Posted by: Jon | March 6, 2007

“Locking in” with the drummer

I found this article, written by Joseph Patrick Moore, to be very helpful. Check it out below…


The relationship between bass and drums is a special and unique one. While a typical rhythm section would consist of bass, drums, guitar, piano/keys and percussion, it is the bass and drums that give music its “heartbeat” and “foundation.” The marriage between the bass and drums should be a happy one—if either of them are out of sync with one another, it can make for a difficult and tense musical situation. When the bassist and drummer connect as “one heartbeat,” they possess a tremendous amount of groove, power and backbone for the rest of the musical ensemble.

As bassists, it is essential that we learn to trust and openly communicate with our partners in crime. The dialog between bassists and drummers should be a healthy, honest and trusting relationship. Below, I have outlined several key points that you should consider when working and locking in with your drummer.

TUNE—Most music will usually dictate what is needed within the rhythm section. The melody will usually tell you what type of feel??? or what to play or what not to play. It is important to listen to the music and let the music dictate what approach you and your drummer should take. Never be afraid to try ideas or take chances, but always be honest with the music and learn to compromise with each other.

BEAT PLACEMENT—Most professional bass and drum masters understand the subtleties of “beat placement.” Essentially there are three ways of playing “time” in any musical situation:

1) on TOP of the beat (slightly ahead of the metronome click)
2) in the MIDDLE of the beat (dead center with the metronome click)
3) BEHIND the beat (slightly behind the metronome click)

Although I could literally write a whole novel about the beat placement and its effect, I won’t go into great detail now. Just understand and be aware that the subtle difference of where you place your note makes the truly great rhythm section players stand apart from the rest.

As a guideline, I tend to play straight-ahead jazz slightly ahead of the beat. With rock and country music, I tend to play right in the middle of the beat. With funk, blues, hip-hop and gospel, I will play slightly behind the beat. Again, the tune will usually dictate where I’ll place the beat. Ultimately, you and your drummer need to understand this concept and openly communicate about this. Try experimenting with these three different beat placements to see how it affects the groove of your music.

WITH THE KICK, NOT WITH THE KICK—Most pop tunes require that the bass and kick drum are playing in sync to create a full, cohesive and powerful sound. However, there are two schools of approaches that bassists and drummers subscribe to:
1) playing with the kick (bass) drum
2) playing off of it and around it (not necessarily playing in unison with every kick)

You should be aware of this concept and try experimenting where to place those unison notes together. Listen to the masters for how they approach this subtle yet powerful ingredient. Again, the composition will usually dictate what is needed and where to place those strategic notes and accents.

DYNAMICS—Soft, loud and all points in-between. The bass and drums should aspire and utilize dynamics as a rhythm section, thus propelling and lifting the musical ensemble to higher levels of tension and release. When there are moments of opportunities to rise and fall with the music, define these sections and work them out dynamically. Oftentimes, this will expose how well you and the drummer are locking in and how much you are really listening to each other. This seems like a given, yet dynamics are often overlooked by many performers. Try just getting together with your drummer and have a bass/drum rehearsal. Find the moments in the song that you can add dynamics.

ONE WITH YOURSELF—While the goal in any musical situation is to create a powerful, unified sound, don’t forget to be aware of your own internal clock—and don’t rely solely on the drummer (or any other musician) to keep “time” for you. If you were to do that and the drummer were to stop playing, your sense of “time,” or lack of it, could rear its ugly head. Make sure you are always concentrating and striving to be the best “time keeper” yourself, while at the same time learning to work together with others to create that ultimate groove.

JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE GREAT DOESN”T MAKE IT SO—Just because you may be playing with a masterful drummer doesn’t always guarantee that your groove and pocket will result in a locked and cohesive sound. Playing with great musicians, or musicians better than yourself, will often propel you to greater heights. However, there is one important, often-overlooked word: chemistry. I have seen and I have first-hand experience of playing with incredible drummers, but sometimes it’s a struggle to connect and make that unified sound. If the chemistry, communication and trust factor aren’t present between you and the drummer, this will destroy any hopes of making beautiful music together. When you find a unique camaraderie and chemistry with other musicians, you should cherish and treasure this secret ingredient.

LISTEN TO THE MASTERS—If you want to learn how to lock in with a drummer, there’s no substitute than to listen to the master bass and drum combinations. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great bass and drum teams that you should check out. Listen to the way they work together, off of each other and how they communicate as a rhythm section, as well as how they communicate with the rest of the ensemble. Below I have included a printable PDF of my own personal favorites. If you are unfamiliar with them, you should check them out.

Master Bass & Drum Combinations

In order to “lock in” and a have a stronger cohesive sound with your drummer, you need to create a healthy, honest and trusting relationship. Practice implementing some of these KEY POINTS. The drummer is—and should be—”the quarterback” and the bassist should be “the receiver.” Working together, they can create a winning combination.

Until next time—peace to each of you and keep uplifting the world with your music!

Joseph Patrick Moore is a versatile and accomplished bassist and composer who works in a wide variety of musical settings. JPM has released 4 independent CD’s and appeared on numerous recordings by various artists.



  1. Great stuff… this is such an overlooked issue… groove is everything in a song…

  2. thanks for posting. i will be forwarding this to my bassist and drummer.

  3. Thanks!!! Great article for the beginner or pro! As a beginning bassists I appreciate great info. Printing for my son the drummer…

  4. Excellent article. For an great example of a bassist locking in with a drummer, listen to Wetton-Bruford on the ‘Asbury Park’ track from the live King Crimson album ‘U.S.A’.

  5. Stumbled across your site while doing a Google search. I am a worship leader and was wondering if you have any tips or resources for communicating with drummers from a leader’s perspecitve? In other words how to speak ‘drumming?’ I know the names of the drums and cymbals but it is often funny and animated as I try to explain what kind of style and fill I want from the drummer.

  6. Hello Joseph
    I fully agree with your out line of locking in with the drummer, however im a percussionist some 30 yrs now. I have a great opportunity to learn from this drummer who feels im not locking in with him. The rest of the band feels I have only added and enhanced the band. We play all kinds of music. Funk old school 1980 ,rock and contemporary christian. Im pretry sure he hasn’t worked with many percussionists. I want to gain his trust and have a great relationship , so I will use your concepts. Do you have any advice for me?

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