Basser Instincts: Time & Visualization

SPRING IS UPON US! AND SO WERE THESE two musical queries sent to me:
Publish date:
Updated on
Image placeholder title

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

Image placeholder title

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.


Image placeholder title

R&B Gold: Once Upon A Time, Mary Ann

Once upon a time, rhythm & blues music was simply an extension of swing and boogie-woogie, offering no hint that one day the same term would be used to describe the funk-laden, hip-hoppin’ genre that dominates playlists now.

Image placeholder title

The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time

What is it about lists? People love making them, reading them, and listening to them. Lists bring order to chaos. They help us remember things. They’re easy to scan. They promise instant knowledge. And they give us an opportunity to disagree.

21st Century Upright: Raw Sound

LET ME ASK A QUESTION WHAT IS the most fundamental material element of any and all music? I would propose that beneath any stylistic, emotional, or intellectual consideration, it’s sound itself. Strip away all of the permutations of musical style


21st Century Upright: Etude For Comrade Watt

MIKE WATT IS A NAME THAT HAS become synonymous with American punk rock. With the Minutemen in the early 1980s, Watt helped re-write the rules of punk bass by throwing out the rulebook. Since then he has continued to create challenging and deeply felt punk rock with Dos, Firehose, the Stooges, the Black Gang, and many other bands. Though he has attained a sort of iconic status and is often lauded as a very righteous dude (which indeed he is), it is his actual music that is his life’s work. As a composer-bassist, Watt has a singular approach that has helped shape how so many of us hear and play music.