I'm a member of a small band, and a common problem that arises when playing faster-paced music is keeping everyone in sync, rhythm wise. It goes without saying that one person falling out of time can trip everyone else to disastrous ends. A few things to keep in mind:

1) The stage is hollow and acoustics are traitorous. The thumping echo from heel-taps are far too distracting. 2) Drum tracks are too campy, and we lack the equipment to play a rhythm/metronome to each player personally (i.e. with an ear bud)

With these limitations, what would you suggest?

5 Answers 5


Chamber musicians generally run into the same sort of issue -- and, in fact, even if you do have a drummer, this can be an issue.

In the better groups I have played in, solutions have boiled down to three things:

  1. Each musician must be able to perform his or her part alone, in time. That means practice with a metronome, working toward the tempo that the group will use in performance.
  2. The group as a whole must practice together, often using a loud metronome, to stay in time. If you need earbuds, fine, but a sufficiently loud metronome (such as Dr. Beat) should also work. You might need to hook the metronome up to an amplifier or speaker of some sort so that everyone can hear it. Note that if the group tends to "lose" the metronome in practice, you probably need to slow down the tempo as a group, using the metronome, to make sure you can stay together at some tempo before gradually speeding up to the performance tempo.
  3. The group needs to communicate visually. That is, make sure you look at each other whenever possible and appropriate. An added benefit is the impression to your audience that you are engaged as a group and -- just maybe -- you're enjoying your performance.

In serious chamber groups (saxophone quartets, in my case), this process took a large portion of our rehearsal time, possibly more than any other single aspect (though intonation work is likely close).

In a different genre/medium, I think some of the same things would still apply. The musicians need to be able to keep time on their own as well as within the group. Check with a metronome often to ensure that you are maintaining the correct tempo in practice. When you get to performance, ideally, you are not using any external time-keeping device.


It's not necessarily the drummer's job to set/maintain tempo, and some drummers get a bit sniffy when they're blamed for the band losing time. Who's to say the lead guitarist follows the drummer, and not vice versa? And really, much of the time nobody leads anyone else - people play along with each other.

However, just as orchestras agree that the conductor is the canonical time source, many bands agree that the drummer is the canonical time source. If two musicians are out of time with each other, and one's the drummer - then the drummer is right and the other player needs to adjust.

Which leads us to your problem - no conductor and no drummer. Ideally, you wouldn't have a problem; everyone would just play in time. But since you do, make someone the leader. Pick an instrument that's constantly playing a reasonably rhythmic part. It may vary song-by-song. Make sure everyone knows -- this is who's responsible for the beat. Follow them.


Visual metronomes are OK, but I've found they can actually be tricky to play to. Sometimes your eyes play tricks on you and it can get confusing.

I would recommend an in ear monitor or just one ear with a click. I used to do this with headphones, and as the drummer, everyone followed me and didn't have to where the click themselves.

Choose one person and give it a try; then everyone else can follow that person. This is better than the alternative of each player having the click. This can have it's own complications as well.

Logistics: This is an entirely separate question. It may require click tracks, or engineering your songs to a click or just starting it once you're playing...


i'd recommend a visual metronome. they take getting used to but can be helpful. there are some cheap ones on the market, especially if you have an iphone or ipad.


I say pick a part that's relatively present and has a very rhythmic, repetitive nature. In pop music bands, your rhythm section is your bass, rhythm guitar and sometimes your keys; one of those guys is generally doing something rhythmic enough to follow. Have everyone else listen to that instrument as a source of rhythm

I agree with other answers in that there doesn't have to be a single centralized source of tempo; string quarters, brass choirs, etc can get along just fine without a conductor. What it takes is practice; the band has to listen to each other, become familiar with their part and the overall sound, and neither get dragged down by one person nor remain stubbornly on-tempo. As a band, you guys are a unit. Get into that mindset of the group setting the tempo, and not any one person or thing, and you should see improvement just from that.

Practice with a metronome giving clicks is good, but I totally disagree with the idea of using a metronome in performance. More likely than not that will screw you up even worse.


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