Bass Lesson 15 Timing

Playing before, on and after the beat

Bass Lesson 15 Timing: Three approaches

Bass Lesson 15 Timing: I would like to discuss the timing of the bass in several styles. You can play (slightly) in front of the beat, on the beat, and (slightly) behind the beat. Each of these approaches has it’s own merits – although I prefer the first two approaches, for I really like to make the music swing and I love to pump up the rhythm. To realize this, it helps a lot to play in front of the beat. This is specially so when playing jazz.

Check it out

If you think that this is all utter nonsense, please listen to some bassists who prefer to play in front of the beat, like Ron Carter and Charles Mingus. Or listen to a Salsa CD. Salsa bassists often play on the beat.

Playing in front of the beat

When you play in front of the beat, you play your notes slightly before the drummer does. It only works if you do this in a very relaxed way and when you play with a drummer who does not get overly excited by your approach. Some drummers get so excited that they start to play more quickly with every note you play. Of course, playing a bit more quickly in the course of a song is not so bad – it can make a song sound extra exciting – but playing a lot faster then in the beginning is not good at all. That makes the music sound nervous and hurried. Playing in front of the beat is a great approach in jazz. It also sounds good when playing old rock and roll.

Playing on the beat

There are bass players who play walking bass while playing on the beat, and this is a legitimate approach of course, though I don’t like it so much for jazz. Jazz sounds much more swinging when you play walking bass in front of the beat.

Playing behind the beat

Playing behind the beat works with slow rhythms like Bolero’s or slow funk. It can make you sound macho and erotic. And let us not forget Reggae, which is in a class of it’s own with the bass playing much after the beat. Somehow that works in Reggae, but I would not try it in another style. 

Playing behind the beat is dangerous territory, you really have to play with musicians who don’t slow down the tempo. Slowing down the tempo of a song is worse than making the tempo faster most of the time.

Mastering these approaches

I think it’s good to explore these three approaches and to master them eventually. If you want to pump up the rhythm, you can then play slightly before the beat. If you want to make the music slightly less wild, you can time just a little bit behind the beat. Wouldn’t that be great?

The way to learn these approaches, is to hear the precise timing in your head. You should be able to ‘hear’ the interval between the timing of the note you want to play and the beat of the drummer. If you’re able to ‘hear’ this, these approaches are easy to realize – you’ll see. The differences between playing before the beat, playing on the beat and playing behind the beat are very small, very subtle. But they’re there. This is very important information, but for some reason I don’t understand this information never seems to find it’s way into textbooks…

You may find this page interesting.

Bass Lesson 15 Timing

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