What The Heck Is Playing Behind The Beat Anyway?



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 instruct his band. In some types of music it is necessary while others need playing 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.

The leader of the funk band always said to me, you have to be right on the beat. The rock artist kept saying “lay it back a little, you don’t always want to be right on top of the beat. This was two different types of music with different needs.

I was playing percussion with the rock band when I learned what playing behind the beat was, and what it does. 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 and delayed it, I could feel the whole band locking into a nice 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 a space and feel that was different. It felt amazing.

So What’s The Difference?

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.”

When I drum, I think of my snare drum just like the cowbell mentioned above. I slow it down just a tad 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 their change from note to note, or chord to chord a little slower than usual. The results was dramatic, and everyone could feel it. There was much more space to the music. The song actually came alive.



Here Is An Example.

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.

If you want to see and hear an example, check out this video. It shows the difference of playing behind, on, and ahead of the beat.

If you find this info helpful, let’s uplift the music community and share it with your band mates.


PS: If you’re playing with a band, you may also find this article helpful:

How To Get Into The Zone While Performing With Your Band

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. tom

    November 2, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    Grear EWF song man. laid back with groove.

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