I saw this thread because I’ve been working on my own time-feel a lot lately.
I think it’s a mark of a professional musician when they have developed a solid time feel. They are able to phrase fluidly through the time, which can be divided in myriad ways, and they know intuitively where in the time (or when!) their phrase will begin and end. Maybe we should call it temporal awareness. This goes in particular for improvising musicians, as they are required to make phrases on the fly that are coherent within the form of the music they are playing, and a lot of the excitement of what they do comes from their ability to play at just the right time.
Time feel is a skill and it can definitely be learned. My time feel used to be much poorer than it is now, but with practice it is improving like everything else.
I have recently been trying some new exercises for developing a more self-assured feel for where I am in the form of a song and within the measure.
One exercise I found particularly effective is this:
Try is to take/make a phrase of 9 eighth notes, with no rests, starting from beat 1 of one bar and ending on beat 1 of the next (one bar of continuous 8th notes with a final note on the first beat of the following bar).
Then set a metronome at a comfortable speed and play the phrase, starting and ending on beat 1. Then take away the first note, so you start on beat 1-and, play the phrase. Then take away the second note, and play the phrase in time, and so on, until you are left with just the 4-and to the 1, then work backwards, adding the previous note until you get back to where you started.
You can then apply this to phrases that begin and end on different beats. The possibilities are endless…I think.