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I'm a keyboard player in a party band, and I'd love to be able to use the kind of loop-delay sounds so common on modern processed recordings to fill out the sound. However, I face the immediate problem that it reverses the 'conductor' relationship we have with our drummer: ordinarily, we have no option but to follow his (thankfully very steady) rhythm.

I can get the keyboard reasonably synchronised to the drummer at the start of the song, but inevitably it drifts away after a few bars (the tempo is internally quantised to a whole number of beats per minute, so it's not the drummer's fault!).

The only solutions I can think of are

  • resync my keyboard to the drummer every few bars with the 'tap tempo' button, or
  • glare sternly at the drummer if he dares to drift away from my tempo (he just smiles and ignores me)

Is there a technique I'm missing to do this? I've seen bands where they do seem to use sounds like this, but I've never been close enough to see exactly how they do it.

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"the tempo is internally quantised to a whole number of beats per minute, so it's not the drummer's fault" actually I doubt that this is the "problem", I rather think the drummer does in fact keep changing the tempo slightly. Which is not a bad thing at all, most good drummers do this, it's an essential part of the musical expression. So if you want to keep the rythm as tight as it seems to be now, don't force a click track upon him! –  leftaroundabout Mar 5 '13 at 21:12
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Anecdote from a documentary about the famous pianist Ray Charles. He was always very hard on drummers for not following him. He would growl "Watch my feet" at the drummer in rehearsals -- ironic of course because Ray was blind and could not watch anyone else (and didn't need to). –  Wheat Williams Mar 6 '13 at 15:57
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5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Your drummer should be capable of playing along to a rhythm set by another instrument rather than leading the tempo all the time. Can he drum along to a metronome?

If the problem is that the keyboard isn't always sounding the beat (maybe you have a couple of bars without playing, or just holding a chord without rhythm?) then you need to add something for him to follow.

I suggest adding a 'click track' to your keyboard output - ideally via a separate output that the drummer can listen to through an earpiece; he then plays in time to that, your keyboard is obviously in time with itself and everyone else can then follow the drummer.

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Yes, I'll only be playing from time to time -- perhaps only in the chorus, or to give some emphasis. The click track idea is interesting... although I'm not sure if I'll be able to convince our drummer to wear an earpiece ;) –  Flup Mar 5 '13 at 15:37
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If there's a lot of electronics going on that the drummer needs to always be in time with, then a click track on an earpiece is really the only option. This is pretty standard for professionals to use with in-ear monitors.

If the tempo doesn't vary immensely and the keyboard is only playing from time to time, then I don't think there's reason enough to introduce a costly in-ear monitor setup if you're not using one already. (Click tracks also take away a lot of freedom you otherwise have as a performer.) What you should be doing instead is to program your keyboard in a way that it doesn't rely on an internal clock being consistent through the entire song. You would program in the target tempo, but it wouldn't start keeping time until you trigger it by playing in time with your drummer.

If that's a bit beyond your keyboard tech, you might be able to get away with giving four beats of tap tempo in the bar before you come in each time, in order to resync from any drift that happened when the keyboard wasn't playing.

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The loss of performance-freedom is much more of a problem you get yourself into with click tracks than the need to have in-ear monitoring. –  leftaroundabout Mar 5 '13 at 21:00
    
Right, that's my point--but click tracks rather require an in-ear monitor setup, as opposed to loudspeaker monitoring that the audience can ostensibly hear. –  NReilingh Mar 5 '13 at 22:18
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If you bring in a steady electronic beat to a live situation either the drummer should hear it clearly from the monitor or your sample must be very specific in terms of that tempo of the current song.

The live performance is never perfectly uniform in terms of tempo though many professionals play to a click track (especially pop gigs with light shows and dancers synced to the beat). If you leave the click track out basically everybody stays on the beat via drummer's backbeat (or whatever is significant with that particular tune). Otherwise a DJ actively takes control of the samples by modifying along the way and incorporating into the song just by judging the tempo of the drums and adjusting accordingly. Or the drummer specifically takes those samples into account as a click track and follows its lead. It's often doable but the mental load increases as the sample gets complicated. In the modern era, drummers include electronic pads to trigger the samples when they see it fit.

What you are trying to do is to sync two independent tempo selectors and one of them is organic. So you have two options:

As you mentioned, either you link your sample to a key on your keyboard and trigger it every couple of bars (or every bar if needed to resync) or let the drummer hear the sample cleanly so that he can sync with it. Or as others mentioned introduce a click track it can be his own track and you can introduce the samples depending on his backbeat. So the precision stays in your control while the drummer doesn't bother listening to your settings.

However, as you see, it's not that easy to just press a button and let the sample ring. 5 bpm difference can build up pretty quickly in a few bars.

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Our old trick was to give the drummer a metronome being fed from the keyboard. Obviously not all keyboards will be able to output that, but if it does, give that a go. He needs a steady pulse if he isn't the one creating it himself :)

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Apparently he was creating a steady pulse until now, and a metronome is unlike to be able to produce a better one. Steady does not mean static, au contraire! –  leftaroundabout Mar 5 '13 at 21:19
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The number one job of a drummer surely has to be to keep time, particularly in a dance band. It should be a matter of pride for any drummer that he /she can keep time.Yes, lots of numbers move slightly bar to bar, but if the drummer can't keep it straight when neccessary, it's a shame! As a guitarist/bass player, I hated using click , or drum machines, but I'm certain it was good grounding for time-keeping.Sounds to me like he needs to be persuaded to play along in time rather than go his own way.All part of the learning and improving situation. Tap tempo-ing won't do your job, it'll only mess things up for the whole band.Trouble is, most drummers will always say they play in time.......

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I don't think that's entirely fair... no drummer will be able to keep time as accurately as a crystal-driven circuit. The slightest few milliseconds of drift will accumulate over a very short time. –  Flup Mar 6 '13 at 10:29
    
I have worked with drummers using backing tracks as well, and one in particular was spot on every time, considering he could only hear the count in for each number - no monitor was used.A human metronome.And he would play with 'feel' when the song warranted. –  Tim Mar 7 '13 at 5:29
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