Time Part 1


Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in.Thoreau


Another part of music that is hard to teach or learn. Some have it right from the start. Hopefully, the rest  of us develop our way of feeling time over, well time.   Some of us never look into this subject deep enough and are just satisfied with the ability to keep time without speeding up or slowing down, what we call rushing or dragging.

Blog Newbie Note—–I will have to figure out some way of posting this stuff in reverse order, for now, i will try to arrange the different topics in their own categories and make sure I put part 1, 2, 3 or something like that in the title.

I am also writing each entry over a few days to a week so forgive the jumps in logic that is bound to happen.

This is part one of time.

Im out here at the dog park with my dog and 5 others i am taking care of today, sitting at a bench writing and its is slightly raining. We are the only ones here so i may be able to finish this first page, unless, I realize that rain, may not be so good for  iPads and bluetooth keyboards.



What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know. Saint Augustine




This subject as far as I can remember was never really discussed all that much. Tempo, rushing, dragging, was pointed out in public and private lessons – but I do not remember hearing about or learning about a systematic way to develop a sense of time in any music program I attended.. I started working as a musician at the age of 7 ( entertainer playing banjo on TV and most all of my private music lessons were on the piano, and was studying classical material).

Since time as a concept was never discussed, it was all, feeling and expression-  how one can put feeling into pieces by slowing down or speeding up. Why the great players sounded so unique, how they were able to place every note, every phrase, every chord, every idea, every SPACE and made it sound alive; a living breathing entity with weight and substance. How they did this, and how one persons note on a beat was very different from anothers note on a beat, well, I was on my own on that one.


Time Marches on

How long a minute is, depends on which side of the bathroom door you are on. Zall’s Second Law

Metronomes were the rage for students. My piano teachers had them. My clarinet and sax teachers had them. My drum teacher had them. I had one. I think my clarinet teacher may of used it during my lessons a few times on technically difficult passages, but thats about it.


So, I never really thought about it that much. I just played. then- I started playing with other humans. Small groups I put together. bands i worked with. I started noticing that most of us had their own idea of time and more obvious if one really listened, tempo.

I have played in orchestras complete with conductors. I would say besides cuing sections on upcoming lines, I think most of it is to push everyone to keep the tempo up. Dragging, is in my opinion, a drag.


Dragging is slowing down while you are playing. There are some reasons for this I am aware of, and no doubt, I could look on the internet and find tons of other ideas on why this occurs, but in my time playing music, I believe the main reason for this phenomenon is the inability to do many things at once as a player.


Now – this isn’t that true in all styles of music. Playing to a click track for instance – which is playing to a metronome, this is a common way that studio musicians play music. I suppose not sounding too organic and human became a bad thing   in a studio, and having precise mechanical time became the norm for pop studio recordings. now with the ability to synch synths and other sound creating devices after basic tracks are set, this makes more sense to have a recording that doesn’t stray too far away from the original tempo.  There are many reasons for this – mostly technical as how a piece of music is performed and interpreted is subjective. But is a studio, it is much easier to add computers into the mix if the tempo is rigid, without rushing or dragging, and is set to a time code so that you can add horn parts in at the third bridge or take a pre recorded part, lets say of someone else’s conga playing on another recording, drop it into your piece, speed it up or slow it down to perfectly match the tempo of your piece and boom. New part.

When i recorded Strength and Kindness CD a few months ago, I did not want to play to a click track or metronome. For one thing, I was rehearsing the band without one, and i wanted a live sound , also which is the way i rehearsed the band. I was more interested in getting us to sound like an ensemble than to harp on technical problems that creep up in the songs when performing. One tune rushed a bit, but not enough so that it is noticeable to most people. Also – one of the reviewers picked up on the fact that we had rehearsed in this way. Not an easy thing to pick up on. You can see this review on my website http://www.senightmare.com

Time flies on restless pinions – constant never. Friedrich Schiller

Ive been a studio musician, I know how to play in the pocket when called for. I know how to play behind the beat- on top of the beat, and one whole beat behind the bar. Yes, there is a type of music that demands the bass to be one beat behind everyone else – while keeping rock solid time but playing loose while doing this. makes it interesting to sightread – as even reading ahead to see where the changes are coming , you still are playing one beat ahead of everyone. Where was I….

None of that really matters if you rush or drag. Or rely on someone else’s time to tell you where the tempo is. Playing with humans to a click track in a studio setting is not hard, but difficult to sound alive and fresh. Or if your time is shaky or if you don’t know your time is shaky, this will let you know real quick.

Back to the metronome. I have not used it in my role as a teacher, I have clapped time with my hands to point out something, but don’t have students working to a click track.

If your band is going in the studio and will be using a click track – everyone better practice together with the click in your headphones.

I get sidetracked easily….


Its About Time

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst. William Penn


If you listen closely to players that have a some facility over their instrument and have numerous recordings, you may start noticing the individual way that they phrase ideas, and where they place notes, the length of the notes, attack, tone and you will eventually get to know how they think. in time you might be able to pick them out on a recording that you have never heard before. For me, I first recognize the touch and then they way they feel the time to determine who the player is. For most of us, we put all the info together and we can know the player. A good example would be Miles. One need only hear a part of one note to recognize who is playing it.

I bring this up because even musicians playing to a metronome or click track do place their notes in their own way. Think of clapping quarter notes. When your two hands come together, that is a note. But the hands stay together for a period of time before the next clap. One places their note in that world of time when the hands touch. And depending on the style of music, your hands might come together a millisecond before the downbeat of the time for that quarter note. It is easier to understand this concept if you clap in time for a bar or two. Its that life that the hands are together where you can express yourself and develop your unique sound and sense of time.

Sometimes the style or type of music determine the way the time is felt. This is gong to be a major generalization, but here goes: Jazz can be a bit behind the beat, as well as some types of blues, Pop is on the beat ( usually recorded to a click track ) and is called playing in the pocket, salsa on top of the beat except for the bass player.


Generally speaking –

The inertia hardest to overcome is that of perfectly good seconds. Martin H. Fischer


this is a reason why some pop players do not have the right feel for jazz or salsa lets say. And jazz players sound out of place playing pop. You get the idea. If you are used to feeling time a certain way in a style of music you are used to, then bring that way of feeling time to another style, it may not groove , or as the jazz guys say, swing. I use the term swing, or does not swing for any type of music.


I was illustrating the possible problems with the time feel when attempting other styles of music. Of course there are other stylistic problems that will creep in as well, but i am just discussing time at this time. maybe another time.


When one starts to understand the power of feeling time deeply – you may not be able to use it in your own playing yet, but you can start hearing it in other players. A guitar player just playing a few chords and strumming, but the way those two chords are being strummed is unusual and does not sound like other players. If you dissect it to hearing the way the time is felt., get past the tone, the volume the style of music, the fingering and how the chords are built, and just hear where everything is placed against where the  pulse of the piece is. There is where that particular player lives. You can get to know that player from the sense of time as you start realizing it is the foundation of all the notes and ideas that player plays.


more on this next time.


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