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Sense of Time - Seriously Overlooked By Musicians



 
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trickg
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2021 11:12 am    Post subject: Sense of Time - Seriously Overlooked By Musicians Reply with quote

I'm sure that this post will be met with a certain amount of skepticism and or criticism, and that's ok, but I have always found that among the people I perform and play with, the sense of time stands out as one of the most egregious deficiencies.

I'm constantly amazed in ensembles I play with just how deficient some people are when it comes to their ability to play and maintain a steady tempo, or their ability play in the pocket. I've particularly noticed this recently with the regional orchestra I've been playing with.

Furthermore, I've always been astounded by how disjointed a classical ensemble can be when they are playing things that are driven by the percussion.

I realize that in an perfect world everyone is always supposed to stay with the conductor, but if the drums and conductor aren't completely in synch, do you die on the hill of staying with the conductor, or do you go with the drums and percussion who are effectively "leading" the ensemble at that point? (I know what I do, but I think that classical wind and strings players would follow a conductor into a burning building.)

For those of us with big band or amplified band experience, we know that you always follow the drums. Even when you have a big band with a conductor up front, the only time the band follows the conductor is for a ballad - the rest of the time, if you aren't hanging with the rhythm, section, you're wrong. (In my opinion.)

Why is it that the amateur classically trained musician tends to have such and abysmal sense of time and pocket? Do they never take the time to bother to work with a metronome or click track?

I know that some people don't like to work with a metronome - for some it's difficult, and for others it's tedious, but I've always felt that it helps. I used it just last night to lock in a thing where I've got a quarter note triplet figure overlaying 2/4 time for a number of measures. I certainly couldn't lock that down in orchestra rehearsal the other night - NO ONE could seem to lock it down!
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LittleRusty
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2021 1:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Your post makes a lot of sense. But only if we understand that a drummer is posting it.

One of my biggest pet peeves as a director and section player is drummers who don’t lock into the director. Too many think they are the end all of setting the beat and tempo, but too many drummers that I have played with over my 50 some years of musical experience just cannot or do not follow the director. Some of these cannot even keep a steady beat.

Nope, the pecking order is the conductor and then the ensemble, which includes all the musicians including the drum section.

If the director and drummer are out of sync by definition the drummer is wrong. And this is not the hill for the drummer to die on.

Just because one instrument sticks out so badly that it is painfully obvious when they are out of sync with the rest of the ensemble doesn’t mean all of the others need to follow them.

A good synergy is the drummer picking up the tempo and feel from the director and maintaining it until the director indicates a change. The director can then ride on top of that and focus on other things.

And yes, I have sat under directors who also had no sense of rhythm or tempo.

One great example was a husband and wife duo. She directed and he was on the piano accompanying the choir. In a rehearsal one particularly challenging piano intro ended with the director and accompanist getting out of sync. The annoyed director berated her husband for not following the stick. So the next time he did and they ground to a halt within a few bars. She was unwittingly trying to follow the accompanist and couldn’t find the beat in the rhythms.
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trickg
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 14, 2021 5:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Keep in mind that I was a trumpet player a long time before I started drumming.

I don't disagree with you on the pecking order - that's a perfect world scenario. The conductor conducts, and everyone sticks with and stays with the conductor.

We don't live in a perfect world, and when those times of disjointedness start to occur, the conductor, IMO should briefly sync to the percussion, and then rein them back in. If they don't, that's when the problems occur. Until that point, IMO, people should open their ears and adjust accordingly - drums and percussion are the backbone, so if the strings/winds don't stay with the drums, regardless of whether or not they are "right" by staying with the conductor, from an ensemble perspective, they are wrong. Period.

I don't disagree with you about percussionists not locking onto the conductor though. Monday night at orchestra rehearsal (we're currently rehearsing a Pops concert, so it's pretty drums/percussion heavy) the young kid on snare was really pushing the tempo, but when I looked over at him, he had his eyes on the conductor, so I'm not sure if he felt he knew better for what the time should be, or if he simply didn't have the technique and control to stay with her.

On a side note to that though, for last night's rehearsal, we had no percussion at all - not sure why - but it was just strings and winds. Ugh. The strings drug everything into a dirge and the conductor was powerless to stop them. I simply don't think they realize they're doing it.

I also don't think they realize that certain types of musical figures are supposed to be percussive. It's a style thing and frankly, many classical musicians have no clue how to effectively play in a non-classical way.
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LittleRusty
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 14, 2021 2:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

trickg wrote:
We don't live in a perfect world, and when those times of disjointedness start to occur, the conductor, IMO should briefly sync to the percussion, and then rein them back in. If they don't, that's when the problems occur. Until that point, IMO, people should open their ears and adjust accordingly - drums and percussion are the backbone, so if the strings/winds don't stay with the drums, regardless of whether or not they are "right" by staying with the conductor, from an ensemble perspective, they are wrong. Period.

Hmm. So we have one or two members of the orchestra who are not following the director and the 78 others need to stop following the director? I think this is the tail wagging the dog.

This disagreement on who is in charge might also explain your perceived lack of ability to count in amateurs. Perhaps for some it is simply they have a different understanding of who to follow? (And yes a lot of amateurs struggle to count. Arghh! I sat next to a tenor in one choir who always on the front or before the beat. It was especially bad since he often was slightly off pitch which made it much harder to come in correctly. )

Please note that the opinions I am expressing are only for those sessions where there is a director actively leading, not for situations like jazz where the director often only counts off. I have no problem locking in with the drummer in those situations.

I must say that I have been part of some rehearsals where I was part of a small group of instruments accompanying a choir where I really counted on the drummer laying down a steady beat. The rehearsals without him were much more difficult for me.
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delano
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2021 12:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Up to now my experience is that in a classical setting the conductor is always the boss over everything (I think Little Rusty made that part clear) and in a music form without an active conductor the bass is the leading instrument on the rhythm structure.

The latter is not just my opinion, there has been quite good research in that field:
https://www.pnas.org/content/111/28/10383

summary of this: https://riotfest.org/2019/03/bass-players-are-the-most-important-part-of-the-band/

Bass Players Are The Most Important Part of the Band, Says Science
BY RIOT FEST / MARCH 4, 2019 / SCIENCE

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the bass is the most important part of any song. Because the human brain is better at picking up the rhythm when it’s played in a lower tone, like a bass, we rely on the bass player to keep the structure of the song much more than a guitar or drum.

As a former bassguitar player I struggled a lot with drummers especially that they were dropping the time quite often.

And I have a problem with the concept of 'following'. Most of the time that will make that you are late. In my view the music is already there and you have only to fill in what is necessary for your part. IMO this is also valid for drummers.
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trickg
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2021 5:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are some interesting points of view to explore in this conversation - I knew that when I posted this that I'd get some pushback because of the fact that ideally, the conductor is always in charge and should always be followed.

LittleRusty wrote:
Hmm. So we have one or two members of the orchestra who are not following the director and the 78 others need to stop following the director? I think this is the tail wagging the dog.

I think it depends on who it is who is out. One or two violins? Stay with the conductor. The guy on the drum kit for a pops concert? IMO, the orchestra really should follow the drummer, at least until things get sorted and the conductor and drummer sync back up.

The end goal in all of this isn't to have an argument about who is right, and in that musical argument having a situation where there is an audible disconnect between the players. The end goal is to make MUSIC - that means using your ears and staying together - not proving your are right by staying with the conductor. I never said it was ideal - I'm saying that this is a one-off, pragmatic solution to the problem.

LittleRusty wrote:
This disagreement on who is in charge might also explain your perceived lack of ability to count in amateurs. Perhaps for some it is simply they have a different understanding of who to follow? (And yes a lot of amateurs struggle to count. Arghh! I sat next to a tenor in one choir who always on the front or before the beat. It was especially bad since he often was slightly off pitch which made it much harder to come in correctly. )

I think that a lot of classical players don't have a solid sense of time or "pocket" - being in the groove. Even classical music has a groove. I've noticed when listening to professional orchestras that they don't have the time issues that amateur groups have, and I think that's part of what separates those upper tier players (part, not all) from mortals like ourselves. They are total package players, and that means they also have a really solid sense of time.

delano wrote:
Up to now my experience is that in a classical setting the conductor is always the boss over everything (I think Little Rusty made that part clear) and in a music form without an active conductor the bass is the leading instrument on the rhythm structure.

The latter is not just my opinion, there has been quite good research in that field:
https://www.pnas.org/content/111/28/10383

summary of this: https://riotfest.org/2019/03/bass-players-are-the-most-important-part-of-the-band/

Bass Players Are The Most Important Part of the Band, Says Science
BY RIOT FEST / MARCH 4, 2019 / SCIENCE

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the bass is the most important part of any song. Because the human brain is better at picking up the rhythm when it’s played in a lower tone, like a bass, we rely on the bass player to keep the structure of the song much more than a guitar or drum.

As a former bassguitar player I struggled a lot with drummers especially that they were dropping the time quite often.

And I have a problem with the concept of 'following'. Most of the time that will make that you are late. In my view the music is already there and you have only to fill in what is necessary for your part. IMO this is also valid for drummers.

HA! Something we agree on! As a drummer, when not using a click, I really try to lock on to the bass player because the bass is who really sets the time, and together we establish the pocket and groove.

Your observation about drummers with poor time is spot on though - as a trumpet player I've had to deal with it on occasion, and as a drummer it's something I work on. Much of my drumming is done to a click - personally I have never had issues using a click, but I know a lot of drummers who struggle with it.

When I'm not using a click, I lock onto the bass, I work to be aware of where the time is, and I work to maintain the groove even during fill figures - that's when drummers typically drop the time, and most often they'll rush through the fills and land on the '1' early - it has the opposite effect of adding energy and actually sucks energy out of the tune.
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delano
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2021 9:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In fact it feels quite good to agree with you on some points. Fighting is no fun.
I think you are right with your observation that problems with rhythm is much more prevalent among amateur musicians. Probably caused by a complex mixture of less talent and technical shortcomings. From the period I studied classical piano I learned that if it is difficult for you to play the notes properly, the real music making is still a bridge too far. The pro musicians I know are all quite good in keeping time and in timing and phrasing. And from the classical musicians it's mostly the older ones that have difficulties with playing more modern percussive rhythms and with modern music in general. I remember the story of the solo clarinet player of a major symphony orchestra who refused to play the intro of the Rhapsody in Blue, he considered that as rape of the instrument, so the youngest third player had to do that.
And yeah, drummers. One of the last concerts I visited before the corona disaster hit us all, was a band operating with two drummers but at the end I was really wondering why, because the band should have done much better without them both. And then playing with a click track. Drummers who are not able to play along a click track have not much future I'm afraid. As a bass player I made some tracks for a demo studio in which I played the bass notes only over a click track. It's weird the first time, you can't hurry up a click track. So you have to give over, you fill in what you have to play in the click sound, the click is dominant, that's what I meant with the feeling that the music is already there, you just fill in what's needed. Drummers who are not able to do it play often too 'heavy', they think THEY are the music but in reality you have to back off, you are only a servant to the music. In fact they lack a certain musicality, the ability to listen and to do what is appropriate musically. And then comes your point: if the drummer goes wrong it destroys the music, playing the drums is certainly not a forgiving job. I always remember every concert with a really good drummer, like hearing the countryrock group Poco with a rock solid but still 'light' playing drummer, everything exact to the point, great. And I learned that what I would call 'show drummers', drummers who fill up the stage with tons of hardware, are often slow and late in everything, they make a lot of noise but unfortunately not on the right moment, they miss the flash touch. Maybe we have to lock them up for some time with the obligation to listen to Tony Williams.
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LittleRusty
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2021 12:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

trickg wrote:
LittleRusty wrote:
Hmm. So we have one or two members of the orchestra who are not following the director and the 78 others need to stop following the director? I think this is the tail wagging the dog.

I think it depends on who it is who is out. One or two violins? Stay with the conductor. The guy on the drum kit for a pops concert? IMO, the orchestra really should follow the drummer, at least until things get sorted and the conductor and drummer sync back up.

I am pretty sure you understood that I was specifically referring to the percussion section and not the violins.

I do agree that some classical musicians do not innately understand rock/pops type of rhythms. Many have an attitude of scorn and look down on these genres. While they might not be able to count, feel, sit in the groove, they also feel no need to do so. Not that they couldn’t achieve the ability if they so desired.
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LittleRusty
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2021 2:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One other point that was glaringly obvious when my university trumpet instructor played jazz, not being able to count isn’t necessary the issue. I believe to this day that his default mode was to subdivide into 64’s in his head. Any music with a swing to it came out extremely stilted. He nailed the written rhythms, but it was just bad.
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kehaulani
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2021 2:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

LittleRusty wrote:
One other point that was glaringly obvious when my university trumpet instructor played jazz, not being able to count isn’t necessary the issue. I believe to this day that his default mode was to subdivide into 64’s in his head. Any music with a swing to it came out extremely stilted. He nailed the written rhythms, but it was just bad.


LOL, you got that right. When I was working as an arranger in D.C, I worked with a guy who had an easier time than me getting the concert band/choir to swing (if that's not a contradiction in terms).

I couldn't figure it out, so one day, looked at his scores. He had written for the brasses and perc. in duple time but wrote the woodwind parts in triple time.

(i.e. 4/4 for brasses, 12/8 for woodwinds.)
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LittleRusty
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2021 3:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

kehaulani wrote:
LittleRusty wrote:
One other point that was glaringly obvious when my university trumpet instructor played jazz, not being able to count isn’t necessary the issue. I believe to this day that his default mode was to subdivide into 64’s in his head. Any music with a swing to it came out extremely stilted. He nailed the written rhythms, but it was just bad.


LOL, you got that right. When I was working as an arranger in D.C, I worked with a guy who had an easier time getting the concert band/choir to swing (if that's not a contradiction in terms).

I couldn't figure it out, so one day, looked at his scores. He had written for the brasses and perc. in duple time but wrote the woodwind parts in triple time.

(i.e. 4/4 for brasses, 12/8 for woodwinds.)

Back when I was doing midi that was essentially how I did swing. Triplets with two notes tied together instead of dotted eighth/sixteenths.

On a similar note a church I used to attend did a living Christmas tree every year. It was a huge production with professional staging and lighting, a 30’ tree built out of scaffolding that the youth performed from in the second half of the show.

The previous year’s accompanist decided to not participate so the new music director looked around and found a classically trained pianist. He asked her if she could play Christmas music and she replied of course.

It turned out the charts were all chord charts and not written out accompaniments. Which she couldn’t do.

The night prior to the dress rehearsal the previous accompanist and I stayed up until 3:00 AM recording his performance into midi which I cleaned up and had ready in time for warmups.

We eventually had two midi keyboards and a four console Rogers organ with midi interface to provide the backing tracks. As the accompanist became comfortable over the performances we brought her up into the mix and brought down the piano.

Not sure I would have the hubris to do that again, but it saved the show and was a success.
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