Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Metronome perspectives

There's an excellent piece on the Modern Drummer site getting views on metronome use from a number of top drummers and educators. I've excerpted some of the best bits, but go read the whole thing.

David Stanoch:
One tip for making friends with your metronome, which comes directly from a 1984 Modern Drummer interview with [Andy] Newmark, is to imagine the click to be your friend. Andy said he thinks of the late, great studio percussion icon Ralph MacDonald playing a cowbell. By making that his mindset, he could relax and play comfortably with the metronome’s time.

George Marsh:

As a practice tool, I like to use the metronome as a guide to help check rhythmic accuracy. And it can be used in creative ways. Back at a recording session in 1973, I had the pleasure of hearing African master drummer Kwasi Badu play a bell pattern using a metronome to mark the third note of each pulse in 12/8 meter. He heard the metronome as a representation of the beginning of one of the supporting drum parts, which didn’t start on the downbeat. Badu then proceeded to build on the bell pattern with the metronome still playing in its displaced position. The piece was a version of the West African dance Adowa. Kwasi overdubbed all of the parts this way.

From then on, I tried to think of many ways to make use of the metronome more creatively. One way is to set the metronome to any tempo and then play completely freely, with the only rule being that I keep listening—but not adhering to—the metronome. I just let myself fly around the beat. After doing this for a few minutes, I then land on the beat and play in time.

Jeremy Hummel :
Going around the turns. Most drummers, at some point, struggle with speeding up when playing fills, especially in transitional moments (verse to chorus, chorus to bridge, etc). Fills should be played in time, with taste and musicality. I find the best fills to be an extension of the groove, rather than a disruption. Practicing beats and fills with a metronome will help to keep the heads bopping—and not stopping.

More after the break:

Marc Dicciani:
I believe one of the best ways to develop good time is to internalize the tempo first. If you’re going to practice a lot with a metronome, make sure that you’re trying to feel and move to the pulse. Keeping your limbs relaxed and moving fluidly in time with the pulse or music will help develop your feel and groove, which will also improve your time. I also recommend setting the metronome to quarter notes or half notes (depending on the tempo and time signature), so the notes between them (8ths, triplets, 16ths, etc.) can breathe a little. In jazz, rock, folk, second-line, Cuban and Brazilian styles, and even symphonic music where there’s no drummer, the time breathes and the music feels great.

If you practice correctly, your time will naturally improve the longer you play. I’ve heard drummers who can play rudiments and rhythms perfectly matching 16th notes with a metronome but who have trouble playing with a good feel when they sit at a drumset. That’s why I strongly encourage my students to practice to music, recordings, and loops; play in a band; and listen to and analyze a lot of music in order to develop a good sense of time and musicality. Many of our musical and drumming heroes never even owned a metronome; they developed good time by practicing, playing, and listening.

Jim Riley:
I’ve heard session drummers talk about playing behind the click or playing on top of it. This never made a whole lot of sense to me. I mean, if you play the whole song behind the click, you’re still playing with the click—you’re just landing a few milliseconds later. I would hear other players talk about playing around the click, where they’re playing behind it during the verse and ahead of it in the chorus. But in the age of Pro Tools, where rhythm guitars and shaker parts are snapped to the grid most of the time, I don’t have that luxury. Therefore, it’s my job to make the music feel great even when playing in the center of the beat. That means I have to be aware of my tendency to want to rush fills at slow and medium tempos and work on controlling that.

Jason Gianni:
I don’t know if practicing to a metronome can actually make your time worse, but it can certainly affect your feel if you become too dependent on it. In addition, having a click constantly present can perhaps cause stiffness in feel, or if you pay too much attention to sticking with the metronome other areas of your musicianship may be sacrificed.

Claus Hessler:
I think of practicing with a metronome as like playing with an extremely stubborn percussionist.

(h/t to Bill Bachman, who is also featured in the piece)

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