Flatt & Scruggs: Tempo Analysis- Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms

Here’s a really cool Beats Per Minute (BPM) / Tempo Analysis of Flatt and Scruggs version of “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms.”

Why would anyone do such a thing? I found this very interesting because live music does indeed move in tempo no matter how solid the groove is or seems to be perceived.  And why this band and this song? Well the answer is obvious from a bluegrass standpoint in that Flatt and Scruggs pretty much defined the sound of Traditional Bluegrass. Let’s not take anything away from Bill Monroe, but Flatt and Scruggs featured a much more intense hard driving groove than Monroe. And to this day, Earl Scruggs banjo timing is legendary. Obviously he had good “tempo” right? Well according to this tempo analysis, it sure doesn’t appear that it’s so steady after all.

Flatt & Scruggs: Tempo Analysis– Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms- Description

Many Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) have what’s know as a “beat detection” feature which is able to somewhat accurately analyze the tempo of the song. In this case with Flatt and Scruggs, you can see that the tempo is changing constantly as the map display lines makes it look drastic. The strait lines that go across the display are the BPM which is showing the tempo changing as much as 10 click on the metronome settings. WOW… 10 is drastic right?

Yes, 10 is drastic, but it is not noticeable because it is gradual, even though some of those lines drawn make it look like it slows down to a crawl during the verses and taking off during the solos.

Tempo by design?

Well yes and no. I think what the creator of this video was trying to show was the complexity of this music… and that speeding up and slowing down of a song internally creates a natural tension and release.  So you might wonder if Flatt and Scruggs did this on purpose. The answer is no, as musicians back then didn’t really play and practice with metronomes or click tracks. It’s just all feel and they certainly felt it.
Now just imagine during that recording session if the producer were to have said, “Okay, let’s do another take, this time play with the click,”  ……
The Flatt and Scruggs band would have not been able to do it, or at the least struggled immensely. Point being, it would have “flat lined” all the intensities and made it so the only thing the group was concentrating on was staying with the click to achieve steady tempo.

Metronome is a bad thing?

So after saying what I just said, you will find it amazing that I personally click out a lot of bluegrass albums that I produce. And I do that for editing purposes and the professional results.
Having a click and being able to visually line up notes during faulty timing passages can take a band of mediocre rhythm and transcend it to professional grade.  Cheating? Yea, it is.  But the alternative is not good. Simply in today’s music scene, the focus on timing accuracy has increase since the inception of the computer.  Some of the bluegrass recordings are now so slick and perfect… and you know what? Yea, people love it and buy it because it does sound so good.

But how do you create all the excitement that you hear in Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, with a click track? And is the excitement created by tempo changes?

For more sophisticated projects you can pre adjust the click to do the same kind of things that are happening here. But just keeping the click at one tempo… that will work too if the musicians are experience in the art of playing with a click.  Besides being able to easily groove with the click and stay with it is a prerequisite,  but learning how to play behind and ahead of the beat can create the same feeling as dips in tempo, or speed ups.

Final Temp Analysis

What a musician is doing internally with their timing is overall much more important than keeping a steady tempo. For example, if you break down one measure of music and you divide up all the 8th notes into even spacing with 480 tick per measure, perfect 8th notes would fall at 0, 240, 360 and then 0 again. Hitting those numbers or near it in each beat consistently is what really counts. And I guarantee you that Earl hit those (or additionally evenly spaced combinations of number) all the time… It’s the even spacing of the notes... And to get those results and sound more professional- my advice is to learn and become one with the metronome/click track. You should be able to do this… period.  But the real magic happens when you get a group of pickers together that have devoted a lot of time to the click and then, turn it off and just play!

One last thing- I am planning on doing some free video lessons for NOTE SPACING… you won’t find this anywhere else and I guarantee it will help any musician go to another level overnight. If this is something that you are interested in, sign up to the right for the Acoustic Guitar Video Newsletter. Besides getting the best acoustic guitar videos in your mailbox every Thursday, these lessons will be free for my subscribers!!!




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