How much tempo drift is normal/achievable?

srblue5

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I'm in the process of re-learning drums and also working on my timekeeping with guitar and bass. I used to be really good at keeping time as a musician but in recent years, I've been told by some people that I either rush or drag. I'm starting to practice more with a metronome app (Soundbrenner) but I occasionally record myself drumming or playing guitar without a metronome to see how I'm doing in terms of keeping it relatively steady.

To that end, how much drifting of the tempo is considered normal vs. not good technique?

For example, I recently listened to a solo home recording of mine where the tempo generally sat around 125bpm, although it did drift as low as 120 and as high as 129.

I suppose some of this is probably me being overly self-conscious and obsessive about it (having lived with a classically trained musician who often criticized me around this did not help) and I'm sure audiences don't notice if the entire band is in sync with each other. Still, I am wanting to regain/improve my timekeeping abilities, both for my own learning/development and for my home recordings and band practices (our bandleader's timekeeping is far worse than mine -- dropped beats, coming in too soon, speeding up -- so our main drummer often relies on his and my foot tapping together to keep us all in sync).
 

Chipss36

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Kinda depends, if you play like bonzo, and lay back hard, it’s sounds killer. And would never fit in a modern grid.

if ahead, it’s bad…..today playing the click is a skill a drummer must have.
 

klasaine

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Depends on the style/genre/era.

+ or - five clicks with Jazz, Blues, R&B, old-time R&R, etc. - over the course of the tune - is not really a big deal. You'll hear more speeding up (as opposed to slowing down) if you reference recordings. Just don't speed up or slow down every time you do a fill or change cymbals. Subtle or gradual are the keys here.
 

Jeremy_Green

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It honestly depends... If you are a recording studio player (or want to be one) then your time has to be almost spotless... At least you need to be able to play dead on with a click. There's a LOT of drummers out there who are not recordable really. Bad time, costs time, which costs money. You'd be surprised how many legendary drummers listed on albums never actually played on those albums. This was the primary reason. Even GOOD players got replaced for this reason.

My feeling? As was said above "You're a drummer" ... ummm time is really your THING isn't it?

For drummers, there is no harmony to learn and worry about, so really the whole schtick is to be able to hold a group together 'in time'. So if I were you.. I'd be striving for almost zero +/-. Let's put it this way, any drift should be imperceptible to both listeners and players.

How are the other players, who are improvising and subdividing time on the fly (possibly down to 128th notes), supposed to do that to a time grid that is constantly moving?

The answer: they can't.
Fix your time. : )
 

Chester P Squier

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Several weeks ago, I was either playing along with or perhaps just listening to a Beatles album. I can't remember the album or the song, but the last verse was significantly faster than the beginning of the song.

Maybe we should blame Ringo.
 

klasaine

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For drummers, there is no harmony to learn and worry about, so really the whole schtick is to be able to hold a group together 'in time'. So if I were you.. I'd be striving for almost zero +/-. Let's put it this way, any drift should be imperceptible to both listeners and players.

How are the other players, who are improvising and subdividing time on the fly (possibly down to 128th notes), supposed to do that to a time grid that is constantly moving?

The answer: they can't.
Fix your time. : )
^^^ THIS ^^^
 

JohnFender

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Back in the day tempo would fluctuate on purpose to emphasize certain parts and is still OK if you ask me but it has to be small enough that's no one really notices and 5 bpm shouldn't be that much just makes sure to give the right energy for the song
 

Lowerleftcoast

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To that end, how much drifting of the tempo is considered normal vs. not good technique?
Drummer here. It is funny how so many musicians insist the drummer is responsible for timing. I was taught time was the bass players responsibility. The trouble is... the bass player never got the memo, or some guitarist is filling in on bass. The reality is everyone should share in time keeping. Drummers do not always play *on* the beat. For dynamics a drummer may play ahead or behind the beat. If the rest of the band stays in time with the drummer when he is trying to play ahead of the beat, the dynamics are lost.

In a studio there should be a click. No variation. Many drummers may find they play certain drum fills too quickly. One should be cognizant of their short comings and fix them.

In the current band, I have taken on the *time* responsibility. Live, I use a metronome when the band doesn't have a click track. The band may push or pull when I am keeping in time with the metronome. In front of an audience, I am not willing to let the band have an obvious *push me pull you* timing problem. I will let the band go faster or slower, if I can't reel them in. As you noted, that is usually within +/- 5bpm.

The lead singer has taken some time off. I have been maneuvered into singing some lead. We play from sheet music so I have asked the bass player to keep time on those songs. I have enough going on.
 

SRHmusic

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Lots of classic bands would speed up as they went through now intense/exciting parts of settings, and sometimes slow back down on returning to a less intense part. Tempo is a tool and a human dynamic, I think.
Beato talks about tempo changes and measures it in some of his videos about how modern producers snap everything to a grid (and lose a lot of the groove and humanity in the process).

Several weeks ago, I was either playing along with or perhaps just listening to a Beatles album. I can't remember the album or the song, but the last verse was significantly faster than the beginning of the song.

Maybe we should blame Ringo.
That may have been on purpose in whichever song? Ringo is regarded as having very solid timekeeping, AFAIK.
 

fenderchamp

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It would be interesting, and is probably already done, to use a computer to get tempo variations on some classic tracks.

Rushing a Bo-diddly beat is obviously not good, and hard not to do, but a band has to play and breath together.

I don't think perfect time is all that natural sounding anyway, but... I personally always practice with a metronome in any case. It's an invaluable tool.

Rubato is real thing that people use and love.

I was talking to a buddy of mine not all that long ago about a drummer they had, he plays with this guy (not a drummer) who is always complaining and firing people.

They had a drummer for a while who was an airforce band musician, and the dude (the guy not the drummer) was complaining about the drummers time, the drummer played with a click and the dude didn't know that, he was either, not used to perfect time, or just complaining and bullying per usual, I don't know I wasn't around thank goodness.

Everything is so relative.

Some of my favorite music Doom/Stoner metal, has tempo changes as a part of the paradigm, the whole band drags or slows down together, they play ultra slow sections, rubato and you can see everybody in the band looking at each other to make sure they are in sync. It's part of the style. Super slow, like relaxation breathing slow tempos are part of the deal.

Listen to the transcendent ending on B.B. Kings original Live at Cook County jail, I think it's on the thrill is gone, where the whole band slows down, and you can hear the train slowing down and coming in to the station. That's a very strong argument for dragging a tempo.

What I'm saying is, perfect time (what that is) is probably not metronome time, is contextual, genre specific, song specific, situation specific so...

Practicing with a click is obviously invaluable and the more intentional your playing is (if you can get out of your own way and flow when you need to) the better, at different tempo's songs can show them selves as many different things.

The fact that you are aware of what you are doing one way or the other is obviously a huge advantage. If people are telling you (other than the ex.) that your time is bad, well.. keep working at it.

Use your own, probably good judgement, and who cares what the ex. said anyhow, it was probably just meant to aggravate you. If you are all over the place and your tempo stinks, well... You would probably be somewhat aware of that unless there are circumstances involved. Trust your own taste, while working to be aware of what you are playing, and improve.

Just because I fall asleep over a book , doesn't mean I can't wake up later and keep reading it. Just because I stink it up today, doesn't mean I will tomorrow. Trust the process and keep practicing.
 

FortyEight

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when i record my music i play to a click. most of the time starts with a guitar. then drums. or vocals. when i play live in my band, the drummer plays to a click in his ear and im the bassplayer. before this drummer we would practice to a click cuz the last drummer didnt think practicing was necessary. 🫤

if u always play to a click, u cant speed up or slow down if u want to in a song. if u dont practice to a click, u might speed up and slow down when u DONT want to. i also know i have a tenancy to push the beat on any instrument.

i sometimes hear playing ahead of the beat with my guitar as good. the trick is making it all work and sound good. i played with a drummer that had a tenancy to play behind the beat. and i played ahead with my guitar. it sometimes was an issue. its all in how much is appropriate for the song and feel.

im not sure what the perfect answer is but its one of those where u go: do u play to a click or keep it natural and loose and if u can allow for speed ups and downs? and then you say: yes. 👏🙀😁
 

RCinMempho

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I wonder how many conductors have click tracks while directing their orchestras?

Commercial and soundtrack applications have to have a click track for timing and synchronization.

A live band doesn't, and in my opinion shouldn't. It's a living, breathing thing. You don't breath regularly all the time. Neither should your performance.
 

Papanate

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It honestly depends... If you are a recording studio player (or want to be one) then your time has to be almost spotless... At least you need to be able to play dead on with a click.
No you don't - you have to play in the groove of the band - not the click - that's been my experience at least.
 

Papanate

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We come from an age before click tracks. Music was better then. :)
I play to click tracks now - but the only time it's rigid is when the drummer isn't good - most of the time just the drummer is on the click - a few times the bass player too - but all the sessions I'm on it's the guitars and keyboards who are left to listen and interpret the beat.
 




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