The song is Superstition by Stevie Wonder. The song sounded out of sync and rushed when we were playing it. I play guitar and try to lay back and play behind the beat, but should the bass player play behind too?

Or should I play on the beat and bassist behind to create that groove? Who dictates the groove the bassist or guitarist when playing R&B type music?

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    Is the drummer not an option? You want the whole band to be be playing at the exact right times for their respective parts to build the right feel. I almost hear the entire band being behind the beat in Superstition, so even the drums and clavs should have the same feel, in addition to the bassist. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 15:36
  • Now that is what is confusing to me. If everyone is playing behind the beat, who is establishing the beat? I'm assuming the drummer would set the beat and play the bass or snare behind the hi-hat for the feel. Is that what drummers do? Thanks for reply.
    – r lo
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 16:21
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    In a band with good tempo everybody knows where the beat is and how far to play behind. Good tempo is probably the most important skill for a band to acquire.
    – empty
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 17:10
  • If everyone is playing behind the beat then either the hi hat only is on top of it, which is common but not universal, or the on-time beats are only in the heads of the band members, more or less. Like it might be that one or two of the beats in a measure are play on top of it and the rest are ahead or behind. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 17:10
  • [a bit of an aside] That's one all-time great track - but I'd suggest, if you're ever doing any kind of beat/groove analysis of it, forget the first verse. It doesn't really lock up for the first minute, but once it does, it kicks til the end. Masterful arrangement too. Drums, syn bass, 2 clavies, brass [2 takes, L & R], LVox. Done.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 8:15

2 Answers 2


This track seems to me to be right on the beat. Keys dictate the tempo, but drums and bass lock in with them. Nothing is pushed or pulled. The tempo on the track I listened to started at 98bpm went to 104 towards the middle, but no one instrument seemed to make this happen.

If you're having problems with the rhythm section keeping together, try facing each other, and keep the volume down, as loudness becomes noise which makes it hard to define where the beat is. The metronome is probably not a bad idea, but if it was used on this recording - what happened? Sir duke has the same slight variation in tempo, so maybe Stevie doesn't rely on click track?

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    Different people will certainly hear things differently. I definitely hear the drums as behind but the question of where the beat "really" is can be open to interpretation. We can all agree it's an amazing, deep, funky groove, I'm sure. I think in the end you have to let go and play by feel without thinking too much. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 17:12
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    Bands with good tempo can use accelerando and decelerando. Bands who do not yet have good tempo need to work to a metronome or drum track until they have good tempo. Tedious, but true. The first couple of years I had a band, I had a drum machine hooked up to a big amp. When tempo was ragged, that bad boy got turned on. The Nuclear Metronome option. :-)
    – empty
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 17:14
  • I'll have to say that it is very subjective where the beat is and how to play to it. I think the conclusion here is not to think about it but play to a metronome and then just play how the song 'feels'.
    – r lo
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 17:26

Typically the rhythm guitarist, drummer and bass player set the groove. If they're not locking, then the drummer and bass player should set the groove, especially for R&B. The drummer, bassist and guitarist should all play on the same place within those cute little Gaussian curves that are the beat.

What I hear in your question is that the rhythm section isn't locking and you want to know why.

So the first thing to do is play to a metronome or drum machine. Are you all playing at steady tempo throughout the song with and without the metronome? Or does the metronome appear to speed up and slow down to one or more of you?

If tempo's okay, then start the drummer playing with the metronome as far behind the beat as you want. Then have the bassist come in and hit the same beat. Then you come in.

Do this for a few minutes and hopefully everybody will be on the same page. Try playing the song again.

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