Friday, April 22, 2011

Time and Feel

One common factor to all the players I love to listen to is a fantastic time feel, and a consistent time feel, to me, can make the difference between a good solo and a great one.  I wanted to share some of the things I've learned from great players that have helped me as well as some of my own thoughts.
my metronome.
  • Tap your foot on 1 and 3 (feel the beat in terms of 1 and 3). I've found feeling the pulse in terms of 1 and 3 will give you a clearer idea of where the down beat is than tapping or feeling 2 and 4, and it will give you a more relaxed and even time feel than feeling 1, 2, 3, 4. Two great saxophonists gave me this advice ironcially on the same day, Jonas Ganzemuller and Steve Wilson.
  • Various Metronome Exercises. Putting the metronome on 2 and 4 is a great exercise, and is one of the main practice methods Walt Weiskopf gave me. Steve Wilson and George Garzone both suggested that you balance that practice with putting the metronome on beats 1 and 3 as well.  George Garzone went on to give me two other important exercises. The first is putting the metronome on each quarter note of the measure.  This proved to be the most instrumental metronome exercise for me as it allowed me to learn hear my 8th note lines in exact relationship to the pulse.  The other exercise is putting the metronome on each 8th note in the measure, and I'll talk about this one a little more later.
  • Lock in with the ride cymbal pattern (swung 8th notes). Various guys have given me this suggestion including Steve Wilson and Clay Jenkins. The idea is that you can hear both the constant quarter note pulse and the swung 8th note pulse in the drummer's ride cymbal pattern. I have to agree that locking in my 8th notes with ride cymbal is the fastest way to sure up the time and make it feel good.
  • Don't let the articulation get in the way.  The fact is, every time we tongue a note there is a small break in the sound.  This break can be small and well placed, or it can be cumbersome and badly place. Heavy tonguing can really bog down a time feel and delay tongued notes so they sound behind the beat.. Lighter tonguing lends to a lighter more forward moving time feel. Chris Potter and Rich Perry were the two guys to make this suggestion to me. Rich Perry and George Garzone also both suggested practicing without any articulation at all and then carefully adding it back in.
  • Exercise for locking in your 8th notes. This is an exercise and not an end result, and it's based in some exercises George Garone gave me.  The idea is that you straighten out your 8th note so that you can feel each quarter note and 8th note more accurately.  This exercise is great when combined with the metronome on all 8th notes.  First, practice improvising with straight 8th notes locked perfectly into the metronome which is also on 8th notes.  Once you feel comfortable and feel like each 8th note is perfectly locked in.  Switch the metronome to quarter notes and keep your 8th notes straight.  Once you have the even feel locked in perfectly with each quarter note begin swinging your 8th notes, but make sure you maintain your quarter notes perfectly locked in. Transfer that feel to playing with a rhythm section and locking in with the ride cymbal.  At first this exercise feels really constraining, but the end result is great control of the time feel and swing feel.
  • Listen to and emulate time fees you love. When you listen pay close attention to how the players time feel relates to the rhythm section.  Listen to those who you like best, play along with them, and then try to emulate the time feel while playing with a rhythm section.  This last one might be the most important!


  1. Hi Ben

    Just saw this on your blog.

    Simple question (or clarification) from the Metronome exercises. I imagine that you mean when talking about the quarter note exercises :

    a) on 1&2&3&4 etc.
    b) on .&.&.&.& etc.

    Do I understand you correctly?

    Thanks again.

  2. I like putting the metronome on 1,2,3,4 and 1,&,2,&,3,&,4,&

    I haven't done much with just the &'s. That sounds fun, but probably only helpful once you've mastered the easier ones.


  3. Great thanks, that clarifies the situation.

    Best - Joe