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Had a potential train wreck happen at a dance performance last weekend.

The piece we were playing was 2/4 with the accented (strong) beat on 1 but with a lot of improvisation. It's a 5 piece band: horn, fiddle, guitar, drums. The tune had a 32 bar AABB structure repeated through the performance.

Somehow during an extended improvised section half the band flipped to strong beats on the 2 and caused the entire tune to shift by a beat. Since we didn't record it, I'm not certain whether it shifted forward or backward. Yeah, I know, completely unprofessional but we all have off nights, you know? Anyway, the dancers had to struggle through with the tune shifted by a full beat.

Anyway my question is this: Other than stopping entirely, how do you correct a shifted beat on the bandstand? (The first part is watch the dancers to determine whether a beat was added or subtracted.)

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    Does the band have a bandleader? If not, either choose one, or decide who takes the initiative when things go wrong in the future. In informal situations, I guess the drummer is always the boss of the rhythm, the pianist or rhythm guitarist is boss of the harmony, and the singer or soloist is boss of the structure and gets to call out "take me to the bridge!" – Your Uncle Bob Jun 4 at 17:16
  • @YourUncleBob - I've worked with bands where it's the drummer who skips, or the singer comes in early or late, etc, etc. So, sometimes it's dangerous to let a partcular person take the lead. If it's for strict tempo or organised dancing, it's imperative to get back on track very soon, and unless one player can determine whether it needs one beat extra or one beat less, there's going to be chaos on the dance floor! – Tim Jun 4 at 17:29
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    The drummer should notice and do something about it. Either play one extra relatively weak beat and then "switch sides", and/or play his "one" with extremely loud accents, and/or shout "one!" Well, at least the drummers I play with know when to do this. :) – piiperi Jun 4 at 17:34
  • This is just something you need to learn how to do by failing and trying it out. Recovering from mistakes is a hidden feature of those early gigs were you’re just playing for the bartender and your girl friend. Better to learn that before you get onto Saturday night as your second gig. Just ask Ashlee Simpson. If you rehearse enough with the dance group hopefully this comes again before it does in a performance. – b3ko Jun 4 at 17:53
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    I think it was Live8, Duran Duran during the drum solo, dropped 2 beats & all hell was on trying to get them back, as the backing track was unforgiving. I laughed as I cried. It happens. A really clever drummer can 5/4 a bar & get everybody back on it without the audience noticing. This drifts on & off topic as well as timing, but watch the Harry Connick video. music.stackexchange.com/questions/81161/… – Tetsujin Jun 4 at 18:49
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This is always a tough situation, but it is definitely something pro musicians will have to deal with at some point. A friend of mine once pointed out several instances of the beat getting flipped during some classic jazz recordings. I can't remember them specifically, but the recordings included some of the best jazz musicians ever, like Thelonius Monk and Charlie Parker. So it can even happen to the best of 'em.

I think the best solution is to discuss it with the band at your next rehearsal, and say, "What do we do next time this occurs?" You will probably want to assign someone to be the person everyone looks to, and then when the beat flips everybody just looks at that guy for a cue as to where you are. Usually this will be either the group leader of the drummer.

To get everyone back together, it helps to wait until the beginning of a phrase. A measure or so before that big moment, look around at everyone to get their attention, and (using your hand, arm, or head) given a big clear down beat at the top of the phrase.

Your general audience member will not even notice anything went wrong. You are playing for dancers, so they are more likely to notice, but they are also more likely to appreciate your skill at getting things back on track smoothly.

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    About rehearsal: as many of my teachers said (private lessons), learn to play all the way through no matter what happens. There will always be screwups in rehearsals, but part of the process is to play straight thru (many times) and learn to recover from glitches. -- then go back and woodshed places that these glitches happen. – Carl Witthoft Jun 5 at 13:45
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    @CarlWitthoft Rule in our band is stop for screwups and woodshed them until band can play through the rough spot three times perfectly. In performance, never hestitate, never stop. The audience doesn't know your intention. – pro Jun 5 at 16:14
  • @pro - that's good rehearsal technique. I just meant to suggest that, in addition, after your successful 3X runthru, Run through again (or again next rehearsal ) with a no-stopping rule, so that if something happens, it doesn't happen for the first time on-stage. – Carl Witthoft Jun 5 at 17:39
  • I'd avoid the 'stopping for screwups' unless you're on first rehearsal for a new song. Learn to work them through if they happen. You can go back later & iron out the rough spots, but your team has to be ready to tackle every song top to bottom as though it was a live show. You should also routine 'the set' without pauses. If you're a regular working band, this just shouldn't be happening. If it's a track you've done a dozen times before & you're still having screwups, it's time to start pointing fingers & finding players who don't screw up. – Tetsujin Jun 5 at 17:46
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Trying to turn comments into an answer - though I'm with Peter's answer too...

Someone has to take charge - who that may be might depend on who is normally in charge, who noticed it, who can think how to fix it without further confusing the situation... it's not easy & I'm not sure how much preparation can go into 'practising' for such a recovery.
By definition everybody up until a point thinks what they're doing is still 'right'.

Sometimes it can take a player to stop, listen, analyse & then gather everybody's head together - visually by waving, mouthing the count big & strong, conducting, etc , in order to pull off the rescue.

I think it was Live8*, Duran Duran during the drum solo, lost track of the backing percussion track & drifted 2 beats across the instrumental/drum break - all hell was on trying to get them back, as the backing track was unforgiving. I laughed as I cried. It happens. A really clever drummer can 5/4 a bar & get everybody back on it without the audience noticing.
* I actually saw this live on the day so I know it happened, but I cannot find it anywhere on YouTube etc. I may have the wrong gig in my mind.

If the drummer 5/4s a bar it will if nothing else, make the rest of the band really think about what the heck just happened.

A solo performer can take his own sweet time to find the perfect place to 5/4 - see this from Harry Connick Jr, when his audience were irritatingly all clapping the on-beat instead of the off.

This is time-stamped to just the performance - the full video has an explanation first, which is probably more use to non-musicians.

Imported from my comment on another answer...
In rehearsals, I'd avoid the 'stopping for screwups' unless you're on first rehearsal for a new song. Learn to work them through if they happen. You can go back later & iron out the rough spots, but your team has to be ready to tackle every song top to bottom as though it was a live show. You should also routine 'the set' * without pauses.

If you're a regular working band, this just shouldn't be happening. If it's a track you've done a dozen times before & you're still having screwups, it's time to start pointing fingers & finding players who don't screw up.

*One thing about routining 'the set' is it's as dull as f***. Get used to it, suck it up. Play it like you don't mean it at all.. but play it - until you know it inside out & back to front
Then when you take it live, the audience & your performance will provide the enjoyment. The 'work' was already done - this is the reward.

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    The rehearsal idea may work for some bands, but for me getting a number so spot on that it has to be the same every time kills it for me. The spontaneity gets lost, and it'sstill quite possible someone or something will go wrong on a gig. So when everything is rehearsed down to the last little bit, any screwup will trip the whole band. Been there too many times! For my money, adaptability is worth a lot more than having to play something to death at rehearsal so it can't 'go wrong on the night' - 'cos it still can - and probably will! – Tim Jun 5 at 22:16

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