a perfect world, the craft of playing in time merges
with the art of playing with a good time feel"
Guitar players have a terrible tendency to rush. I would
say, as a general rule, it is guitar players that need
to work on their time more than any other musician. I
think it is easy to forget how important the concept of
time is, and moreover, I think so many players aren't
willing to face up to the fact that they need to work on
it, if they are even aware of the problem at all!
Now, let's get one thing a little clear. I can be quite
hard on musicians from an observational standpoint. But
that is only because I am EXTREMELY hard on myself. I
strive for greatness and I get excited when others do
Jazz guitar players are
possibly the worst culprits when it comes to the concept
of time. And I am not just talking about beginners or
intermediates. I could mention right now a number of
highly respected players who in my opinion do not have
good time. Many think that the idea of bopping in
'double' time is simply a matter of stringing a flurry
of notes together as fast as possible, and the idea of a
few clams, well, "it's jazz isn't it?". My response to
this: NO NO NO!!
In order to explore this facet of music further, we need
to break down the concept of 'time' and how musicians
I like to think of 'time' as referring to the following:
1) Time Feel
2) Playing in time
3) Subconsciously knowing where the time is
Let's look at each briefly.
First, playing with a good 'time feel' can be understood
as swinging hard in a rhythm section. The musician has
good energy and can play well with others, putting a
smile on the bass player and drummer's faces because
they all understand that indescribable 'thing' that they
all have, and relate to. Now, it is also important to
know that there are musicians who have good time who do
not play well with others. There is none of that 'give
and take' flow of energy. They have a concept of time
but it is not one that is necessarily shared. This is
usually a product of too many hours practicing in the
bedroom and not enough listening to others and feeding
off them musically.
Having a good time feel can
also be interpreted as someone who plays good rhythm.
Someone who can support a soloist, make them feel good
and provide inspiration for ideas. Usually someone who
has a good time feel rhythmically is one who actually
enjoys supporting a soloist, making the rhythm section
feel good so the soloist can spark off it. This is an
art in itself. We all know, when the band feels good,
there is nothing quite like it.
Playing in time
Playing in time is something that can be learned, but
from a soloist's standpoint, there is much discipline
involved. It is here that in a perfect world, the craft
of playing in time merges with the art of playing with a
good time feel. Let me try to explain further...
I recently bought an album
by Joe Pass called "For Django". I can't stop playing
this CD. I cannot believe it has taken me all these
years to discover this astounding record. Pass recorded
this album in 1964 and there is no question that this
album must have had a tremendous influence on jazz
guitarists since then. It is the most blistering bebop
album from any guitarist I have heard since
"Consciousness" by Pat Martino.
It wouldn't surprise me if
Pat Martino was severely influenced by this album. This
CD is a great example of amazing time throughout most of
the album. I say 'most' because there are one or two
moments where it's not as red hot as other moments, but
that's OK, it's nice to know we are all human!
Why is this album such a good example of great time?
Because Joe Pass' picking technique is just dead on.
(strangely enough on his subsequent albums he put the
pick down and played mostly with his fingers). He plays
perfectly in time, at any tempo. When he doubles the
tempo, his precision is flawless. But when he doubles
the tempo, it still FEELS staggeringly good. He doesn't
rush like so many players do. He is right there on it.
This is hard to do, but I can tell Joe spent a great
deal of time working on this. Not only is his time just
impeccable, but his choice of notes. Another story.
Subconsciously knowing where the time is
This is something that is manifested through experience
for the most part. Of course practice always helps but
there is nothing like playing with a drummer and trading
fours to go "Yikes! where's one??" This will get your
subconscious sense of time together, faced with a
situation like this enough. And of course the more you
throw yourself in the deep end, the quicker you will get
Musicians feel time differently. I can't tell you how
many drummers I have played with who all swing
differently. They put accents in different places. Some
push the tempo, some lay back, some play right on the
beat. It's an individual thing, but provided all those
drummers 'feel' good when they play, neither is right or
So how do we approach improving our 'time'? Well first,
it is extremely important that we are aware that it is
one of the most important aspects of music. At all
levels, we need to work on this. Trust me, I am obsessed
with this right now, more than I have ever been in my
Know that when something doesn't feel good, relax a
little, the chances are you are rushing. Listen to the
rhythm section and play with it. There is always a
tendency to get lost in our own playing, so let the band
help you. It is there to support you, you shouldn't be
fighting with it. I know it's always a challenge to play
great notes and make them feel good all at the same
time, but you are not alone. We are all working on this!
Oddly, I know great players with good time who never
practiced with a metronome. They got it together on the
bandstand. Today, we have drum machines, Jamey Abersold
records to play along to and computer software to help
us. I do think however that playing solo unaccompanied
with a metronome can really lock you in. It's a
discipline, but a damn good one.
Experience will no doubt be the best teacher, especially
if you are willing to recognize when there is a
weakness. Sometimes when one is playing live, adrenaline
can kick in and there are distractions, and it can seem
like everything we have worked on goes out the window!
This is where the men are separated from the boys. Be
critical of your own playing, without being down on
yourself. It is still important to have fun. Just know
when things need a little work.
Great examples of guitar players with excellent time are
Joe Pass (particularly that album I mentioned!), Pat
Martino, John Scofield, Allan Holdsworth (he never ever
falls off the line!), Wes Montgomery & George Benson.
Listen to these guys for some time mentoring.
But don't forget the fun part!