Basser Instincts: Time & Visualization

SPRING IS UPON US! AND SO WERE THESE two musical queries sent to me:

SPRING IS UPON US! AND SO WERE THESE two musical queries sent to me:

Omar wrote, “When I play with my drummer, sometimes we don’t groove the same, and our time is not together. Any suggestions?”

Hi, Omar. I’ve heard this from other bassists. What I don’t know is which one of you is not in sync with the other. The key in music is to find players who feel the quarter-note the same way. It’s difficult to adjust to another musician who doesn’t feel time the way you do. Really, there isn’t much you can do about it except to surrender to their internal quarter-note, or have them surrender to yours. Here’s one suggestion: Take care of your own sense of time and try to find a drummer who feels the time like you do. I know that people suggest using a metronome to improve and fine-tune your time, so you can play more tightly with a drummer. The problem is that the moment you start to play with someone else, your individual senses of time kick in—and if you don’t hear the downbeat in the same place, it will be hard for you to groove together. I believe very deeply that the better you can play, the more highly developed your sense of time will be. This will attract similarly advanced players who hear time as you do, which is a great thing to experience.

Acknowledging my December ’12 column, Dan wrote, “While I’m a big fan of yours, I have some experience in the area of visualization practice, and I have to disagree with you to some extent. I utilize it when I’m driving, to learn songs. I picture the progression of the chords, what notes are being played, what my hand position would be, what scale runs I might play, etc. I find it very helpful in learning songs faster, when you don’t have the option of sitting down with your instrument.”

Hi, Dan. Interestingly, a lot of people disagreed with my comment about visualization. I understand their thoughts, and so, to begin, I would like to say that musicians always think about playing and often visualize their instrument while doing it. It is an automatic process. I do this as well. My comment was to suggest that visualization as a concept of improvement isn’t as results-oriented as hands-on playing and practicing. Your other comment about learning songs faster made me think there may not be any reason to learn anything “faster.” Often players seem preoccupied with learning music more quickly, and I think this is nearly impossible to do. Rather, once you have learned a song or practiced an exercise the old fashioned way—that is, slowly and over a little time—you usually learn it permanently. The benefits are now a part of your mind and hands. For me, visualization isn’t necessary to speed things along, because eventually you have to sit down with your bass and play the music slowly if you want to learn it well.

Thanks for the letters guys! Keep ’em coming to me at —JEFF



Jeff Berlin has toured and recorded with such artists as Frank Zappa, Bill Bruford, Allan Holdsworth, and Billy Cobham. He has released eight solo albums and is music director at the Players School of Music in Clearwater, Florida.