So far in Rhythm Bootcamp we’ve covered practicing rhythmic accuracy and playing on the beat. In addition to these skills it is important to master transitions in music. Why? Transitions from one musical section to another are one of the most common places that musicians lose time and end up playing with bad rhythm.

Other key problem areas are solo parts, like in jazz tunes or in a live situation, and syncopated rhythms. And sometimes musicians just get lost in a tune. We’ll hit solos, syncopation, and getting lost in future articles – right now let’s talk about transitions.

Keeping Time in Transitions

What do we mean by “transition” here? One example would be that a song might go from a fast section to a slow section with little time to adjust to the new tempo. The song will probably change rhythmic styles too. If a musician is not prepared, they can easily lose rhythmic accuracy as they struggle to keep up.

Part of this is a confidence issue as you may feel less comfortable with the new style. This is why it is very important as a musician that you expose yourself to the widest number of musical styles to familiarize yourself with common rhythms. When you end up jumping from a slow pop rock feel to a heavy funk, you will be prepared because you don’t have to adjust to changes in style or tempo, just the actual transition itself.

Sometimes the rhythm itself may require a little bit of thinking. That’s where having a wide range of musical experience helps.

For example I recently played in a band where we were jamming out with a typical bluegrass two-step. The lead singer wanted the bass to play on the offbeat (or the “&”s if you are counting “1&2&3&4&). The bass player could not figure it out to save his life! He ended up going with a simple walking bass line that actually sounded great. Another time the drum player entirely ran away with the “train-sounding” snare part and the entire band had to adjust. I guess that’s what happens when you try to play bluegrass in New York!

Playing the offbeats in bluegrass can be tricky. Old Crow Medicine Show plays “Carry Me Back”.

Three Ways to Keep Time in Transitions

Losing time in transitions, like from the bridge back to the chorus in a song, or even between songs, is a common issue.

You can avoid transition mistakes if you:

  1. Know the Song – Practice the song until it is memorized and you can play it in your sleep. If you don’t have time to practice or are thrown into a live situation with little preparation, at the least try to listen to the song or run it over in your mind, visualizing yourself hitting every note.
  2. Know the Transitions – As I mentioned before, transitions are common problem spots. Know where the jumps are, where there are changes in tempo and rhythm, and mentally prepare yourself for the chances.
  3. Isolate the Transitions – If your band keeps messing up the intro to verse 1, then take that section and practice it several times in a row. It might not be as much fun as jamming through the entire tune, but if you find a problem area, isolate it and practice it over and over again.

Transition Practice

Practice going from one section to another with these simple exercises.

Exercise 1: Slow to Fast Transition

Practice going from a slow section to a fast section.


  1. Listen to the example.
  2. Play or tap along with the track.
  3. Try to keep rhythmic accuracy while playing.

Transition Practice Slow to Fast

Exercise 2: Fast to Slow Transition

Now practice going from a fast section to a slower one.


  1. Listen to the example.
  2. Play or tap along with the track.
  3. Try to keep rhythmic accuracy while playing.

Transition Practice Fast to Slow

Exercise 3: Play along with the Band

Now let’s try a more complex example, playing along with a full band.


  1. Listen to the example.
  2. Play or tap along with the track.
  3. Try to keep rhythmic accuracy while playing with the band.
  4. If you feel comfortable, improvise along with the band.

Transition Practice Playalong 800

Use these tips and exercises to practice keeping tight rhythm through tempo and style transitions. Remember to practice each day, using audiation as well as actively listening to practice tracks and doing the exercises. Be brave when confronting transitions in new repertoire, knowing that you can use these tools to help you master them! Then you’ll be ready to tackle solos and syncopation.