I am a guitarist trying to improve my rhythmic feel and have been told to play a little more behind the beat. This is in a studio setting. How should I approach this to be more consistant in playing in a groove which I should play behind the beat?


5 Answers 5


Playing behind the beat brings 2 things to mind for me. It can either mean being a hair of space behind the beat, or it can be a physical note value like a 16th note, a triplet etc.

Playing behind the beat, as others have said, gives the music a sense of forward motion. This happens because in your head you're expecting a note on the beat and you always get it just a little bit late which adds tension to the music.


An example I always come to for this stuff is in Latin music like Santana's "Samba Pa Ti":

Note how the guitar is often held for a fraction of a second after the beat, giving a more emotive, tender feel. but it's not a set note length.


For practicing Santana style I'd suggest trying to play along with a backing track you're familiar with and just trying to get that similar sense of missing the beat as in the Santana track.

As for a set interval, If you have a program on your computer for music, write a simple melodic run starting on the 1st beat of the bar, then shift it forwards by a 16th note/semiquaver. Practice it over a metronome or backing track until you have a sense of the timing.

From here, start playing with fun stuff like playing behind the beat and then resolving on the beat. You can get a really great sense of tension/resolution this way, and it's fairly easy to pull out in an improv situation.

Hope that helps


Playing ahead of the beat means hitting the notes for the beat a liiiiittle bit early.

Playing behind means a liiiittle late.

Only by a couple microseconds, just to make the groove groovier.

Usually drummers and bass players do this to make you feel sort of a "longing".

It's playing with time to evoke a particular feeling. Musicians play with time in other ways too like rubato (moving the tempo in "swooshes" between slightly fast and slightly slow). It's -kind- of a rhythmic version of suspended chords. It isn't quite right, but it feels good due to the anticipation or longing.

  • I'm thinking that there is a lot practice to be put into controlling when to play ahead or behind. Studio musicians must be exetremely skilled to be able to control their pace when playing parts.
    – r lo
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 20:01
  • I guess it's not "microseconds" : 2 microseconds are not even a sample on a digital record. I'd say tens of milliseconds.
    – theredled
    Commented Jan 14 at 18:48

My music teacher used to tell us to imagine you are sitting on top of a ball. This is right on the beat. Every note is right on the stroke of the beat.

To play ahead of the beat, you play a bit early and it should feel like you are leaning forward on the ball. If you lean too far, you fall off the beat.

To play behind the beat, play a bit late and it should feel like you are leaning backwards on that ball. Again, if you lean too far, you fall off.

The most important trick is to learn to play ahead of the beat without speeding up, or to play behind the beat without slowing down.

This is a very valuable skill for a musician. It gives music that groove.


AC/DC's drummer Phil Rudd is religious about playing behind the beat. Very simple drumming, but when you actually sit down and play it, it's hard to replicate his groove and feel. Try some songs like Cover You in Oil, Gone Shootin', Highway to Hell, Rock n' Roll aint noise pollution, etc.

  • Thanks, I was just listening to AC/DC and could feel that groove in For Those About To Rock. The rhythm section sounds laid back and relaxed as the guitars and vocals sound more on top of the beat.
    – r lo
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 11:22

Listen to this song from 0:25-1:15. The snare and bass are ahead of the beat and the chords are behind the beat. This is what it 'feels' like. Like the previous poster said, it's playing sliiiiiightly too early or too late on every beat, but it's important to not let the overall tempo drag or speed up. It's playing the same tempo but shifting your downbeat slightly

  • Other classic example for guitarists is to check out Freddie Green's playing with the Count Basie big band, particularly on the slow songs like Lil' Darlin .
    – user9517
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 15:56
  • Checked it out; played it many times.Sounds to me like the guitar (and bass) are on the beat, although the tune itself is 'pushed' in lots of places, possibly making the guitar sound late.
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 17:10

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