Lines, Your Ear and Time Feel: Part 3 – Developing your Time Feel

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Hey everybody,

Sorry for the delay on this one, been a hectic couple of days and also got a little too absorbed in my practice. Regardless, here is the final part of this little series on my Blog. It’s really been a pleasure writing these and I hope you guys keep coming in with more questions! If you would like to read Part 2, you can do so here –

Let’s proceed in talking about time feel…

Your time feel is an integral part to your musicianship. Much like your ear, you need to develop this to the best of your ability, as the benefits are unparalleled. If one examines the playing of some of the top musicians today, you will notice one common trait…their time feel is impeccable. In fact, so many students are concerned with lines and improvisation that this area of one’s playing can be easily neglected. Your time is what helps the music not only feel good, but it makes it groove (something we should all remember).

Alright, so we understand that our time feel is important, but how on earth do we approach it? My first piece of advice would be to listen to players who have a great time feel to begin with. It will give you a point of reference and an idea of what you should aim for. In my experience, a lot of the transcriptions I’ve done had time feel as a subconscious element. Thus, even though it wasn’t my primary focus, it would still be targeted as I was playing along with the recordings of musicians who had brilliant time. The most notable transcriptions, specifically for time feel, were: Michael Brecker, Nelson Veras, Aaron Parks, Taylor Eigsti, Chris Potter and Brad Mehldau. Again, as I said in my last article, choose players you thoroughly enjoy. It’ll make the transcription experience more enjoyable and less tedious.

Another point I would like to mention is a focus on subdivisions. I’ve noticed that even just playing 16th notes to a metronome for only 15-20 minutes a day has improved my time feel significantly. That said, just playing 16th note runs up and down the instrument isn’t going to do wonders. Remember: the key is focused practice. Pick one note and play 16ths to a metronome setting that’s not too fast, but not too slow (we want to focus on our time, not chops). Also, note that this becomes harder with slower tempos, due to the fact that there is more room for error. There is simply more space between each subdivision. Eventually, you can start improvising with the 16th note subdivision, but maintaining that one note (little tip, use this as an opportunity to also work on your sound and touch). At some point, to give your mind a break, improvise freely. However, you core focus should still be the time feel.

You can also try to study bass lines. The bass is a bridge between the melodic and rhythmic worlds in music, so this would be an excellent opportunity to build time feel if straight rhythms get boring fairly quickly. I’ve found this also gives you an insight into the construction of bass lines and forces you to sit and groove for a while. It also gives you an idea of what goes on in the bass players head.  For example, if someone is pulling/pushing the time, you will immediately feel it because you’re the one holding it together (now you know how it feels when you try mess with your bass player…). Remember, focus on the subdivision and just make it groove.

I’m going to close with another little pointer that I got from Tim Miller. Whilst playing, try to simultaneously focus on the source of the time. If you find yourself rushing or dragging, really hone in on the rhythm (whether it be the drummer, the bass player or the metronome). Often times, we can get so caught up in our own little world, that we forget we have to make what we play feel good from a rhythmic perspective. This is not only a good little tip to improve your time, but it improves your aural awareness. Thus, making you a better overall musician, not just an instrumentalist.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little series on my Blog and that it has helped you with some aspects of your playing. Furthermore, I hope it’s given you a bit of an insight into not only my playing but my teaching style, methods and philosophies as well. As I mentioned in my last Blog post, I am starting to offer Private Lessons either by Skype or in person here in Boston. If this interests you, please do get in touch via the contact page on my website and we’ll discuss all the details (you can also message me via Twitter or Facebook). Also, if you have any more requests for write-ups and discussions, let me know.

Happy Practicing!

– Juan Dhas


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