There are two basic skills that you’re going to want to develop if you want to play in time.
First, you want to have a stable internal sense of timing that allows you to play at a steady tempo.
Second, you want to be able to listen and adapt to what’s happening around you with respect to rhythm and time.
Developing your own sense of timing requires deliberate practice and listening. Playing along with a metronome or a recording of a band you like can help you achieve this. There are many ways to use a metronome, which I will discuss in future posts, but for now just make sure you’re listening to the metronome and yourself. Listen deeply to whether or not you’re arriving on the beat at the same time as the metronome. The process of listening and correcting yourself is where the practicing happens, so don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t line up perfectly.
The reality of playing with other people is that you’re all going to have to compromise on the timing. No one plays rhythm exactly the same way and no one has perfect metronomic timing. This means if you want to sound cohesive you’re going to have to all agree on the timing. This isn’t really something you can discuss and make decisions about, it requires that you really listen when you play and make a sincere effort to sync up with the rest of the musicians.
There are more specific ways to develop these skills but the most important thing is to be aware of the realities of timing.
There’s the metronome, your timing, and the bands timing, and the music is somewhere between all of those. You won’t find it unless you’re listening, you can’t go on autopilot. But why would you want to?