notes in 90 bpm. i would appreciate any advice. thanks!!!

Some Solutions

Lesa McCabe:
Wow..I know the feeling..I teach piano and I have a student like that...try this,, I did this Tuesday during her lesson...... Play quarter notes Largo at 60 BPM...then after he gets comfortable with that, increase the BPM to Andante 100....then increase to Moderato 120, then Allegro 160, then back to Largo...this sounds strange but it worked for me....Do you know what is favorite band is? Have him bring in a cd and play along with them...that could help also..You know, everyone learns in their own way...My hubby used to practice a new song for hours straight, until he got the whole thing..I would work on a new songs maybe 10 minutes at a time...over the span of 2 hours...you just need to see what works best for your student...

Robert Claypool:
I think its more due to a lack of his focus than an actual shortcoming if he has the skills to pull off the mental half. Have you taught him how to count the beat mentally and tap his foot on each beat? Cause usually once you can do that you're good to go with timekeeping.

Douglas Littlejohn:
What I would do is just keep it totally simple. Have him put his bass down, put the metronome on 90bpm and then just have him "snap" (yeah with his fingers) to that beat. You can't have a pocket if you don't feel the beat.

Alex Costa:
Make he play one open string per time, 40bps. One note per bar, sustaining the note... Then every exercise just like that.
1--2--3--4--1--2--3--4--1--2--3--4--1--2...

G-----------G-----------G-----------G---...
Patrick Pfeiffer:
You're going to have to teach this guy what time feels like. You two need to take a walk. Just forget about the metronome for a moment and take a walk...in measured, even steps. Once you're both walking at an even pace (or "marching"), pretend your steps are quarter notes and start tapping out eighth notes with your hands on your thigh. Once your student seems comfortable with that, try tapping out 16th notes, and later 8th note triplets. This guy needs to get the groove into his body. Trust me with this one, I've done it before...more than once! It works! came up with it, but it's quite possible that others have used it before me. I frequently use a variation of this for the "players." In that case I have them tap out the 16th notes and then isolate them. They'd tap out only the first 16th note (the downbeat...that's easy), the third 16th note (a bit harder, it's the off-beat or 8th note), the second 16th note (that's a hard one...), and finally the fourth 16th note (...and this one is usually the most challenging). I've trained myself with all these exercises before I trained my students, and the results were always incredible. Good luck, my bass-brother, and I hope you won't give up on your student. Please keep me posted.

Mike Bradley:
Have him walk, march, dance or ride a horse. You can't intellectualize time or groove; you have to feel it. Just picking up the bass won't get a student to "feel" time. They have to do something with their body to incorporate into their mind/playing. Lesa notes that we all learn in different ways...that is surely the case here. Keep up the good work.

Borja Rojano Broz:
Yes. I constantly do that. I play mentally grooves when walking, using steps as quarter notes.

Thanks to Lesa McCabe for compiling these suggestions.