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I can't feel the meter when playing along very well, sometimes not at all.

Note I can feel the "pulse" just fine. I have no problem tapping my foot to the beat in time but I can't feel where the one is in many cases unless it is easy or involves a simple rhythmic pattern. Usually syncopations or melodies that obscure the meter throw me off.

The issue seems to be that I can't really keep track of the meter and also perform what I'm trying to play. I do not have a huge issue counting the meter or tapping my foot hard soft soft soft for quadruple meter. Although, in some cases I do get a little lost if the beat is obscured or heavily syncopated as I want to re-adjust how I am counting. For example, there is a drum fill that plays only the "&"'s between two sections with nothing making the meter obvious I'll tend to hear the "&"'s as the one... this makes it almost impossible to perform a lick over it because I'll come in a half beat too early or late.

One of the biggest problems this presents, and seems to be a huge roadblock on ability is that I have difficulty knowing when to come in or when to resolve a phrase so it lands on the 1st beat correctly.

Again, realize that I can play some things just fine. For example, Say I learn a 16 bar solo note for note and it's mostly a steady continuous pattern. If there is a part that I do not learn exactly and try to make my own thing up there is a big chance I will either add or remove too many notes so that I'll not end the solo properly and get off. If the solo has some space between phrases I also can loose track unless I do have to play anything and can count. I can, for example, come in on the "&" of 1 or the 2nd beat pretty easily if I can focus on that(sometimes I can feel it but not usually).

I think this problem ends up presenting another issue with slows me down. If I learn a solo but has a memory lapse and forget a bar of it then I'm screwed as I can't usually recover(sometimes but rarely). What will happen is I will be completely lost or end up being out of sync(but in time, I have no problem with timing itself, I can play along with a metronome well, I can tap my foot to the pulse or division of the pulse no problem, just can't feel the hard/soft beats well).

Most of this stuff applies to "single" note melodies/solo's or stuff like that but not strumming. I usually don't have a huge problem with strumming chords, I guess because it's much easier to do in general(just chord shapes).

I also should add that if there is no real sense of pulse(something supplying the meter) I generally am lost as I can't "count" and play at the same time(which is the real issue). I basically have a lot of difficultly multi-tasking. Anyone have any ways to get me over this hurdle?

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You could give us some more details to enable us to offer suggestions. Do you perform solo, or in a band? What styles of music are you working with? Do you rehearse with backing tracks or a metronome? Do you have a teacher and are you taking lessons now, or are you self-taught? –  Wheat Williams Mar 26 '13 at 0:53
    
@WheatWilliams I am "fairly" advanced except for this issue which is why I said it seems to be the only thing keeping me back, assuming it is a fundamental problem. I most likely skipped over working on this stuff because it was "easy" but as I got into more complex technical matters(solo's with more notes or more complex passages with heavier syncopated stuff, or weird syncopated pauses/rests) these "cracks" in the foundation preventing me from progressing. –  Uiy Mar 26 '13 at 9:36
    
Here is a typical problem: Suppose I am playing a solo note for note. Suppose I have to adjust the guitar amp volume. I can't come back in with the solo in the right place. If I do not have to stop or get lost I have no problem. The steady(doesn't have to be uniform) stream of notes is what keeps me in time. It might just be an awareness issue but I would like some technical exercises that isolate the metrical problem that I can work on. –  Uiy Mar 26 '13 at 9:41
    
Just posted a long answer and realize I have assume you play guitar...do you? –  Chipsgoumerde Mar 26 '13 at 13:15
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@Chipsgoumerde The question was originally tagged with [guitar]. –  luser droog Mar 26 '13 at 17:43

5 Answers 5

This is a problem that is experienced by most people starting to learn an instrument.

Part of the problem is caused by not having the kind of technique where you don't have to think about the fingering patterns.

Usually people who have a lot of problems with counting are trying to play pieces of music that are too hard for them. By this I mean that they are having to concentrate on getting their fingers into the right place.

It takes time to learn to play an instrument and adults tend to try to rush the process by moving onto more difficult pieces before they have properly learned the basics.

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Your assumption that I just started playing guitar is wrong. It is not the complexity or the technique that is the problem. It happens when I improvise or when I perform a learned solo, which the problem only happens when I forget the a small part of the solo. –  Uiy Mar 25 '13 at 12:55
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@Uiy in his defense it sounds like you've just started playing. This is a problem common among new musicians and would be hammered out after a while in a formal setting. When I first learned to play an instrument I spent as much time clapping beats and counting as I did actually playing the instrument itself. This is something you learn with time and practice there are no tricks or shortcuts really. –  Tony Mar 25 '13 at 19:53
    
@Tony, Na, I think it's more of the: "If you can't do it then your a newb" mentality. Obviously if I'm having trouble at something then it must mean I suck/I'm a beginner. The reason why it is not an answer is because it doesn't solve the problem, beginner or not. If one is having difficulty feeling/counting the meter while performing there should be specific exercises to target this that I can work on that will lead me somewhere. –  Uiy Mar 26 '13 at 9:16
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Uiy - I wouldn't take it too personally. Instead look at it this way: in free soloing, you are effectively a noob, no matter what your experience elsewhere. So go for the noob learning in this area and you may see benefits. –  Dr Mayhem Mar 26 '13 at 19:36
    
Is Dunning/Kruger in effect here? The nastiness makes me wonder. –  JimR Apr 7 '13 at 11:12

In a way I envy you. I don't know whether it's due to my nature, training, or just the music I listen to, but I feel meters very strongly. As a result I find it really difficult to handle pieces which occasionally throw in a short bar.

But, to train yourself to be more beat-centric:

  • Practice with a drum machine. Choose patterns with an emphasised downbeat at first. When you no longer need that crutch, move on to more even patterns.
  • Do some active listening. Whenever there's music on, tap out the beat, making sure you differentiate the downbeat (for example, tap the downbeat with your thumb, and the other beats with your fingers). Do this even for music with no drums.

Aim to not have to count. Try to think about musical phrases in blocks, like a poem has lines and verses. So, for a 16 bar solo, you don't need to count to 16; you can think of it as two 8 bar stanzas. But you don't even need to count to 8, because that's two 4 bar blocks; a 4 bar block is a two bar phrase followed by another two bar phrase. Feeling those patterns is going to help you.

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Well, I find not having issues with gaining or loosing a beat a curse since almost all music is in 4/4. I routinely create riffs in 7/8, 7/16, 5/4, etc... and I'll string along bars of 7/16, 5/4, 9/16, etc... I once did something in 31/32 ;/ I generally don't count in my head but usually listen to "events" to trigger when to come in... if that event is not there I generally won't come in properly. I do feel some things easily(and it is getting easier) but most things are not natural, specially syncopations(I feel them as meter changes it seems). –  Uiy Mar 26 '13 at 18:22
    
I should say, if I play with a drum machine I can play on the 1 with no problem, on the 2, on the 3, on the 4... If I want to start a lick on 2 & I can do that without any big issue. Generally, I think it probably has to do with performance anxiety and having the melody internalized(I may be able to play a complex solo but it probably is more muscle memory than anything). –  Uiy Mar 26 '13 at 18:25

I used to have the same problem as you do, so here's what really solved it for me.

I used a funk guitar method: Funk Guitar: The Essential Guide.

Start with a very comfortable tempo (~70/80bpm max), block the string, and play sixteenth notes (hence, 4 notes per beat). Tap every beat with your foot, and count the time out loud (that's very important). Do that until you're comfortable, and do not try to speed up the tempo: it is completely irrelevant to this exercise and what you want to achieve.

Being comfortable means being able to let go, to relax and still sit tightly in the beat. It might take several days. Or weeks.

Next step is to play a chord on the first of the four sixteenth notes, and still block the three other. So you play a chord on the first beat and block on all the others.

Then you apply this principle to beat 1, 2, 3 & 4. Your goal is still to tap the foot on each beat, and to count out loud.

Then you'll play the chords on other accents. First, the third sixteenth of each bar.

Then on upstrokes : the 2s. And then the 4.

After that you can combine, for example, all the downstrokes (so 1s and 3s of each beat), then all upstrokes (2s & 4s).

And again, you have to keep counting and tapping your foot. This is why you need to start at a very slow tempo, 'cause it's reaaaally hard to keep counting and tapping.

Working on downbeats and upbeats will eventually make you feel the rhythm a lot more. You'll have to be patient and disciplined in your workouts though.

To go further and to diversify the exercise, you can do the same but without playing chords, just accents on the desired beats (so just pick stronger), and, instead of hitting the blocked strings between accents, hover above them.

As for knowing on to stop in a solo, first step is to know the rhythmic part very well. Then there's a bunch of workouts to do:

  • sing a melody (or whistle or hum). So, no instrument, but still tapping your foot.
  • sing and/or play all root note, then the third then the fifth of each chord.

Even though these exercises are for funk, they are so rhythm oriented, they should help you a lot. Funk rhythms are one of the harder to master, so "He who can do more can do less".

And I would further add that you should resist the temptation to use a drum box. Although I resent the purist mentality that teach that you should use only a metronome, in this case, it's true: these exercises should help you feel the pulse of the different accents, which you have to practice without the help of a drum beat. Although I guess you could do one and the other to keep things fun as they should always be.

Another way to work on this: use your metronome as an upbeat, that is to say, do not use it to mark all the beats but only the 2 and the 4, as if it were the snare of a drum beat.

And as another addition, I would advise you to learn a percussion instrument, be it a darbuka, a djembe or really anything of the sort.

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I've heard of this before and have tried it and have no problem with 8th notes but it gets hard for 16th notes but can do it. I've never practice it much though and it would help some what to practice it more. (it did help me play better on the &'s but maybe I didn't do it enough to help with the meter) –  Uiy Mar 26 '13 at 18:19
    
I think it's the right direction, at least it was for me. But it requires a lot of practice. I think learning a percussion instrument. And definitly singing. A percussion instrument involves only rythm and nothing else, so it's easier and most effective to focus on meter. And singing is the opposite, only focuses on melody, so it should solve your other problem. No need to be mariah carey, but there's a reason a lot of jazzmen sing while they play. –  Chipsgoumerde Mar 27 '13 at 7:38

You never said whether you play with others, e.g. in a band. Sounds like you play to backing tracks.There's a great danger in mainly playing solos verbatim.You have found this when a mental block occurs.Most musos who mainly play known songs have this problem - something like one-trick ponies.Play much much more improvisations - pent. maj or min. will do, as long as a real person is playing with you.Make up 'tunelets', starting on beat one, then on two, etc. Put some music on and when you have the pulse, turn the sound down, and after a few seconds turn it back up. You should be still in time with it. If not, use a song you know, do the same, but sing in the silence.Start with a short silence, then increase.This is fun in the underpass while driving. You can't beat experience, and I feel that playing with others is the best way (if they'll have you).Stick to simpler solos till your timing improves. A good teacher will sort out your problem much quicker than a forum will.

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My recommendation is to find some method books that use polyrhythms (2-against-3, 3-against-4, 3-against-5 are some of the simpler ones but percussionists seem to pride themselves on the most ridiculously unintuitive large prime number ratios) and practice those religiously.

Also try listening to and playing a lot of music in odd meters like 5/4 (Mission Impossible on repeat for a week) and 7/4 (same with Pink Floyd's Money). There's a whole genre called 'math rock' if you can stand it, or the band Tool if you'd rather not.

Finally, when practicing make sure to alternate practicing pieces in different common meters like 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8. Try to pay attention to the emotional difference of the meter independent of the tempo (if that makes any sense at all). Eventually you will begin to perceive a different character from each beat in each bar. If not, try doing all the above while counting to yourself in your head very loudly 1-e-and-a-2-e-and-a-3-e-and-a-4-e-and-a, and learn how to conduct in 2, 3 and 4. The uniqueness of the numbers and the hand positions become imprinted in your mental 'rhythmic circuits' and help give each pulse its own unique character.

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