Time Internalization 1
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Time is not happening here:
(snap fingers on 2 and 4)
Time is happening here:
Listen to the music that you love. What does it do? It moves you. It causes you to sway, it causes you to dance, it takes
you on a journey from the beginning of the song until the last note. And if you find yourself humming the tune on your
walk home from the show, it's still going on.
Time happens in here (chest) and out here (the air). It's not here (taps foot) or here (bobs head). These are external expressions of an inner dialogue your heart has with the music. If someone steps on your toe the pulse of the music isn't diminished and the time doesn't stop. I watched a Carol Kaye video years ago where she said you must "pat your foot" to keep time. For me, the pulse I feel inside is a hundred times stronger than any toe tapping I could ever do. I feel the time like a little tap in my chest when I play.
When I was younger I played with a drummer everyone said was great. I had a hard time playing with him, and at that point in my
development I thought I was right about where the time was all the time. I thought he was guilty of the most heinous of crimes- he had Bad Time. So instead of loosening up and finding middle ground with him, I stomped the floor with my foot to try and show him where the time was.
My first gig almost 2 years after an accident that put me in a wheelchair I was having trouble because I couldn't stomp my foot. All my talk about feeling the time came down to having the faith in myself that I had good time, and that it was inside me and wasn't dependent on any external force or sound. I decided on stage that night, the night I left the hospital after almost 2 years, to let myself feel the time where it lived- inside me. Twenty years later I feel a kind of closeness and intimacy with other musicians when we are feeling the time like this, together.
If you walk in on a room of musicians playing, mid-song, you pretty much immediately find the pulse or the heartbeat of what
they're doing, right? There's a saying that time is like a river. Walk for five miles and the river is still there for
you to dip your toes in. You walk in that room and the pulse is right there in front of you, plain as day and real as the nose
on your face, the second you feel it.
For me the point of having the metronome click 2 and 4 is so that I am responsible for more of the time, and by doing so I have to
be able to internalize and feel the time, as opposed to needing some external source for it. Have the metronome click every second
bar. Every fourth bar. The pulse is still happening at the same time.
It sounds difficult: put the metronome so it clicks at 40 beats per minute.
40 is 80, is 160. To me the distance between two clicks is like a clothes line. If I hang a red shirt at exactly half the distance
between beginning and end, I have subdivided, visually, the distance. I hang a red shirt halfway between the red shirt and the
beginning of the line, and another red shirt between the original shirt and the end of the line, I have visually divided the
line into four equal parts.
The goal is not to try and anticipate the click, or try and catch it as it happens, or guess when it will happen. The point is to
free yourself from the click and simply *let time happen*.
We're all human. The best musicians have some "drift" in their playing. With good internalized time, when you become aware of
the drift, you merely "tighten up" or "loosen", and you will usually drop right back into the click. Try this as an exercise the
next time you practice with a metronome:
Set the click for 40bpm. After listening for a few clicks, to get a feel where the subdivisions are, find the pulse halfway between
If each click is a whole note (4 beats), play a C major scale in half notes over the click, so that for every click you will
play 2 notes. Be calm and allow yourself the leeway for making "mistakes". This is a learning process. Everything that helps you
on the road to developing this sense is not a mistake, it's an opportunity to learn and grow as a musician.
So, you feel the subdivisions between the clicks. You're playing confidently, you're at one with the metronome. You notice you've
played a note just before the click. Without panicking, let your pulse out like a fishing line on a pole. Loosen up so that
you will naturally hit a bit later next time. You learn to intuit the amount of give or take when you're early or late, but
it's a beautiful feeling to really get inside the time, and feel that next beat, when you're *right there* with the click.
Now, the metronome is not your bandmate. Just as everyone has a different sense of humour, musicians will have differences of opinion
on where the pulse is. Music is a collaborative art. A beautiful dance between musicians that the audience gets to observe and
hopefully be moved by. On the bandstand it doesn't really matter who is "right". It matters that the musicians feel the pulse
together and tell the story of the song. Sometimes you're right, and sometimes you just have to find a way to make it work.
The goal is to make it work, no matter what. All the practice at home is just rehearsal for your performance. It's a lifelong
process, a journey where you develop a relationship with music and musicians.
Having good internalized time is the ability to subdivide pieces of time without needing an external indicator.
When my internalized time feels shaky, I tend to feel the need to fill my lines with extra notes and finger sounds, so I have
an external representation of the time. For example, in between playing the normal parts of my bass line I will feel like I have to
play something in the spaces to audibly subdivide the beat. I became aware of this when I was 18 and was in the recording studio
for the first time. The producer, who is a great bass player, brought my attention to the fact I was adding auduble clicks and hits
without playing notes. In a live situation, such as a duo gig with a guitar player, I will sometimes choose to add some audible
subdivisions for effect. But generally, you want to avoid these things. And back to the point of this lesson- playing audible
non pitch subdivisions do nothing to help your sense of internalized time.
It takes a certain amount of confidence and faith in your sense of internalized time
to LET GO and allow time to happen all by itself.
But it's a very rewarding and exciting point in a musician's progress when they realize they don't have to worry about the
time when they're playing, that they
When you listen to your favourite music try and listen for the real pulse within the music. It's not beat-by-beat. It's in broader
feelings. When I listen to drummer Elvin Jones with the John Coltrane Quartet, from the 60s, I hear big broad swinging triplets
that go over the bar lines and give me a feeling of floating over the music. Check out Live At The Village Vanguard, A Love Supreme,
Crescent, Live In Seattle etc. The drumming of a musician like Elvin Jones has influenced the way I think about and approach all
types of music, not in a narrow stylistic way, but through the philosophical ideas of playing the song, playing the music, and so
For me it's all about making a connection with the music, the musicians, and the audience.
I hope some of this can help you look at the job of playing bass in an expanded way. We have the best job in the world!
If you have any questions, comments, or would like to discuss anything, please email email@example.com or comment here on
I'm preparing a video to go with this and my first lesson, Metronome Practice 1.