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This is a soft question. I've been learning the bass for about 6 months now and I can play some odd time signatures with ease when I'm practicing alone. Recently, I've been playing with a couple of friends, one drummer and another, guitarist. I'm having a lot of difficulty keeping time when playing with this drummer.

My question is: Is this normal? I didn't assume there were going to be no challenges when playing with other people but I'm struggling to play in time (even something at 60bpm).

One issue I can think of is that I'm easily distracted by the guitar and I lose focus. What are some things I should keep in mind when playing with them again? Thanks for your time.

Edit: After considering the several answers and suggestions, I firstly tried to find out who all among us is out of time and not surprisingly, all 3 of us were dragging, not just me. I intend to play with only the drummer a couple more times a week than with all 3 together, to get the rhythm down solid. I've proposed that we play at lower than usual volumes using a metronome and that the drummer try playing gentler. Of course, a co-ordination issue like this wont solve itself overnight but I plan to work it out in the following few days to weeks.

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    why do you feel distracted by the guitar? e.g. can you not hear yourself well? – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 22 at 21:44
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    @topomorto It's not the volume, but now that you mention it, I can't hear anything from my E and A strings if the guitar is playing along. But I just assumed that that's how it is, since the human ear is not as sensitive to lower frequencies. Or is that not how it should be? – tangentbundle Mar 22 at 22:31
  • That is not how it should be. What amp are you playing through? – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 22 at 23:08
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    Whatever amp you play through, the volume all of you play at needs to be such that each player can hear the other. That does not mean each keeps turning up more. In fact, pros will do the opposite - each turn down (including the drummer - yes, good ones can and do play quietly!) so they can hear each other properly. – Tim Mar 23 at 8:10
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    @Tim I can imagine managing with 40 Watts, a cab that can manage a bit of low end, and a considerate drummer. The only frontman bass amp I can find reference to only claims 15W (fmicassets.com/Damroot/Original/10003/Frontman%2015B.pdf) which to my mind makes it more of a practice-on-your-own amp than a practice-with-the-band amp - I've not actually used one though. – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 23 at 9:05
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First is to record what you all do when playing together. It could be any one of you that's throwing timing out. Listen back, and you'll have a far better idea.

In one band I played bass, and the drummer and I couldn't gel. He insisted his timing was spot on, until we listened to a few recordings, when even one of the guitarists told him he was fluctuating in his timing.

Try playing with one or the other, and work out what's going on. Keep your parts very simple, but spot on timing, by isolating what you play, while still being part of the jigsaw.

Play along with a metronome (or simple drum machine) - and insist the others do too. You'll soon find who's out.

At home, play along with tracks, get someone to turn down the volume, and keep playing. You should manage several bars, and still be in time when the track gets turned up again.

It may be that everyone is playing so loudly that no-one can listen to the others. Happens way too many times! Try all playing at half volume. It helps a lot when everyone hears everything.

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    Yes, it should've occurred to me that it's possibly not just me who's out of time. I will do as you've advised and will post an edit to this question once I've found a way to keep time. – tangentbundle Mar 22 at 22:33
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It's worth realising that the bass guitar is part of the rhythm section. It is vital that the bass and drums are together. They lay down a clear framework over which the lead instruments can deliberately play ahead or behind the beat.

It is worth just you and the drummer practising together before anyone else joins in (even arrange a separate session). The other players can listen and give feedback. In practice get a simple 12 bar blues bass riff going with just you and the drummer. Insist that the lead instruments don't join in until everything is synchronised.

What you will find is that either you or the drummer isn't listening to the other.

Drummers are used to setting the tempo, and, if inexperienced they can forget that others are playing and assume that everyone will stick with them. This is usually part of the personality of a drummer!

A good tip is to play bass in time with the kick drum (bass drum). This combined sound is very powerful. The drum gives the bass sound punch, and the bass gives the drum a melodic nature.

If the drummer will co-operate you can get them to simply play kick drum and high-hat alongside your bass line. Get that perfectly synchronised and you'll find you and the drummer are actually listening to each other.

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    That listening part is so important. Listening to each other. Played with a lot of drummers who part listen, but then allow the excitement of the moment make them speed up. I do it myself on drums, sometimes, and have to listen even more carefully. But all musos should be listening to each other - all the time - otherwise we become voices in the wilderness, and not part of a team. +1. – Tim Mar 25 at 8:46
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It could even be that both are listening to each other and they don't find each other. I will give you another example: We used to go singing in the restaurants and pubs when I was young and sometimes we just improvised and had no program who will sing the melody part of a song and who the background or the second voice. As we played guitar we also couldn't give a sign who should sing which part. So it sometimes could happen that both were singing the upper voice and when realizing it both changed to the lower voice.

So what happend in this example with low and high could also happen between bass and drummer with faster and slower. (In this case this would only be the expression of good will of both of you.)

There are more possibilities not to fall in this trap:

  1. You can both decide by a sign that only one is responsible for the timing of the beat.

  2. You accept an external accustical or optical metronome, which will be objectif.

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