Lew from Pittsburgh writes:
Do you have some advice, or is there a place on your website, to help a band develop better rhythm?
Our band seems to have various rhythm breakdowns plus we tend to speed up songs.
Are there some exercises that we can to do help?
Sorry to hear of the problem. It’s a pretty common one.
My main suggestion is for each band member to practice on their own with a reliable rhythm source. This can be a metronome, drum machine, or any recording by a group with solid, dependable rhythm.
Notice I didn’t suggest having the whole band play to a metronome. The band tends to drown out the sound. I guess a well-amplified drum machine playing a clear boom-chick beat could keep everyone in line. But I think the best cure is for each person to practice being attentive to, and feeling at one with, a steady beat. I’ve practiced with a drum machine for over 25 years, and a metronome before that.
If each person does that individually, each will start to notice and can work on any tendency to change the rhythm. It’s especially important that bass players and guitar players feel the rhythm consistently, though as Jerry Garcia once told me, “Man, the whole band’s the rhythm section.”
When bands speed up, normally one person starts it and then someone else picks up on it, causing the others to follow along. Sometimes the speeding is gradual but often it happens in lunges, you might say, such as where a lead player or even a singer pushes the tempo, and is followed by a rhythm player. Or sometimes a rhythm player may speed or slow down.
A typical “speeding” place is when a lead picker is not too good at a particular phrase, and rushes through it. Also, distractions and nervousness can cause speeding up. Practicing with the “loop exercise method” that I outlined in my January Banjo Newsletter column (also on DrBanjo.com) will help a person iron out the flaws in their solo, so that everything stays smooth.
If everyone in a band is committed to having steady, consistent rhythm, it will happen!