How Not to Rush (The Cure for Premature Articulation)

In business and life, it’s almost always better to be early than late. Or, as an old friend of mine used joke whenever people were late, “well… better late than never… better on time than late… better early than on time…” :rofl:

But when playing music with other people - especially for those of us in the rhythm section like piano, guitar, and harmonica, it’s just the OPPOSITE:


The groove gets created by everyone leaving some space, And nothing ruins the groove like one of the musicians coming in too early. The pauses within the music create the anticipation, and the payoff happens when everybody enters back in at the same time. When a player enters early, the anticipation never gets to fully develop and the payoff is diminished.

Some of my musical mentors called it “premature articulation.” :rofl:

If you suffer from premature articulation, don’t despair. Their is a cure. I too once suffered from. You can learn how to play with great time and feel (and people will love you for it!) but it takes a real COMMITMENT, and it takes time and humility.

Here are my pro tips:

1.) As much as possible, when you practice, have some kind of rhythmic accountability (i.e., a great song, a metronome, a drum machine, a jam track, or a video, or best of all another musician who has a great sense of time.)

2.) Record yourself. Recordings don’t lie. People lie. And we can even unwittingly lie to ourselves, but…

Recordings. Don’t. Lie.

Recordings tell the truth. And sometimes the truth hurts.

I’ve literally recorded myself on hundreds of performances. And many of them, especially at the beginning, were painful for me to listen back to!

Sometimes I’d leave a gig so happy, and then listen to the gig the next day and be like, “hah? but I felt so good in the moment!” How music feels in a jam session or live performance, and how the music sounds .

Live performances are all about energy. If you listen to the album by B.B. King called Live at the Regal, you can hear the energy that that the crowd is injecting into the atmosphere (of course, in this case, the sound of the music is equally compelling!) The visuals of what musicians and stage look like, and the ambience of the club contribute to the energy as well.

Sometimes I’d listen to one recording 5 or 10 times. I 'd find that it would take me a few listens before the excitement of remembering the performance and emotions would begin to wear off enough that I could really begin hearing things more objectively. And, almost invariably, I’d hear that I was actually rushing to some extent.

So the first step is denial about the rushing. The second step is acceptance about the rushing. The third step is…

3.) Make a quality commitment to NEVER RUSH AGAIN! In a performance setting, rushing most often stems from being nervous. The #1 remedy for nerves is taking nice deep diaphragmatic breaths, and paying attention to keeping the shoulders relaxed.

But on the daily, when you’re alone, you can just will to only come in on time or late, and to make it of primary importance. Whatever you happen to be playing, you’re gonna do it on time or late, but NEVER early. If you’re playing along with a metronome or a jam track, try to see if you can play LATE. Every time the metronome clicks you play just after it, rather than just before it.

Like anything, the more we practice, the better we get. Each click of the metronome has a duration, it might be 300 milliseconds long, I don’t know. But it has a beginning, a middle, and end.

What people call “playing in the pocket” means that when that metronome clicks we are playing between the middle and end of that click, not right at the beginning (or worst of all before it even starts.) The more time and energy we focus on this practice, the more the universe of time opens up to us. And it’s a wonderful, wonderful universe.

When I used to play electric guitar in a funk band, I spent a year trying to play back on the beat. The drummer in that band was my friend and mentor, and I’d ask him after the gig, “was I playing too far back?”

“Nope,” he’d reply, “You’re actually still rushing!”

I’m like, “Aw maaaan!” But finally after a year or so of this, one night, he was like, “all right, you were too far back tonight! That’s good! You’ve proved that you can play late! Now you can find the pocket…”

Also, the final piece that I needed to be able to not rush, was to truly understand intellectually what were the rhythms I was trying to execute. That’s why I break down all of the syncopated rhythms that we play in my Beginner to Boss course. So:

4.) Learn how to count rhythms

  • 1/4 notes = 1,2,3,4…
  • 1/8 notes = 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and…
  • 1/8 note triplets = 1-trip-let 2-trip-let 3-trip-let 4-trip-let
  • 1/16 notes = 1 ee and uh 2 ee and uh 3 ee and uh 4 ee and uh

On my journey, in order to get to the point where great professional musicians tell me I have great time, I’ve had to learn to count, clap, and play rhythms really slowly in order to be able to execute them accurately.

The good news is: good rhythm is not some magical invisible stuff that some people have and some don’t. It can be quantified, and learned.

The bad news is: it’s not a short journey to learn to be able to play with great time (unless you were born with the gift.)

The other good news is: the journey is fun!

I encourage you to make a commitment to never rush again! Practice playing late. If your tendency is to rush, and you attempt to play late, then you’ll be playing right on time! :wink:

What’s your experience with rhythm and time?


Excellent post and arguments!

I must admit I’m not the best at rhythm, but I am learning to get better by using metronomes or backing tracks when I play (I’ve begun to do a bit of improvising, which I find very satisfying) my goal is to be able to count in my head without being distracted or forgetting where I was

I have a question for anyone who’s performed on stage, does the audience clapping along actually help musicians? or do you get more distracted by it?

I might actually start recording myself playing, to review my mistakes, as it would be like having a different set of ears listening.


Yes, Vibe! Good stuff. Learning to feel 4-bar and 8-bar phrases will help your improvising so much because you know where you are you can build, climax, and resolve at meaningful times.

The audience clapping along can be a real boost of wind in the sails when performing onstage because it’s such an obvious sign of engagement. But, LOL, yes it can also be challenging, especially in larger venues where the sound takes awhile to travel, LOL.

Yes, if you can make recordings of yourself, I think you’ll find an acceleration in your growth as a harmonica player.




I’m always amazed at the QUALITY and QUANTITY of excellent INFORMATION and ADVICE you provide here on this forum @Luke

I’m a bit ashamed to admit, but I too suffer from PREMATURE ARTICULATION! :speak_no_evil:

Though previously it was apparent only when I whistled, sang, or hummed along to a song; I now realize my condition spills over as I jam along to songs with my harp.

It’s almost as if I just can’t wait to get to the next phrase, or in many cases the phrase I find most interesting in the song.

Listening to music previously I never gave much thought to the beats or the overall rhythm, now I can see why bass players and drummers are so important, they keep us in time when we wanna go Renegade :joy:.

I find myself sometimes getting the overall melody in a tune but then have difficulty keeping time with the actual song, or change the rhythm dramatically from one part to the next.

Before, I never really understood the importance of metronomes and/or clapping to keep time, but now realize how vital timing is to play along with a little love song, or any song for that matter :wink:.


Thanks @Luke, you rock :rocket:


Right on Bobby thanks for the kind words. Yes, PREMATURE ARTICULATION effects almost ALL of us to varying degrees.

Moving out of oblivion and/or denial is a step that most aren’t willing to take for some reason, so CONGRATS on starting the journey. I personally think it’s an exciting and gratifying journey to be on.

In my opinion, nothing will do as much for your playing as developing a really good rock solid sense of time, and also learning to use space and dynamics. These are elements I think that make a performance impactful.

Right on Blazin Bobby! Thanks again for the kind words. And keep up the great work…



I’ve had this post about “Premature Articulation” on mind now for a few months, so I decided to come back to it.

While working on a song with a friend, he told me I was coming in too early, without letting the pause in the song build tension, and then come to resolution, as you so aptly explain in this post.

Your valuable lessons are timeless to find the cure to our musical ailments, but it’s up to us to actually do the work to get cured 🫣

I think it’s time to click on a metronome and get in the groove.



@HarpinBobbyMcB that’s awesome that you’re working on a song with a friend!!!

And here’s a perfect example of how having a jam buddy causes us to grow.

And I’m PROUD of you for wanting to tackle this problem!

Put on that metronome and try to play so that it feels like you’re BARELY keeping up with. Like it’s trying to run away.

You should have to to correct yourself my CATCHING UP every now and then, but NEVER by slowing down. THAT’S the trick.

And, as I mentioned before, if you can RECORD yourself playing along with a song, jam track, or metronome and REALLY TRY AND LISTEN OBJECTIVELY to is your harp coming in before or after the backing - even slow down the recording to hear accurately, THAT would make it plain as day.

This is a GREAT journey that will pay HUGE DIVIDENDS.

By the way, the hilarious “premature articulation” term comes from my wife’s mentor the late great Ollie Mitchell, who was first call trumpet in “The Wrecking Crew” in LA in the 60’s and 70’s that recorded on all the classic records. He and his wife retired on the Big Island, and my wife played trumpet with him in a big band here called the Olliephonics every Sunday night at a beautiful roofless venue called the Blue Dragon, until several years ago when the band finally dissolved, and I was the second call bass player and got to play a couple dozens gigs with them as well. Got to sit on harmonica a few times as well. Such a blast playing harmonica with a big band!!! A trombone player from the recking crew “Slide” Hyde retired here as well and played in the band. Sadly they have both passed on. It was so rich having them here.


As always great motivation for me Luke, Thanks


you are ON THE PATH Alessandro!! :raised_hands:t3::notes::100:


You guys have all these funny problems with whiskers and jumping the gun. Maybe this will help.



Toooooog! My dad and I would listen to an oldies station when he use to commute me to school in 7th and 8th grade, and I fell in love with this song ever since then! CLASSIC! :raised_hands:t3::sunglasses::dancer::stew: