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Thread: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

  1. #1

    Default Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    I know this forum has tons of skill and a lot of heart, so I hope y'all can help me with a problem that keeps me from playing breaks with our little family bluegrass band.

    While I have -- after a long time and with much effort on my part and much patience on my family's part -- finally learned to chop at the appropriate times, I have not been able to learn how to play a break that keeps in time with the beat. When the band is all playing together, I have learned to hear the bass beat and chop after it, but I have not learned how to hear the rhythm in relation to the melody I'm supposed to be playing. When I try, I find myself just lost; I hear kind of a wall of music but without any structure corresponding to what I'm doing. On the other hand, I can more or less play a break all right if I play along with my daughter's fiddle; I can tune into her melody and follow along.

    I have tried various things to overcome this hurdle. I have tried practicing with recordings of the melody or recordings of the melody with accompaniment. I can do this all right, because it is like playing along with my daughter. But when I play with the band without someone's else melody to follow, it all falls apart. I have also tried playing with a metronome or with a backing track, beginning with quarter notes and moving to eighth notes. That works ok. But again, when I'm playing with the band, I find myself completely lost.

    I have always had a pronounced rhythm deficiency, so I'm wondering if this is just one of those things that are just beyond my ability. If not, I'm thinking that maybe there are some better practice techniques that might help me break through. Of course, part of the complication is that, for the most part, I picked up this whole music thing in my 40s, and I've got two jobs or three jobs (depending on how you count) and kids ranging from ages 5 to 17, so practice time is not reliably generous. Maybe retirement is when these things happen.

    In any case, if anybody out there has any tips, techniques, or insights, I'd love to hear them. Sorry for the long post and thanks for your help.

  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Sing the song in your head while you play. It's a learned process.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Registered User John Soper's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Practice with the band. When you play your lead use the alternating up-down picking for 1/8 notes, where the down stroke is always on the beat. Good luck.

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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    ...

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    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    This may sound stupid - but . . . how about if you keep the beat during the song by tapping your foot, and then continuing to tap during the break? Human metronome/drum machine.

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    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    If you haven't already, get a lesson somewhere on counting the beats, then practice the songs at a slow tempo and count the beats while you play. It will seem like a lot to do, but your ear, your right hand, your tapping foot, and your brain will get on board.
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    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    You should ask your band mates to over-do their rhythm part, making the beat and chop extra pronounced. Ask them to over do the walk up/down between chords. And ask for heavy downbeats on the change and measure heads(accents). I play in a pro band, and sometimes the band is playing the form kinda wishy washy, on autopilot, without definition, and it gets easy to get lost. It's particularly tough when playing the fiddle, cuz it blasts into me ear and jawbone making it tough to listen to the group.

    The group needs to help you feel it...it is a learned technique.

    Afterthought...perhaps you're blaming yourself for your band being lousy at playing the form and rhythm with accuracy...
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeZito View Post
    This may sound stupid - but . . . how about if you keep the beat during the song by tapping your foot, and then continuing to tap during the break? Human metronome/drum machine.
    I find that while that is good, real good, often for me the foot tap wonders away from the actual beat, and I am following the foot tap. These days I am breaking my tapping habit a bit, and just concentrating on following the beat. YMMV.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Listen for the beat in every piece of music you hear, in the car radio, on line, in the background in the elevator. Just try and find it and tap your foot, or your finger, what ever is appropriate, to mark the beat. Every piece of music that floats your way.

    Just a thought.
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    There are two ways to tap your foot.

    1. Tap your foot and follow it.

    2. Your foot seems to simply follow the music and while you are following your foot it can speed up or slow down as you are tapping to the music and not following the consistent beat of your foot.

    I watch folks do both, but mostly they do #2.
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  16. #11

    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Sing the song in your head while you play. It's a learned process.
    Thanks, Mike. I have tried this, but I thinking my singing often starts to wander. But maybe combining this with some of the suggestions below about foot-tapping and a little help from my bandmates might help.

  17. #12

    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Wow! Such a lot of help, so fast! Thanks to everybody for your suggestions and for taking me seriously, even when I have little claim on musical seriousness.

    This may sound stupid - but . . . how about if you keep the beat during the song by tapping your foot, and then continuing to tap during the break? Human metronome/drum machine.
    MikeZito, this makes a lot of sense to me. In the past, I've found it difficult to tap and chop at the same time, but I gave it a try tonight with the band and had more luck--though I found I was really tapping on the off beat, because I couldn't my pick hand to go down while my foot was going up! In any case, I think maybe if I combine this with some help from my bandmates, as MontanaMatt recommends, that will help. And JeffD's suggestion of practicing listening even when I'm not playing makes sense, too.

    Thanks to all for your help. It's give me some great ideas and a bit of hope!

  18. #13

    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Quote Originally Posted by MontanaMatt View Post
    Afterthought...perhaps you're blaming yourself for your band being lousy at playing the form and rhythm with accuracy...
    That's a nice thought! But I'm afraid I've got too much external evidence that my wife and kids are solid--and one son in particular is a rhythm machine. So I'm afraid I'm going have to take the blame myself.

  19. #14

    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Haywood View Post
    It will seem like a lot to do, but your ear, your right hand, your tapping foot, and your brain will get on board.
    Yes, it's often a little overwhelming, but I'll keep in mind the counting--especially when trying to come in--and maybe my lazy brain will finally do its part one of these days.

  20. #15
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Here is another cool idea. As you walk during the day, hum a fiddle tune that you know or one that you are learning. Sync it up with your walking.
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  22. #16

    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandosopher View Post
    I know this forum has tons of skill and a lot of heart, so I hope y'all can help me with a problem that keeps me from playing breaks with our little family bluegrass band.

    While I have -- after a long time and with much effort on my part and much patience on my family's part -- finally learned to chop at the appropriate times, I have not been able to learn how to play a break that keeps in time with the beat. When the band is all playing together, I have learned to hear the bass beat and chop after it, but I have not learned how to hear the rhythm in relation to the melody I'm supposed to be playing. When I try, I find myself just lost; I hear kind of a wall of music but without any structure corresponding to what I'm doing. On the other hand, I can more or less play a break all right if I play along with my daughter's fiddle; I can tune into her melody and follow along.

    I have tried various things to overcome this hurdle. I have tried practicing with recordings of the melody or recordings of the melody with accompaniment. I can do this all right, because it is like playing along with my daughter. But when I play with the band without someone's else melody to follow, it all falls apart. I have also tried playing with a metronome or with a backing track, beginning with quarter notes and moving to eighth notes. That works ok. But again, when I'm playing with the band, I find myself completely lost.

    I have always had a pronounced rhythm deficiency, so I'm wondering if this is just one of those things that are just beyond my ability. If not, I'm thinking that maybe there are some better practice techniques that might help me break through. Of course, part of the complication is that, for the most part, I picked up this whole music thing in my 40s, and I've got two jobs or three jobs (depending on how you count) and kids ranging from ages 5 to 17, so practice time is not reliably generous. Maybe retirement is when these things happen.

    In any case, if anybody out there has any tips, techniques, or insights, I'd love to hear them. Sorry for the long post and thanks for your help.
    Use a metronome. There are plenty available on smart phone apps.

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  24. #17
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Quote Originally Posted by Billydog View Post
    Use a metronome. There are plenty available on smart phone apps.
    From the original post:

    I have also tried playing with a metronome
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  25. #18

    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Here are a couple places where I have had difficulty relating to rhythm and timing on breaks. Timing and rhythm are different but related things. You can have good rhythm and be solid on tempo but if you do not start your break on the proper beat then it falls apart and becomes quite frustrating when you cannot figure out why.

    First being very strict about alternate picking. Always down stroke on the 1,2,3,4 of the count, upstrokes on the "ands" of 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Clearing that up solved a lot of serious problems I had. When I start tangling up my picking in a new song I often find I have mixed up the ups and downs somewhere, particularly when crossing strings.

    The other issue that has been difficult for me is the pickup notes. The breaks do not start on the one count always. If there are pickup notes you have to start ahead of the measure. If you get locked into the "1" count and start off on it then you will be off for the whole break and your rhythm will feel wrong. If there are three pickup notes that are eight notes you have to start on an upstroke to further complicate things. If the song is moving quick it may be easier to ditch the pickup notes. Emory Lester gave that recommendation to a friend of mine who Skypes with him. A metronome will not help with the pickup notes. That has to be fixed with backing tracks or playing with others.

  26. #19
    Registered User Drew Egerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    The best advice I have is sign up for Mike Marshall's Artist Works class and send him a video exchange. It is WELL worth the money and you will get specific tips directed to you for where you want to go from one of the best in the world.
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  27. #20

    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Don't look at your mandolin. Look at someone else tapping their foot or playing straight on or off beat. Let them be your conductor.
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  28. #21
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg P. Stone View Post
    Don't look at your mandolin. Look at someone else tapping their foot or playing straight on or off beat. Let them be your conductor.
    Don't trust the tapping foot! Some people do crazy stuff, particularly when they solo.
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  30. #22

    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Here is another cool idea. As you walk during the day, hum a fiddle tune that you know or one that you are learning. Sync it up with your walking.
    I'm going to have to get a notebook to get all these ideas down! I like it. Thanks!

  31. #23

    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Timing and rhythm are different but related things. You can have good rhythm and be solid on tempo but if you do not start your break on the proper beat then it falls apart and becomes quite frustrating when you cannot figure out why.
    Thanks for this distinction; I hadn't articulated it for myself so clearly. Timing is definitely also a problem for me, and this will help me disentangle the challenges.

  32. #24

    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg P. Stone View Post
    Don't look at your mandolin. Look at someone else tapping their foot or playing straight on or off beat. Let them be your conductor.
    Quote Originally Posted by MontanaMatt View Post
    Don't trust the tapping foot! Some people do crazy stuff, particularly when they solo.
    I do sometimes look at my son's right hand on guitar to orient me. My banjo-playing son sometimes has two feet going--it's on beat but a bit much to follow [insert family-friendly banjo player joke here].

  33. #25
    Registered User Ky Slim's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! I can't hear the beat when I play a break

    Is your family band you and your kids? Good for you! It will come. Can you play all the instruments in the house?

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