1. #1

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    In a recent project an expert drummer submitted a part (samba) in which he is ahead of the click by an average of 35ms or so, even on written out hits. Every now and then, in the tune, he hits something right on the click. The part sounds great. It is the work of a master.

    He does not recommend examining the waveform (in Reaper, in my case) to try to place the notes played by other instruments. He recommended doing this by ear. No argument, but, as an academic exercise, there are some things I'm wondering about. That is, even though I've been warned against this, I couldn't stop myself. So ...

    If the drums are that early -- playing 35 ms before each click (100bpm in 2/4), is there an ideal location for the bass notes?

    Would you expect the best groove to happen with the bass right on the click? After the click? By how much?

    Any thoughts about the piano and guitar? Where should they be in reference to the click?

    Here's my current thinking: This drummer played ahead of the click, which is one great way of doing it, but not the only way. That's audible in the bass drum as well as the rest of the kit (one overhead mic in this Covid era recording).

    I soloed the drum track and tapped my foot where I felt the beat. Then I turned on the click -- the same one the drummer used when recording. My foot and the click were not together. I duplicated the track and moved the new copy 35ms to the right -- so the drums are right on the click. Then I listened to the song, all part, with each drum track. The track that was right on the click didn't sound wrong, but the original track - the one 35 ms ahead - sounded much better.

    With this drum track, the bass seems to sound best just a little behind the click, but not as much as 35ms. Maybe half that? And, not every note should be in the same place relative to the click.

    I think the guitar comp sounds best pretty close to the click, but, again, not every note. I have heard some great guitarists comp samba in what I think probably matched that 35ms early approach. It drives the band. But, somebody (presumably the bassist) has to stay back to make it work.

    The drummer also mentioned something about "stretching" the time, which wasn't clear to me. I thought of a few situations when I've been able to jam with world class players. Once, when playing a song I knew well (Samba Novo), with the chart in front of me, the masters took the time into outer space and I got lost. I don't know what they were doing. I don't know if they all had the original beat of the tune in their minds while they stretched or compressed the time. I don't know if, or how, they came back into the original time as if nothing had happened. When I asked the bassist about it, his only advice was "keep your ears open".

    I've heard great jazz players do this a few other times -- where as an audience member I could easily understand the head of the tune and then I could follow where they were in the solo section or how they came back to earth. My guess is that they're aware of two things at once - the original time and the altered time -- which, apparently, can be stretched more than I'd have imagined.

    On the drum track I was talking about above there were some hits that seemed to be 75ms early. At 100bpm that's about a 32nd note. So, were they all, perhaps, playing substantially ahead of the original beat -- with nobody staying behind to anchor it? That is, with everybody maintaining awareness of the original time - mentally only- while stretching the s*** out of it? At the time, I found it impossible to figure out where they were or how to play along with it.

    One more thing. I loaded another tune into Reaper -- an original Baiao for which I wrote out the bass, drum and triangle parts note by note in Musescore and then rendered as individual tracks. As an experiment, I moved the drum track to the left by about 20ms (this tune is at 170 in 4/4). I had triangle (from Musescore) and rebolo (hand percussion drum which I recorded live) which I left as is. Sure enough, the drum part grooved better when it was early rather than right on the click.

    I imagine that this has been studied at least for some styles. Anybody have a reference or additional thoughts about it?
    Last edited by rpjazzguitar; 09-18-2020 at 02:15 AM.


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  3. #2

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    Back in my funk/jazz days (early nineties) I recall hearing a well respected drummer discussing this topic with a well respected bass player. They both seemed to acknowledge this phenomena: the effectiveness of the bass hanging back a fraction vs drums.

    I couldn’t hear the timing gap and was out of my league playing with those guys. I don’t know if they could hear it or if they were simply aware of a study regarding this. But I do know that when they played together it felt great.

    I am very interested to hear more about this topic.

  4. #3

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    The engineer at a studio I worked with a good bit was an advocate of running the drum tracks a bit ahead of the beat. I don't recall the exact figure but it was in the low double digits, millisecond-wise.