Counting while improvising

by Dan
(California, USA)

I am learning improvising, and I have a difficult time to keep the time when I am supposed to sing whatever I am going to play, know exactly where I am on the fingerboard, know the name of the note that I am playing. It is hard to do so many things at the same.

But the most difficult thing for me to do is know where I am, time wise. So does one really have to count 1,2,3,4.
all the way to the end of the tune ? After 4 or 5 bars, I would lose count. So is there a trick to help me to stay on time?




M-A’s Answer :

Dan, I believe I understand your situation.

The short answer is : YES. If you don’t know where beat “1” (the strong beat, the “down beat”), then you’re lost. You should focus on playing very very simply improvisation ideas and keep your mind on the beat.

Of course, experienced improvisers have this as a “second nature” … I mean, they don’t count out loud all the time. It’s internalized to the point that the next downbeat is simply “felt” (from inside) and that it’s obvious to them.

A nice analogy : does a runner need to say out loud “Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, …” in order to keep running well? Would this person tumble is he’d stop counting? Probably not.

So, you have to play in time, counting, playing the simplest ideas until the beats become as obvious to you as the jogger’s “left, right, …” When you get better and better at this, you soon realize that sometimes you’re no counting and you still instinctively know where the beat is.

… you may even think about it too much, re-attempt to count and get lost again! (-:

That’s all part of the process, and it’s a lot of fun. On another note : you should really try practicing this without your instrument. For instance, listening to your favorite records and counting out loud or in your mind. Follow whole tunes strictly on the time aspect, you’ll hear different things, I promise.

I hope this helps, please, let me know if you have further questions / comments using the form below.