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      I’ve got no problems playing in time with a metronome as hearing wise, it’s fairly obvious where the beat restarts, so i know when i go in and out of time.
      But when it comes to playing along to a backing track, theres no metronome clicking noise to listen out for, so i haven’t got a leg to stand on.

      Basically i am crap at playing in time along to backing tracks.

      So this year my teachers goal is to improve my timing with backing tracks, and a lot of time will be spent focusing on this area.

      Here’s what i learn’t so far

      i’m practicing “On Green Dolphin Street” in Alto D major – First Jazz songs by Hal Leonard, which has a backing track.
      There is a track on youtube which is similar, but may be in a different key, but in terms of timing it sounds similar.

      So my teacher has got me doing the following.
      1) listen to the backing track many times over and over and when doing that,

      a) try and identify where the 1 is in every bar (it’s in 4/4 time ie 1 2 3 4), and say the word one. At this stage don’t worry if you can’t do that.

      b) listen to the base player (my teacher reckons theres about 10 common base playing patterns) that can help with staying in time.

      c) Now listen to the track and say the following words along to the base player.
      Bars 1 to 8 (medium latin) if you listen to the base player, you can count “one” “three” in every bar.
      Bars 9 to 16 (Swing) if you listen to the base player you can count “one” “two” “three” “four” in every bar.
      Bars 17 to 24 (latin) if you listen to the base player, you can count “one” “three” in every bar.
      Bars 25 to 32 (Swing) if you listen to the base player you can count “one” “two” “three” “four” in every bar.

      d) now listen to the chord changes, its either one chord per bar or two different chords per bar, but either way, the chord changes fit in with the counting in part c above.
      So while counting as above, listen to the chord changing in time

      e) Now get the sax out, and just play the root notes of every chord, for the length of two beats or four beats depending on whether there is two chords in a bar or just one chord in a bar.
      I found this helpful, as i now get the feel for being in time with the base player ( “one three” or “one two three four”) and also i now begin to notice the chord changes which fall in time.
      I’ve now got perception of following the beat in the track, so i could ignore counting altogether and just hum (“ding ding” or “ding ding ding ding”) in time with the track.

      f) Now when i play the sax melody i’m now more in time with the base player and i can also feel the chord changes matching with the sax keys.

      This is only the 2nd week, so got lots more to learn. Again, with out a teacher is so difficult (Skype lessons – with JF if you haven’t got one)


        Really cool song. Good choice for practicing along to to work on timing. I’m hearing the 2 & 4 rim shot by the drummer to be the best “metronome” reference to tap your foot to. The Bass part (bars 1 to 8, 17 to 24) is also a good down beat reference, but his 2nd note is on the “and” of beat 2, not “on” 3, so not a reference you can put “on the beat”.
        The chord changes are perhaps the most sold down beat reference…


          @kevin – good points, for the utube track!

          My points refer to Hal Leonards backing track which is the one i am using and talking about ,which is different to the u-tube above, and for copy right reasons i can’t put the Hal Leonard track up on here. I only put the utube track up as it gives a general idea of what is going on.

          I’ve tried the listening to the drummer and that has never worked for me in the past three years, as in most songs i can only follow the drummer on and off in parts of most tunes, and then i lose it (thats why i am crap).

          My teacher is trying to get me away from listening and relying on the drummer, and trying to get me to focus more on hearing the base player and also hearing the chord changes.

          In the hal leonard track, you can pick out the 1st beat of the base player in any part of the track, and know if you are in time.

          thanks fir sharing, don’t forget i’ve got a long way to go.


            In the Hal leonard track, the third note of the base player is on beat 3 for a count of two.
            1st note is for a count of one and a half beats
            2nd note on the “and” beat of beat 2
            3rd note is for a count of two on beat 3.

            So its a dum de dum sound in each bar (latin sections base only)
            So that helps me focus on that.

            Andrew Gibson

              Hi sxpoet.

              One suggestion might be to play scales or chords in time with the backing tracks; which I think you’ve suggested in a previous thread. That way, if you know your scales back to front, you can concentrate on the beats – and where to find them?

              But don’t just play the scales monotonously, get them sounding melodic and cool…!



                @Andrew – good points.

                I was just sharing what was tried out in a lesson with my teacher, and has helped me a lot more than anything else in the last 3 years.

                If you read part e, my teacher had me playing just the Root note of every chord on the sax, which really helped me a lot in getting the feel of the track timing and hearing the chord changing in the track.

                One of my problems in the past is i’ve focused to much on the drummer, and counting 1 2 3 4 in my head and ignored the chords in tracks and the bass player. Where as focusing more on the bass player and the chords being played in a track, i’ve got more of a feel of where i am in a song, and like my teacher says, if you get good at that, you can completely ignore counting 1 2 3 4 as he doesn’t count at all. For improvising that will pay divendends.

                The only time i play scales with a backing track, is when i’m just going to improvise with a backing track later on with chords, that helps with improvising. At this stage, just playing the root note of each chord and focusing on that, helps more with hearing the chords in the track.


                  One other point of interest, i used to tap my foot while playing the sax , but my teacher put a stop to that. Get the beat in your mind not be distracted in following your feet. But i think thats more of something not to do in an orchestra, or if you are playing a sax grade exam in front of an examiner.


                    I once had a teacher that commented about my tapping my foot to the beat, and I wasn’t even aware that I was doing it until I looked down. What resulted was that for me it was more of a mental distraction for me to have to think to stop the motion of my foot or any other part of my body that may be expressively moving to the timing or dynamics of the music. I agree that your mind has to sync to the beat but any second nature body movements help to reinforce the “groove” and could even help one such as myself to not look frozen stiff for a performance…


                      I find when playing the sax, i often have to bend down like singers do to push out that last bit of air and change tone.

                      In serious practice mode when i’m trying to get the notes played correctly in a bar that is difficult – i don’t move my body about like wind mills.

                      I tend to sway the sax up and down more in relation to rising and falling volume levels – its more lung related thing – when i’m playing through a song.

                      With the sax you have to make sure your head moves in sync with the sax, otherwise you can start moving the mouthpiece around your lips resulting in loss of embouchure control.

                      But i agree, your body should express the feeling of the piece being played. It pays divendends for showmanship as some people want to be entertained as well as hear your music.

                      Getting back to the original thread, if i pick up any more stuff i find useful in terms of “playing in time with a backing track” from later lessons this year with My teacher – i’ll add it to this topic.

                      Just to recap – i am crap in this area of playing! I’ve told my teacher that. He knows i’m crap in this area. It’s a case of him trying out various methods over the following months and hopefuly finding one that works for me. So if i have to go back to basics, i’m ok with that.

                      In terms of people who are studying for music grade exams – it’s also related to problems i have with aural tests. Where someone will play a piano piece and ask me to clap in time and clap louder on the starting beat etc…

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