~ the metronome ~

'... just the clicks to bring the swing ...'

In a nutshell. When working with a metronome we immediately know when we're on time with what we are doing with our music. This realization becomes the basis of our own inner sense of time. As we're more and more successful with various exercises while working with the clicks, we'll build confidence and develop a true inner physical feel of what good, measured musical time is. For musical time is physical, we conjure it up out of the air with a snap of our fingers to kick off our grooves, to make folks move while energizing our own motivations to strengthen and improve :)

The ultimate recovery. Perhaps the coolest and 'unsung' virtue of the metronome and its groove is that it'll strengthen our 'recovery' abilities when we get off track. That we'll need this strength on the bandstand

:)

Overview. There's a good many musical concepts and skills we can learn and strengthen with working with a metronome. For the exacting metrical 'time' they create with their clicks gives us something to 'lean' our musical ideas into usually with just the push of a button. In doing so we get to place our ideas in a series of undistracted clicks of pure time measurement, for there is no melody, chords or distractions of any kind. Just the clarity of pure clicks of a measured time, in clarity we view all.

Click by pure click our gains can include; internalizing the physical sensation of what players call swing, create a perspective of what 'good' musical time actually is and how our own sense of time physically feels in relation to the metronome's measured clicks. We might better understand thus more quickly develop our own unique ways of melodic phrasing, through the delay of our starting points against the clicks and feel the different degrees of 'pull' associated with swing. With tone and nuance, how we phrase combines to become our own artistic signature.

phrasing
start points
the pull of swing
tone
artistic signature

And depending on the circles and people you get to hang with, knowing what and producing 'good' musical time seems to always elevate the pros up towards the stars. And swing? Well, it has been said for quite a spell that "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing :)"

That we each can use any sort of metronome device to learn these essentials is the leveler here, giving each of us an equal chance to succeed in developing good time. Don't most of the new phones have an app for this too :) Always remember that we musicians are oftentimes an improvising people by nature and just have to figure out a way. And once ya got it? Ya got it, and it is yours forevermore, to strengthen and perfect through your own artistic evolution through exploration, dedication of study and practice.

'Metronome markings.' In written music we oftentimes get an indication at the top of the score that includes what we theorists term a metronome marking. Often accompanied by a word or two describing the musical style of the piece, a metronome marking numerical is sort of musical equation that gives us a number that we use to set our metronomes on. And when we flip its switch, all things aligned, we get its clicks at the composer's suggested pace / tempo for the music. Here's the top of a jazz score with a metronome marking. Ex. 1.

written out music
score
musical styles
tempos

So this marking 'Latin @ 120' gives us the style and a #. So with 2/4 as the time signature, two beats per measure and the quarter note gets the beat. First time read through we're thinking the song is to be performed in a Latin styling with 120 quarter notes per minute We set the metronome to 120, start it off and away we go. This next marking is more of a Euro traditional / classical styling. Example 1a.

Euro
classical artists

Adagio? Italian for 'at ease.' So a slower tempo. Surely at 40 beats per minute, we're at the lower side of what many mechanical metronomes can create. Like a ballad? Yep, pretty much. So we set our metronomes on 40 and push the button. With a good reed and a clear day and a working machine, it'll click 40 times per minute. Easy.

'Good musical time.' We often define having 'good' time as simply keeping a 'consistent chosen tempo' that neither speeds up or slows down. Having 'good' time keeps us all blending our parts together when making music. We simply do this by listening to the other instruments in the band, keeping a steady tempo together that keeps us in the same place as the music moves along.

For example, in telling a musical story with words, our presentation of its lyrics most often determines the pace. Storytellers use the inflection and tempo to unfold the words to draw their listeners in. So in backing a vocalist we need to listen and give them the measured 'room or space' to tell their tale the way they want to tell it. In an instrumental setting without vocals, so when jamming or soloing between verses or the melody, 'good' time ensures that we all start and end a phrase, usually four bars, together, allowing the soloist the space to craft their art.

backing a vocalist
instrumentals
jamming
soloing
a four bar phrase

And when creating music for dancers, providing a steady musical time helps them to think of their choreograph and complete their moves right along with the band. Good time creates a relaxed sense that allows us to think ahead of the spot of where we are at any given moment in the music. Big factor in avoiding mistakes and true for most endeavors.

the dancers
choreograph
think ahead in the music

Something to 'lean' against. This idea is a common thread throughout this text during various discussions where we want to place our 'theory' into 'performance.' The basic idea here is that by having something to lean against, we're creating some sense of musical gravity, we're placing whatever we're doing in a real time, moving along musical situation or environment. While today there's lots of ways to create this beating of measured time, a metronome has historically been the master of time measure. Lutenist and 'rule of 17' proponent Galileo Galilei is thought to have worked with a pendulum, whose concept of even, timed movement evolved into various time keeping devices.

wiki ~ metronome
wiki ~ Galileo Galilei

For example, it's one thing to practice scale shapes but how musical is it? Do we play scale shapes in performance? While we all do at times 'go to the well', we usually do not. But the running scale shapes 'in time', as provided by a metronome, changes the dynamic, on more akin to actual performance where our creative improv shapes scales into melodies as we lean into the bass line and drums for support and context.

go to the well

Phrasing. Remember the old expression about ... ' it's not what we say but how we say it?' Well, same thing with our musical phrasing. So depending on the situation, the 'how we say it' part of this old time quip becomes the rhythm and timing of the phrasing of our ideas, the support for which we can get from the even clicks that a metronome creates when it's turned on.

Once we can count ourselves into the clicks, we we then have a moving along, accurate time to energize our musical thought process. We then think of an idea and find it on our guitars. Placing our ideas into real time is simply what we do when we collaborate with other musicians. So again we strengthening, like exercising in the physical sense of musical time. Improvising artists talk of 'sing the line, play the line.' Melody players do this also, to find their own take on how the phrase will unfold. Having the background of time as support, if we can feel and recreate the swing of a phrase when we sing it then we'll find it through practice. In the shed? In the shed :)

'sing the line, play the line'
in the shed

Extract and cycle. Having a steady pulse to lean into, one solid practice technique is to extract a troublesome lick or phrase and find it in the clicks of time. Then to simply stay in its groove and cycle the lick over and over till we got it. Depending on the cats in the band, this is an incredible way to tighten up rough spots of an arrangement. Simply find that measure or two, or a four bar phrase or more, count it off and play just that part in time over a few times in the balance of the phrase. Works like a charm in getting everyone on the same page, and on time too!

audio / cycle the lick

Getting a lick up to tempo. Another cool thing we do with a metronome's adjustment abilities to click at various speeds it to work phrases and such up to a desired tempo. 'Slow it down' is the mantra in this, get it under the fingers, then gradual increase the tempo strengthening our focus and dexterity along the way. The clicks give us support and keep track of the tempos or speed of the lines.

This is probably mostly a jazz thing as the lines get can get very notey while the tempo blazes along. Historically, many written bebop melodies are probably the most challenging section of this library; where we've a full on 12 pitch, harmonic extravaganza that oftentimes scoots right along. Working with a metronome in getting our lines up to tempo can be the way to conquer and internalize the chops at this performance level.

Turn on a metronome. While some of us are lucky enough to actually have a functioning metronome, some reading here might still be searching for their perfect timekeeper. So we took the initiative here at 'Essentials' and created a half dozen patches of clicks of various tempos, give ya something to lean against till your perfect comes along. The tone of the clicks comes courtesy of Franz. The numbers listed represent the number of clicks per minute, so 60 seconds, this is the standard way we represent and measure musical time. Need more ? Make these clicks 2 and 4 :)

40
60
80
100
120
140
music and math
make the clicks 2 and 4

Turn the beat around. While much is given initially to finding the pocket and 2 and 4, the swing of it all and meshing with a group of players, once our time is solid on 2 and 4, advancing cats will 'turn the beat around' in the rhythms of their contribution to the group's sound.

the pocket
2 and 4

Here we are simply creating in our rhythms a rub to the 2 and 4 pocket of the groove. I flip my 2 and 4 to become 1 and 3 against the band's 2 and 4 and rub this turned beat for all it's worth. Once we've worn it out, usually by repeating the idea for a couple of times, we slip back into the ongoing pocket of 2 and 4, turning our idea back around to the band's pocket of 2 and 4.

three's a charm

This simply creates a sort or 'rhythm rub' with the 2 and 4 swing of the band, creates some tension and is a good way to climax a solo. Fairly easy to do and with a metronome's clicks, triplets are a sure way to 'turn the beat around.' Once we hear it and begin to do it, we'll discover lots of ways to have some fun with the time.

climax a solo
triplets
audio

About swing. While it can be quite a challenge to teach a person how to create a swing feeling to the rhythms they create, for that we each must find for ourselves, what is fairly straight ahead is to teach an interested learner in what swing is, how it feels and where it lives in the musical time of any Americana style of music they dig. For in learning to physically feeling what swing is, we each then get an inner sense of it, to then create our own relationship with time and space and the magics of musical sensations they create. And to first find this magic? All we need is something that steadily goes ... tick tock or click clack or boom boom boom boom ... :)

That there's as many ways to swing as there are folks who love to play the music is just the Americana way. There's always been new cats coming up generation by generation to show us new ways to work the time magic. Thanks to inventor Mr. Louis Armstrong and everyone who followed after, there's a way to create near instant smiles in our music with its timing, that goes right out in our rhythms to our listeners, which nine times out of 10 brings a smile and some toe tappin.'

wiki ~ Louis Armstrong

So throughout this work, there's repeatedly a half dozen or so ideas, reasons for and techniques, for strengthening our timing by working with the steady pulse supplied by any consistently even and accurate metronome device. These include; finding the swing of 2 and 4, feeling thus understanding when tempo speeds up or slows down, help in consistently finding the right tempo for a song by its numerical designation, and last but surely not least, to give us a bare bones back beat, groove or pocket to 'lean' our ideas against when working out our ideas.

rushing the tempo
drag the tempo
numerical tempo

What we gain ~ an awareness. This bare bones time environment is one in which we each can generate our part in musical time, within an aurally crystal clear setting allowing us without distraction to hear the music we are creating. For in this setting, there is no other instruments in the mix to mask, confuse or cover up the sounds we generate in accordance with time generated by the steady clicks.

And while we might initially struggle to work with the musical time created with a metronome, I know I surely did, once we master the basics and get used to its groove, we'll probably miss its backbeat when unavailable. For it can become similar to playing music with another musician(s); for even with just the clicks we have something in time to play our ideas off of, which then reflects our own negotiation of musical time back to us. Often termed here to 'lean against', this is the time basis of getting our lines to swing, with other players as well as finding the blues rub, that essential aural ingredient in so many of the various dishes of Americana we cook up.

'to lean against'
blues rub
Americana

Develop our radar. As we strengthen up our own time, we often develop a heightened awareness of the musical time generated around us by other players. We'll better hear and understand how artists negotiate their time into ours, we'll know and feel rock solid when cats bring it, know and feel when players rush or drag the tempo within the music being created. When jamming with such cats, we'll feel the music 'take off' as in rushing or loose a bit of its excitement when the tempo drags. In this last case, we'll feel our own time want to nudge the tempo back up.

built in stereo radar

And while a lot of this can involve drummers or the timekeeper (s) in the group, we all must be aware of our own sense of time and create that inner self confidence of feel that our lines and time swing with the rest of the group, often adjusting as we go. Of all the intellectual, mind to mind telepathy that happens with the making of music, the time basis is often the strongest and most exhilarating to create, share and experience. For when the band hits solid time together, because it is a physical thing, everyone in the room gets it :)

Shedding with a metronome. The following suggestions are to help a musical artist begin their process of working their musics into the steady time pulse provided by a metronome. While there's just a couple of ideas here, they form the initial basis of the whole time tamale.

First things first / make the clicks go away. The easiest way into this jamming with any time device really, is by first making the sound of the clicks vanish into a sound that we generate. In this way we learn to know, by feel and hearing, when we're exactly on top of the pulse or beat. We can do this simply by clapping hands or snapping fingers along to each click. We know we're on the case when our ears hear our clap or finger snap and a metronome's click sound mysteriously vanishes into the sound we create. Click on Franz for a 60 beats per second click and clap or snap right along. Example 2.

clapping along with each click

Easy do? Cool. Not so easy? Miss a few clicks? We all do. The realization of the 'miss' is the first step in understanding your own development of the qualities of good musical time discussed just above. In this first step we recognize how our own inner clock for creating time measures up with the clicks of the metronome.

listening

Once we begin to do this and feel how our own pulse fits with the clicks of the device, we can develop an appreciation and respect for what good time actually is when we hear it in other players and bands. We might also begin to sense the discipline required to physically create good time let alone getting it all to swing. And that meeting this time challenge, becomes the task at hand for the evolving, modern guitarist in becoming not only a master of disguise but 'time and space' also :)

discipline of work
master of disguise
time and space

From then it's just a matter of practice to strengthen it all up and adapt it to whatever music comes along. It's totally cool because we can physically feel it as well as intuitively know when we're synching up ... and when we're not. It'll be the same sorts of sensations really when working with any bandmates in any setting. Often termed to 'lock in' together, we do this by listening to one another in the band and merging together as our music unfolds in musical time.

listening

Counting into time ~ downbeat / backbeat. Once our own snapping or clapping along with the clicks along is working fine, there's really just one more step in this initial process for the majority of our Americana styles; this is to count ourselves into the clicks thus establishing a starting point in time for the music we are working on. There's two suggestions included here. The first sets up the click to become the downbeat of a measure of 4/4 time. This works fine for the folks stylings. It also sets up a downbeat for other time signatures; 3/4, 5/4 etc.

counting into time
downbeat
time signatures

The second is for creating a backbeat. This turns the clicks into the 2nd and 4th beats of a measure of regular 4/4 time. In setting up the clicks to be 2 and 4, we now create a steady pulse to lean into that depending on the tempo, we'll find in most if not all of the Americana music styles, from the blues right on through rock, country and pop and into jazz. Example 3.

' count one before the beat ...'
backbeat
blues to jazz
finding one
finding 2 and 4

This finding of 1, the downbeat, and 2 and 4, the backbeats, is the basis we need to master. Be patient for it'll probably take multiple tries but you'll know it when it happens. Once we're cool, then really any 'clicking' device available to you will work to lean into for jamming. We can practice this counting in process really anytime we hear some music at home or when out and about. Hear some house tunes music at a store, find the groove and count yourself in. Got a radio?

house tunes
got a radio?

That metronomes can conjure different tempos with a twist of a knob is their core magic. We each then just have to bring it to life, and with a snap of the fingers conjure our grooves right out of thin air :)

tempo

Subdividing / a warmup / projecting ahead. A bit more advanced technique working with a metronome finds us warming up our chops and consciousness to focus along with the clicks. The basics here is to set the device on its lowest setting, usually 40 beats per minute. We start by simply playing one note per click for say 10 to 15 clicks. We're just trying to relax into the clicks, the metronome's created time and making the sound of the clicks disappear by being absorbed into the sound we are generating on our instruments.

40 beats per minute

Clear the mind. Our focus here is to concentrate and lock into the musical time at a very very slow pace, settle all things way down, leaving lots of space to contend with mentally before the next click. Trying not to rush, this'll probably be a bear when first attempting it. It's probably as much as a 'realization' exercise of one's own inner state of being as it is a warmup.

rush
warmup

So once we're locked into one note per click, we find the halfway point in between, making now two notes per click. Run with this for a spell. Once cool, we go to three, then four, then onward to Parnassus :) In this process we are subdividing the beat.

wiki ~ Parnassus
subdividing the beat

As an exercise to develop our own inner sense of time, matched up with the clicks, we strengthen our ability to relax and project ahead in time to where the next click will come along. We intuitively know, and that becomes a new basis for understanding musical time and the idea of what time generally is I'd imagine. That we think ahead in musical time becomes a solid spoke in our inner wheel for creating our improvs, for telling our stories and shaping our improvisational art into the forms we are working in, and creating the new forms to hold our ideas as the need comes along.

musical time
wiki ~ time
improv
telling stories
musical form
evolution of form

Clapping the rhythms of written music. Another way that our metronomes provides a learning environment for our music is in learning to read notation. And while much of our Americana music, through our spectrum of styles, is performed without reading it on the bandstand but improvised from memory through practicing and the rote learning of our parts, when first learning new music we can use the metronome to anchor our efforts.

learning to read
spectrum of styles
rote learning

Forgive the personal testimony here but I was a late arrival to the music scene and when I finally landed, my abilities to read standard notation was, in comparison to my classmates, nothing short of appalling. And for the most part it still is :( But what I can do and have done time and time again, is use the metro clicks to first learn the rhythm of whatever written music, simply by clapping its notated rhythms along with the clicks, saving the pitches to add once the rhythm is solid enough to give the line the composer's intended flow.

a composer's intent

Starting slowly if necessary and working the rhythms up to tempo, is a winning solution for non reading artists. For there's just something about the whole aural / physical clapping while make the clicks go away symbiosis process that works like a charm. Nowadays with the ease of hearing a song performed, this way of learning is probably too old fashioned and obsolete, yet it worked for thousands of years before we had push button audio, thus a sure way into any music really that we just have a written chart for.

symbiosis
audio buttons
chart

That I learned this from my teachers probably helps to give this idea of clapping rhythms with a metronome some creds. That in learning, reading music and physically sounding musics, its rhythms are often the more difficult aspect. We can find the more static individual pitch levels of a musical line one at a time if we have to while rhythms are the motorizing of a phrase. And as such pretty much need to roll on all together to make musical sense and get its magic. That this learning method has worked so well for me over the decades prompts me to want to share it with you today :)

Jacmuse teachers

Franz. Meet Franz, among Americana's first electric maestro's for creating the groove. I think this is the only sales pitch in this book :)

video

 

Manufactured in Connecticut, USA, these art deco looking boxes are a mechanical device that slaps a small disc of what appears to be copper attached to a wire into the side of the box, which is some sort of bakelite plastic. The resulting sound is similar to a wood block or drum stick making a 'clock' beat on a snare drum rim. So a very definitive sound yet still on the rounder side and warm, allowing an easy blend into most the tones of many different instruments. Thus the working with Franz becomes more of a jamming with a musical beat / pulse, as the metronome clicks are quite musical.

One of Franz's rather unique abilities is that since it is a electric powered mechanical device, we can re-engineer its timing. Turns out that with a small conventional screwdriver, we easily remove the bottom cover to reveal the magic within. There are two set screws that hold a bracket of sorts in place. By adjusting these we can change the way Franz thinks and creates his numerical beats per minute. Why do this? Mine is adjusted so that it is slower than the factory 40 beats per minute. Slower is better for a couple of reasons, tops of which is that it creates a more true 2 and 4 time for the slow slow dreamy ballads ... :)

wiki ~ bakelite plastic
clock beat
working with a metronome

Develop a pulse within ~ Emily Remler. This next idea come to us from the now passed East Coast hard bop jazz guitarist Emily Remler, who shows us a way to develop our own 'built in' metronome for playing the blues and warming up. In one of Ms. Remler's instructional videos, she discusses developing the ability to count herself into a groove and getting her foot tapping on 2 and 4.

While doing so, she'd improvise working through the 12 bar blues form. Over the course of a couple of dozen choruses or so, Ms. Remler would gradually pepper in substitute chord changes into her lines, always trying to keep her foot tapping away on the 2 and 4 beats. Turns out this is quite a challenge with incredibly positive rewards. Thanks for sharing and many blessings to you Emily Remler.

wiki Emily Remler
hard bop jazz
foot tapping exercise
12 bar blues
blues chord substitutions

"... I find myself listening to the older players. You see one bar of theirs and you can get one hundred more licks out of it.."

wiki ~ Emily Remler

Footnotes:

(1)Mauleon-Santana, Rebeca. 101Montunos, p. iv. USA Sher Music Co.,Ca. 1999

(1) Isacoff, Stuart. Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle, p. 40-42. USA Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001

(2)Aebersold, Jamey and Slone, Ken. The Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978.