Any tips on 'locking in' on faster tunes?

Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
edited November 2008 in Technique Posts: 1,252
One of the things I really took notice of at DFNW this year was how relentlessly consistent good rhythm players are. Hearing Mathieu back Sebastien on some of those fast songs - and of course Nonni Rosenberg on the many fast songs they do, I had to sit down and take a long hard look at how I'm doing fast rhythm. When I'm really going - I tend to work too hard and its tough to stay consistent - but even little variations in tempo keep the magic from happening. I have moments when I can feel that I'm locked in - but then I'm back out again. You can just feel when it's light and popping and consistent as a metronome - it gets a whole lot more effortless and just feels right.

Here's a short recording - sort of working out the rhythm for "Made in France" - a little intro (normally done by the lead player - I'm not great at it - but it's better than just starting the song cold)

I feel like I'm fairly locked in at first - up till about 30 seconds - sort of almost hanging on to that feel for 10 seconds more - but by about 45 seconds I feel much less consistent (and was working a lot harder, ironically)

Is this just a matter of practice? How do you gents lock-in on fast songs? Think in 2? Breathing? Metronome practice? Steroids? Other?
You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.


  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 6,155
    I think the best thing you can do is LOTS of focused metronome practice at home reinforced with LOTS of on the gig experience. If you can get a few regular weekly gigs and just keep at it for a few years you'll really become a monster rhythm player. It's hard just going it alone at home, especially for rhythm. You need the gig pressure to keep the rhythm going all night....does any one really sit at home an just play rhythm for four hours straight? I did when I was learning how to do it....but not many do. That's why gigs help...

    Jam sessions are OK as long as they're small with out lots of "lurking." Really big jam sessions can actually be bad for your rhythm as it's so hard to hear so you can be using the group sound as a crutch. It's better to be totally exposed...if you're the only rhythm player then it's all or nothing.

  • crookedpinkycrookedpinky Glasgow✭✭✭✭ Alex Bishop D Hole, Altamira M & JWC D hole
    Posts: 922
    Hi there, totally agree with Michael. Get a metronome and play along with that. I suffered from "drift" - this was pointed out during a workshop along with the need to be really strict with myself. I now find that I egt locked in more easily and can now play around with progressions and substitutions while keeping on the beat and up to tempo.

    The points about jam sessions sometimes being counter-productive are well made. In our jams( at the Hot Club of Glasgow - ) I found I was listening to too many others and picked up their tempos - so at times we drifted around as we were all doing the same.

    After practising with the metronome I find that I'm better at keeping my own tempo more regular and rythmical.

    Anyway, I would also recommend as Michael does playing with another one or two players only - as in a gig situation - so that you can't drift on tempo and can't drop out ( as in a jam session )

    PS nice playing on your clip by the way
    always learning
  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    Gents - thanks. Well, you're spot on - there are really two times that I (mostly) play... at home in the shop for a few minutes when I'm observing something to make sure the glue has setup well - and at jams with 5-15 people. I'm probably to the point now where I know enough songs to do more gigging - I should make time to do that. Occasionally, I get together and play 1 on 1 with some friends, but not often.

    You've reminded me of something. Thinking back to when I was studying classical music (on the saxophone, don't laugh - people do play classical saxophone oddly enough) practice was a whole lot different... somehow I've forgotten that - though you've reminded me that I would spend an hour or more drilling a five line etude... and do that for literally weeks... varying breathing, varying tempo, varying dynamics - just generally imprinting it and owning it so thoroughly that when I'd do competitions that the performance itself would be a source of comfort rather than angst because I had mastery over the piece and the angst of standing on a stage in front of a jury and audience just sort of faded away when I started the piece.

    I'll never go back to that type of practice (because it's actually not all that fun and because jazz loses something when it's that wrote) but I need to find a balance between the farting around I do now - and that rigid (but highly effective) type of practice.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • Phydeaux3Phydeaux3 New
    Posts: 22
    1. Intimate knowledge of the tune and where you are in it.
    2. Don't listen to the soloist.
    3. Listen to the other rhythm section players.
    4. Listen to varying jazz players and jazz singers (not just GJ)
    5. Play 'rhythm' along to various free backing tracks on the internet. e.g. Stephane Wrembel or other Jazz Players and S ingers.
    6. Learn the correct technique in rhythm playing.
    7. Get gigging.
    8. Regular rehearsal with your band.
    9. Have a definite start and definite finish to the tunes.
    10. Keep the tunes short.
    11. Buy Michael's Book for Goodness Sake!!!!!
    Alors, un, deux...
  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    Posts: 1,379
    I had the chance to ask Nousche and he just said :" The key is to relax" and "play from the wrist, not from the arm"
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,161
    Phydeaux3 wrote:
    2. Don't listen to the soloist.

    woah!! that's probably extremely important.. DO listen to the soloist... not only that, but listen to every musician in the band...

    in fact every member of the band should be listening to eachother... the fact is no one (or a ridiculously small percentage of musicians) is close to being metronomic... we all shift a little bit.. the important thing is to keep things grooving and tight.

    if you're the kind of guy who speeds up, you have to think about holding back a little bit, if you're the kind of guy who slows down, you have to think about pushing a little bit... but at any rate you must always lock in with the other musicians... so it's a lot of things going on at the same time...
  • langleydjangolangleydjango Langley, WA USA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 99
    I certainly agree with Dennis' response. You are there to support the soloist
    so how can you do that without listening to the soloist?

    I don't mean to be jumping on Phydeux. Your advise is very good!

    But here's one thing that I've seen the best rhythm players do consistently, and it has also helped my ability to accompany other players:

    WATCH the soloist. Lock your eyes on him and his instrument and stayed fixed there. This will keep you always in the moment with the soloist and keep you from drifting off wondering what you'll have for dinner later. You'll be amazed at how much more responsive and "locked in" you'll become.

    Bob started this by mentioning Matheiu. Pull up some Ensemble Zaiti videos and watch him keep his eyes on Adrian. He did the same with Sebastien at DFNW.

    Just try not to freak the soloist out ; )
  • Phydeaux3Phydeaux3 New
    Posts: 22
    Apologies to all. I did write quite a long explanation to this but it didn't submit and I just bulletpointed what I had written.
    What I meant to say is that for those people who listen to ALL what the band is doing around you, COULD expose you to wandering off the tempo as the concentration needed to play is great enough as it is.
    Whilst the soloist is an important member to the band (of course), IF you have full knowledge of the tune and know where you are in it, the necessity to listen to what the soloist is doing is not as important as keeping the rhythm together. As I mentioned, you ARE the rhythm section.
    For me it's not important what the soloist is creating it's impotant for me to keep time and tempo whilst 'supporting' what they do.
    As I've been playing Jazz for more years I care to admit too, I suppose I'm in an enviable position where I'm comfortable enough with my repertoire, where I am in it, how it grooves with the band etc.. I now get a lot of enjoyment to listening to our violin and lead player purely because of the time I have invested in playing rhythm and can now play without thinking.

    By initially not listening to the creativeness of the soloist when setting up your repertoire, I believe this will help you to concentrate on what you need to achieve. Keep the groove, swing and tempo. Again this is dependant on how you have structured or arranged the tunes.
    If you're a band that moves with the feel of the soloist, then obviously listen to what they do.
    The original question was suggestions about tempo control. I have jammed and gigged with 'soloists' who move the tempo about terribly and it's my job to keep them in check so the song doesn't speed or slow. You still need to keep half an ear open but the main part of your thinking is keeping the rhythm going and in tempo.
    If you're in a duo, then there's only you two to listen to.
    I lock into our bass player all the time, with the knowledge of the structure or arrangements of the songs agreed with by the band, rehearsed and gigged to the point I don't have to worry about what's happening with the soloists.
    Listening and reacting to what a soloist is playing is a process a bit further down the road.
    I just think that if you have planned the tunes out then the necessity to initially listen to the soloist is not paramount at that time because you need to get 'into the tune'. Once there you relax and it becomes almost second nature. Then you can enjoy the wonders of what the soloist is upto.
    How many people actually listen to what soloist are doing in a Jam??? Bet you're all concentrating on what you're doing!!!
    Alors, un, deux...
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,161
    i understand your point but, unfortunately, i have to say i don't agree with it.

    First of all, in the context of a jam session:

    1) jam session with lots of musicians is NOT music, it's a massive guitar orgy...

    2) if the jam session were limited to just a few musicians, then yes we all do listen to eachother , especially if we're good musicians... if they're not good musicians, then it's not a good jam session

    you should ALWAYS always listen to the soloist or anyone else in the band... in case someone fucks up and you have to react to them... sometimes the soloiist accidenlty goes to the B section early, as a rhythm player, you're gonna react to that, if he doesn't hear his mistake, it's your job to cover it up by following him

    Sometimes, the soloist might want to end the song without playing the melody at the end, and he'll do a special arrangement to indicate the end , you have to catch that.

    Furthermore, sometimes among the better musicians ie bireli, stochelo , wawau, angelo, they will try to create contrast in dynamics, they'll start playing soft, so the rhythm section needs to respond by playing soft.... maybe they'll start playing staccato, so the rhythm section should play their chords real short, etc....

    Believe me, I've played with rhythm palyers who had their heads in the clouds... I d end a song , and the guy would just keep boom chucking away while the rest of the band stopped.... uuuuugh

    for an idea of how the rhythm should react to the soloist, check this video , watch towards 3:25, when it switches from melody to solo

  • Phydeaux3Phydeaux3 New
    Posts: 22
    Reading the response from LangleyDjango, my concern is that unlike Mathieu and Adrien, there are a lot of musicians who might not have spent as much time gigging and rehearsing to the extent these guys have.

    I believe that transfixing on what the soloist is doing could break your concentration on your main task, rhythm, and could cause a slowing or speeding up of the tune.

    My thought is that the rhythm section is akin to the conductor of an orchestra, inasmuch that the soloist relies on them to keep it in tempo; as well as swinging.

    Again, further down the road a bit, the longer you play with the same people the more you get atuned to where they go and what they do; almost a psychic thing.
    Then the rhythm player needs to listen out for subtle nuances or the build up to an attack for example. This is more of an awareness thing I think than fixedly watching or listening.
    A & M have played together for years and have this ability. I remember seeing them at Samois when they first started out. I don't think that Mathieu is strictly following or listening to Adrien to affect his rhythm or tempo. He might be listening out to markers they might incorporate in their tunes, but I reckon he's skilled enough and relaxed enough to just enjoy what Adrien is doing to the point he doesn't need to look at his guitar that often.

    For a rhythm player to rely on the soloist keeping tempo seems ridiculous to me. I've seen a lot of soloists create fantastic solos but now and then lose the tempo and with the rhythm player fixed on listening or watching the soloist, they lose the tempo with them. Some soloists even look over to the rhythm section as if it's their fault, the decent ones recognise they were out and rely on the rhythm section to lead them back to the beat. In these types of situations, if the rhythm section is listening (or following) what the soloist is doing then inevitably the tempo suffers.

    Having said that I've seen a lot of rhythm players who just can't keep tempo and this frustrates the hell out of the soloist and it then turns around and it's harder for a soloist to bring it back to tempo. The only way they can achieve this is to break the fantastic improvisation they're creating and chord along to bring it back up or down!

    Another point is that the Muso's in the way back when, purely did this as a job, almost rehearsing and gigging every day or night. This committment is what ingrains good tempoing in musicians.
    Michael said as such in his post above.

    Relaxation is another MAIN point. I believe this is achieved by good technique, understanding swing, knowing the tune intimately and many other factors therein.

    Picking up on Dennis' point, what we sometimes have to remember is that ultimately we're playing live. You will have nerves, too much adreneline and playing in the moment which will move the tempo around. If that happens, so what? That's the nature of live music. My only comment on this is that if it drifts NOTICABLY, then it needs working on!
    Again I go back to the Greats of Jazz and the time and effort spent to get it spot on. All you need to do is count them in and then count them out and it's bang on. Oh to have perfection like that!!!

    I'm happy as long as it swings, keeps tempo and doesn't go ridiculously out and the audience enjoys it.
    Alors, un, deux...
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