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Sep 26, 2022 - 5:31:01 AM
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46 posts since 5/21/2017

I hear this question a lot from newer musicians and I've never had a thoughtful or accurate way to describe exactly what it means without confusing people:

me: "well when you're playing with drive it feels like you're pushing the music forward"
other person: "Oh, you mean you speed up a bit?"
me: "no. but you're likely playing at the front of the beat."
other person: "Oh, so you play ahead of the other players."
me: "Sort of, but...no not really. hmmm...."

I've used examples before where one song demonstrates drive, and another playing on the back of the beat, but yesterday I was listening to music in the car with the family and a portion of a song stood out as an excellent example of both drive AND playing on the "back" of the beat (not bluegrass unfortunately). In Michel Camilo's "From Within" there is this amazing tension between the piano and the percussion. Generally the percussion plays on the back of the beat, while Michel (piano) drives hard -- though that does shift a bit at different parts of the song.

Listen to about 30 seconds at the 5 minute mark and you'll hear exactly what it means to drive (the piano), and what it is to play on the back of the beat (drums) - then listen to the whole song because it's awesome: youtu.be/mwYyty9piHQ?t=305

Everyone in this group is playing in perfect time with each other, but at the same time you can feel the tension between the two.

I still don't have a good way to describe these things to people without music, but I really like this example as a way to show people "this is what I mean." The more you listen and play, the more you'll be able to replicate it.

Anyone else have good examples of both?

Note: I know the music I link isn't bluegrass or banjo, but given the topic I thought this would be the right place to post. Please correct me if I'm wrong!

Edited by - AJLeonardi on 09/26/2022 05:37:12

Sep 26, 2022 - 6:43:37 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

27997 posts since 8/3/2003

There's been threads on that in the past. I doubt you'll ever get everyone to agree with what drive is or what playing on the back of the beat is. It seems to have different meanings for different pickers.

It's something that you have to DO to understand. I don't think it can be succinctly defined.

Sep 26, 2022 - 7:06:39 AM
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RB3

USA

1496 posts since 4/12/2004

I'll take a crack a providing an explanation for the phenomenon as I've experienced it. I've posted this before, so I might as well do it again. It's a subject that is much-disputed and repeatedly discussed, so some will likely object to discussing it again, but I believe that it's a real phenomenon, that when present, can profoundly improve the quality of the music with which it's associated, so I think it's worthy of discussion.

First, I believe that you can’t have “drive” with a single instrument. In my experience, it's an ensemble phenomenon that requires at least one rhythm instrument and one lead instrument.

For my explanation, I like to use an analogy of two cars traveling on an expressway. Car A represents a guitar playing the rhythm and Car B represents a banjo playing the lead. Both cars are traveling in the same direction at exactly the same speed, but Car A, the guitar, is ahead of Car B, the banjo, by the length of the car’s bumper. The expressway mile markers correspond to the musical beats. Under this scenario, Car A, the guitar will always get to the mile marker (the beat) slightly ahead of Car B, the banjo. The cars can be traveling at any speed (tempo), but as long as Car A, the guitar gets to the mile marker (the beat) just ahead of Car B, the banjo, you got “drive”.

Sep 26, 2022 - 7:16:02 AM
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230 posts since 5/3/2004

Nice analogy.

Sep 26, 2022 - 7:27:44 AM
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Peter C (Moderator)

Sweden

1131 posts since 1/31/2008

That's a pretty good explanation Wayne! The key here is that both cars drive at the same speed (same tempo), but they arrive at slighly different times.

Sep 26, 2022 - 7:57:35 AM
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Eric A

USA

1639 posts since 10/15/2019

I just know it when I hear it.

Sep 26, 2022 - 7:57:47 AM
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273 posts since 7/22/2012

I watched the national banjo championship recently, and some of those players, playing solo, definitely played with what I would call "drive" if I was just speaking naturally, or I could change the word. I might call it "drivin' music." Whatever. A solo player can move a piece towards the edge and push the beat's inaudible framework, or accent it internally to get the foot stompin', and so on. So it is maybe super useful to explain "drive" as something going on between two instruments, but I question that as an exclusive definition. I can just call it "drivin' music" though, or whatever else, that works for me. Listen to Mr. Scruggs in this clip...call it what you want. youtu.be/niMcyxo7GvM Maybe you just know it when you hear it (and not everyone may agree).

Edited by - Banjfoot on 09/26/2022 07:58:52

Sep 26, 2022 - 8:21:48 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

27997 posts since 8/3/2003

Dave and I used to call that sound "travelin' music". We listened to it while on the road and it always made us feel better (and sometimes speed just a little (G).

Sep 26, 2022 - 8:22:12 AM
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76920 posts since 5/9/2007

Drive and tone are physical experiences of what sounds good and can be very difficult to attach words to.
Good drive and tone makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck are the nearest words I can find.
I also find it difficult to put into words what makes me love close harmonies sung by brothers and sisters.

Sep 26, 2022 - 9:23:02 AM
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3876 posts since 7/12/2006

As has been said there have been many discussions on this topic. In my mind i have always looked at this wise....there is a very minimal tolerance within the timing of bluegrass music (im being specific here) .that "tolerance" between beats allows for very little wiggle room while still being in time with the beat. How one wiggles within that tolerance will determine the feel of the playing whether its a more laid back feel(some might call that bounce?) , a more metronomic feel ( no frills on top of the beat) , or pushing it as much as one can (at the front of but not IN front of the beat). The question is , can one drive his playing in any one of those tolerances?
Does drive mean just staying constant on whichever tolerance you happen to be to be playing in without fluctuating between those tolerances? .to be honest ive never really thought this deep about it. Maybe i should just shut up and play.lol

Edited by - stanleytone on 09/26/2022 09:24:16

Sep 26, 2022 - 9:56:56 AM
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80 posts since 2/8/2016

quote:
Originally posted by stanleytone

As has been said there have been many discussions on this topic. In my mind i have always looked at this wise....there is a very minimal tolerance within the timing of bluegrass music (im being specific here) .that "tolerance" between beats allows for very little wiggle room while still being in time with the beat. How one wiggles within that tolerance will determine the feel of the playing whether its a more laid back feel(some might call that bounce?) , a more metronomic feel ( no frills on top of the beat) , or pushing it as much as one can (at the front of but not IN front of the beat). The question is , can one drive his playing in any one of those tolerances?
Does drive mean just staying constant on whichever tolerance you happen to be to be playing in without fluctuating between those tolerances? .to be honest ive never really thought this deep about it. Maybe i should just shut up and play.lol


This is a pretty good explanation, except playing behind the beat a smidgen is usually thought of as drag or dragging the beat.  Bounce is more referred to as "swing" in other genres.  Draggin' or drivin' the beat is almost imperceptible; more felt than anything.  Swing or bounce is pretty in your face obvious.

Edited by - JohnnyShayne on 09/26/2022 09:57:30

Sep 26, 2022 - 10:14:46 AM
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273 posts since 7/22/2012

I accidentally put up the link I had saved for another topic. (Clumsy me strikes again! ;] This is the clip of Mr. Scruggs I meant to post on this discussion. He's playing solo. youtube.com/watch?v=czilysIOB_Y

Sep 26, 2022 - 10:25:05 AM
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1347 posts since 1/25/2017

Assuming we are utilizing a 2/4 time signature on a song that is 120 bpm that would result it 2 beats per second, or 1 beat every 0.5 seconds. For those who advocate playing at the front of (not ahead of) the beat, where does the front of the beat begin? Is it at 0.49 seconds, or 0.499 seconds, or where?

Or asking the question another way at 120 bpm how long does the beat last?

Sep 26, 2022 - 10:27:28 AM
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8230 posts since 8/30/2004
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Ha!
Exactly, where does this end? Ah, the internet....Jack

Sep 26, 2022 - 10:48:20 AM
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RB3

USA

1496 posts since 4/12/2004

How long does a beat last? As best I can tell, beats don't even exist, so I guess that they don't last very long.  Beats are just part of the music conspiracy theory.

Edited by - RB3 on 09/26/2022 11:02:20

Sep 26, 2022 - 10:59:17 AM

8230 posts since 8/30/2004
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Well,
Then the entire music vocabulary is wrong. What?

Sep 26, 2022 - 11:57:05 AM
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8230 posts since 8/30/2004
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in the context of music theory a beat is a passage of music's steady, primary pulse.

Sep 26, 2022 - 12:15:39 PM

8230 posts since 8/30/2004
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Well that's what it said when I looked up the word. HA!   p.s. don't tell NYUseless I had to look it up....

Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/26/2022 12:28:03

Sep 26, 2022 - 2:13:56 PM
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13697 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Jack Baker

in the context of music theory a beat is a passage of music's steady, primary pulse.


What Jack said.

I'm no expert. Based simply on what I hear and feel when great musicians play, I don't believe drive has anything to do with playing ahead of the beat. To my mind, the beat -- the primary pulse -- is on the count of 1 that musicians in a good ensemble are trying to hit. Their success at doing that contributes to whether their music has drive. Pulse on 1, drive. Pulse somewhere else, not.

But I think it's not just hitting 1 on 1, which is basically playing in time.  Well, I guess there's a strong and weak pulse every measure: 1 & 2 in 2/4, 1 and 3 in 4/4. But, still, I mean drive is not just hitting the pulses on their counts.

I think drive, to the extent it exists, is one more expression of a musician's sonic control. The same skill set that lets a musician emphasize melody, or play with syncopation, bounce or swing that others can hear and feel, enables the musician, or ensemble, to play with excellent time while also emphasizing the primary pulse.

We've all heard individuals and groups playing with no drive. Slow jams and beginner jams for sure. But I'm not picking on learners. I've heard plenty of experienced groups where the music is just there. It might be in time, but it has no pulse. It's barely alive.

And speed has nothing to do with this. I've played with people who can play plenty fast, but only by pounding. That's not drive.  Great bluegrass rhythm can be light, airy, and crisp and still drive like crazy. When did you ever hear Tony Rice pound the rhythm guitar?

I could be wrong.

Sep 26, 2022 - 2:56:13 PM
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2158 posts since 11/17/2018

Sammy Shelor on "drive"...

youtube.com/watch?v=6RI9h-sB7SY

Sep 26, 2022 - 3:02:35 PM

627 posts since 5/29/2015

I remember overhearing a discussion of using digital recordings of individual instruments to increase drive. For instance moving the upright bass track a fraction of a second in front of the beat electronically.

Sep 26, 2022 - 3:21:14 PM

363 posts since 3/2/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Banjfoot

I watched the national banjo championship recently, and some of those players, playing solo, definitely played with what I would call "drive" if I was just speaking naturally, or I could change the word. I might call it "drivin' music." Whatever. A solo player can move a piece towards the edge and push the beat's inaudible framework, or accent it internally to get the foot stompin', and so on. So it is maybe super useful to explain "drive" as something going on between two instruments, but I question that as an exclusive definition. I can just call it "drivin' music" though, or whatever else, that works for me. Listen to Mr. Scruggs in this clip...call it what you want. youtu.be/niMcyxo7GvM Maybe you just know it when you hear it (and not everyone may agree).


With only one instrument "drive" can definately be produced. I wonder if syncopation isn't a more correct term as that produces a more driving sound in itself. I agree though...banjo by itself can "drive". Theres a lot of notes being played between all the pull offs, hammer ons and everything being played while rolling so theres plenty of options for a picker as to where he wants to be as far as the beat is concerned. Good post

Sep 26, 2022 - 3:35:21 PM
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RB3

USA

1496 posts since 4/12/2004

When we had this discussion a couple of years ago, a BHO member who has since abandoned BHO, suggested that maybe we should ask Sonny or J.D. what it is. I didn't know Sonny, but J.D. was a long-time friend and I did have a conversation with him about the subject. He said "well, it's just kindly a feeling". When you experience it, you can indeed feel it, but that description is not much help if you're trying to understand it and figure out how to do it.

However, in one of his last contributions to the Bluegrass Today web site, Sonny addressed the subject when he answered a question about the relationship between a banjo player and a rhythm guitar player. Here's what Sonny had to say:

"A good rhythm guitar can spell success to the banjo guy. This gets down to splitting hairs… so to speak. The way I explain this might be a long way around, but I think everyone will understand what I’m trying to say. If you can imagine a rhythm strum as A CIRCLE. O Now draw a line through the middle. (West to East) We’ll call that line “The Beat,” or the down beat. That’s where most country rhythm is played on a guitar. (Good Timing) Below that line is called “DRAGGING” the beat…(Bad Timing) for a banjo player, “The Death Knell.” So, ideally for a banjo player, one would like that Guitar strum to be slightly above that center line. Just slightly ahead of the beat. Remember I said “Splitting Hairs?” This is where that comes in. If you go too far, that’s called RUSHING the banjo player…that’s BAD.

So the perfect rhythm is between the center and TOP OF THE BEAT. Dale Sledd, Dana Cupp, Doyle Lawson, Josh Williams, and Paul Brewster are examples of perfect rhythm guitar guys for banjo players. And oddly enough, four of those five were banjo players. Good banjo players. Good Players? Curley Seckler, Larry Stephenson, Bobby, and Bill Monroe (in the ’40s), mandolin. Bob Moore, Terry Smith, Barry Bales, Mickey Harris. Acoustic Bass. J.D., Brock – Electric bass. All this drivel is just MY OPINION ONLY!"

Sep 26, 2022 - 3:47:34 PM

76920 posts since 5/9/2007

It has to do with playing with good taste...what fits and what feels right at that particular moment.
Playing in context with others or constructing a solo that has an identity of its own are what we become over time as we separate the wheat from the chaff.

Sep 26, 2022 - 5:29:20 PM

Owen

Canada

11925 posts since 6/5/2011

Anthony: "... but at the same time you can feel the tension between the two."

Nope, I don't feel any tension at all; in fact I don't know what tension w.r.t music is referring to. ... but then again I think I'm an outlier concerning a l-o-t of things about music. sad

Edit: ..... too much chaff, and not enough wheat, I suppose. [Fwiw, Steve, that's not a criticism .... probably as good a description/assessment of my music/musical talent/?? as I've heard. Thanks.]

Edited by - Owen on 09/26/2022 17:36:33

Sep 26, 2022 - 5:48:16 PM
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8230 posts since 8/30/2004
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"If music (banjo) be the food of love, play on" If it's good enough for Shakespeare, it's good enough for me....Jack

Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/26/2022 17:52:10

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