What Time is it?

“I played this much better on my own at home than in front of you.”

Music Theory 101

Music Theory 101

I often hear this comment from my music students.  It is their perception that they are playing well behind closed doors.  In actuality, the beginning banjo, guitar and mandolin student needs to address the timing of the piece when they practice. Otherwise, they may know which notes to play but their melody line will fall ahead or behind a group when performing with others.

The Time Signature (2/4, 3/4, 4/4 ect), which is denoted after the Clef sign at the beginning of a piece of music, indicates what time the musician will be playing.  The top number refers to the number of beats that exist in a measure.  The bottom number, indicates what type of note (quarter, eighth, ect) receives one beat.  For example, 3/8 time means that there are three beats per measure with the eighth note receiving one beat. On the other hand, 4/4 time, indicates that there are four beats per measure and the quarter note receives one beat.

Are you having trouble with keeping a good rhythm?  Do you practicing scales slowly and evenly with a goal to gradually build speed with a consistent beat? Have you practiced with a metronome or do you play along with sound files to build your confidence with timing issues? Let us know how you plan on practicing to improve your timing and rhythm.

Just remember – don’t be caught saying it sounded better at home.


About fretmentor

Born in Detroit, Michigan, David F. Jakubiak has been involved in music since the age of 7, beginning as a clarinet player and then at 9 turning his attention to stringed instruments. He earned trophies in group talent competitions while a student at the University of Michigan. The instructor earned a BA degree in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan and a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Kansas. At college, he also studied classical music and music history. His passion is teaching music and in performing as a musician. In addition to on-stage performances, David has played in various venues from outdoor festivals to small nightclubs. He plays, performs and teaches various styles of music, including rock, pop, blues, jazz, classical, country and bluegrass styles. He performs and teaches acoustic and electric guitar, five-string banjo, and mandolin. His styles range from Scruggs, melodic, Reno and old-time style on banjo, to finger-style and flat-picking technique on guitar, to various styles of mandolin. For over 45 years, Mr. Jakubiak has taught all age groups, taking a personal interest in each student to ensure that they receive the attention and lesson plans that meet their needs and interests. His lessons and instructional materials place a strong emphasis on the practical use or music theory to ensure that the student understands the instrument and learns how to improvise to develop their own style. Mr Jakubiak teaches group and studio classes, webcam lessons over the internet, and individual private lessons to students of various ages. He has compiled and produced eight instructional books on CD as well as numerous instrumental arrangements. David has written for Banjo Newsletter, a monthly publication for the banjo enthusiast and has published an article in Issue #37 of the Fretboard Journal. He is the founder of www.fretmentor.com. To contact David Jakubiak, please feel free to e-mail him at david AT fretmentor.com (substitute the @ sign for the word AT)
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9 Responses to What Time is it?

  1. avatar David Lenef says:

    David, I think there’s a lot of truth in taking liberties with timing when working at home, which contrasts with live performance where the beat is a ruthless taskmaster.

    But I will add that in the comfort and security of my home, I often play more creatively, confidently and fluidly than in performance situations where I may be distracted or even a little anxious.

    So I don’t think it’s quite so “black and white”. But I totally agree with your attention to rhythm. I believe great rhythm is more important than any other element in the musician’s toolbox.



  2. avatar Screendude says:

    Thanks for the suggestions. I will try to follow your advice because I always play better at home, at least in my own head. Funny, I had this same conversation with my instructer just last night. I guess everything happens for a reason 😉

  3. avatar Tigerpaws says:

    What also happens when playing alone is that if a mistake is made we tend to either start over or play what should’ve been played initially. When performing with others that’s not possible and many beginners then “get lost” because they don’t know how to just jump in where the rest of the musicians are. This comes with time and experience.

  4. avatar Dave Lamont says:

    I believe adherance to the time signature is important. I’ve practiced with the met, and then play with others, and it’s amazing how sensitive your ears become with timing. Invariably, i’ll hear another player (or myself) start playing fast, which will mess up the rhythm. Your ears do become very sensitive to timing, it just takes discipline to take that little electronic device out and practice with it.

  5. avatar Brilind says:

    This is a complete myth. You don’t play any better at home. If you have a break in rhythm you just don’t notice it. when you play with others ………..ouch.

    Kind of like people who only remember their gambling winnings and forget their losses.

  6. avatar Bobby Clyde Hickox says:

    Thanks Fretmentor, I’ll discipline myself to these tips.

  7. avatar lspencerini says:

    Well, I have to say that I get pretty nervous in front of others, especially when I try to play a solo, so as far as that goes, I do play better at home. That happened last week and I pretty much blew my lead. However, I believe I do not pay enough attention to timing in my practices, so I need to improve on that. I have practiced with a metronome, but I do not make it a habit. That would be a good place to start.

  8. avatar Andy Baumann says:

    While I put at least an hour a day into practice, I do not pay enough attention to the timing. When you practice at home and lose track or miss a note, there’s no problem to correct yourself. But then, I run into problems when I try to play a lead with the group and I have trouble keeping time after I’ve missed a note and can’t adjust. I finally went out and got a metronome and will try to pay more attention to my timing.

  9. avatar Alex says:

    Yeah… it’s quite a lame statement: “it sounded better at home”. I think part of the trick is no get used to playing stuff in public. (Though technique certainly helps, too!)

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