Playing Behind The Beat
Can Give Your Music An Amazing Effect
“You don’t always have to be on top of the beat” is a phrase you sometimes hear an artist say when instructing his band. In some types of music, it is necessary. However, in other types of music, you need to play right on top of the beat.
As a drummer, when I first heard of the concept of playing behind the beat it was confusing. It was hard to understand what that was. I was conscious of playing as close to the click as possible. When I finally caught what that was, the difference was amazing.
Not all types of music call for it
A few years ago, I got the opportunity to play with a very tight funk band. Master drummer Steve Ferrone was being inducted into the walk of fame. He invited me to play percussion in the band he assembled for the event. The band was The Average White Band.
The other members besides the original members included Will Lee on bass. Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was on keyboards. Quest Love from The Roots was on the second drum kit. Virtuoso guitarist Oz Noy was on board with us along with Journey’s frontman Steve Perry on vocals.
When I started to play, Steve said to me, “Dave, you have to be right on the beat. This is not that rock and roll stuff you were playing with the other band, this is funk. You have to be dead on the beat.” I immediately told the engineer to turn up his kick and snare in my monitors so that I could dial in.
Playing in Joe Walsh’s band definitely called for it
In 2011 – 2012 I got the opportunity to play percussion in Joe Walsh’s band. This is where I learned what playing behind the beat is, and what it does. Joe kept saying to the players in the band “lay it back a little, you don’t always want to be right on top of the beat. This was a different type of music with different needs.
The instrument I was playing when this happened was a cowbell. Yes “more cowbell” I know, I know.
When I played single hits on the cowbell, I delayed it a bit. When I did, I could feel the whole band locking into a nicely musical groove. I remember the drummer looking over at me with a smile of gratitude and approval. The music still drove, but it drove with space and feel that was different. It felt amazing.
Here is the difference explained
Here’s how Ian Ballard replied to a question on behind, ahead, or on the beat in a Drummers World forum.
“I remember reading a MD article from the 80’s with John “J.R.” Robinson, where he explains the “behind vs. ahead” idea. He keeps his bass drum exactly on, but only changes the snare slightly depending on what the music needs. That guy truly is a master in the studio.”
This is an approach that has works well for me
When I drum, my snare drum acts like the cowbell mentioned above. I slow it down on purpose to get the effect. I remember playing with a band where the players tended to rush the music. For me as a drummer, I would either have to follow them, in which case the tempo got quicker and quicker. Or I would hold the tempo and hope they would get it. I suggested to everyone to delay their playing a bit. Make the changes they made from note to note, or chord to chord a little slower than usual. The results were dramatic, and everyone could feel it. There was much more space to the music. The song actually came alive.
Here is an example of a band that does it very well
Go take a listen to Earth Wind and Fire. Yes, I know they are old school. Anyway… Take a listen to Can’t Hide Love and notice the movement. It’s slow and dragged back. Notice how your body starts to move with the song. It’s a groove that pulls you into an interesting zone. Almost hypnotic if you ask me. As said before, not all music calls for playing behind the beat.
But when the music calls for playing behind the beat, and you execute it right, the magic then begins.
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