Beginning Banjo: Count the Beat - dummies

By Bill Evans

Although most people (and even beginning banjo players) can establish a consistent beat in their heads, keeping that beat going while trying to play banjo is usually more difficult. That’s when a good outside source for keeping the beat can come in handy. A metronome, a device that keeps an audible steady beat for you, is a great way to play in good rhythm when practicing by yourself.

Have you ever watched the feet of your favorite musicians while they’re playing on stage or in a jam session? Even though they may actually be playing in perfect time together, musicians often don’t tap their feet in the same rhythm or even in a way that has any discernible relationship to the beat of the music.

What’s with that? The answer lies in the fact that what you’re seeing in all the fancy irregular footwork isn’t necessarily how a musician is keeping time.

Musicians often count out the rhythm just before starting a piece to give the other players an idea of the tempo, but after a song has started and everyone is playing along, most musicians rely on their internal sense of rhythm by listening to what’s happening around them while simultaneously keeping track of the rhythm in their heads.

Most musicians don’t keep an actual count going after a song has started, but they do actively keep track of the tempo and where the beat falls.

However, when playing with others, keeping good time is everyone’s shared responsibility. Listening and adjusting to the rhythm of the other musicians as you play is just as important as — if not more important than — following the beat you’ve established in your head. Keep one ear on what others are playing and the other one on your own picking, and you’ll soon be playing all your music in good time!