Metronome Practice – part 1
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Jeff Berlin, an amazing American electric bassist who I have been listening to for 30 years, says metronomes are not effective in developing a strong time feel, and that they are a gimmick, like slapping and tapping (his opinion, not mine).
I understand his point, if taken to the absolute end: a metronome alone will not make you a better bass player
What the metronome will do as a tool in your musical study and practice, however, is help you develop a better internalized time feel
Let me be honest here. I learned to play by playing along with records and cassettes. I used a metronome much less than I played along with albums. By doing this I got to "play with" some of my favorite drummers, like David Garibaldi, Paul Brochu(of UZEB fame), Neil Peart, Phil Gould, Carlton Barrett, and many others. Playing along with anything that keeps steady time will help you develop this sense of time. I will talk more about internalized time
in my next article.
For now, here is a very good technique for using the metronome to help develop a "swing feeling
When I say swing feeling I'm not talking about the literal "hokey" Dixie Land swing. I'm talking about a certain lightness of playing that all the great musicians I know possess. When I have my students use a metronome to practice scales I have them use this technique:
Set the metronome to click on 2
. So, if you are counting out loud, the metronome will sound when you say "2
" and "4
". You could set it to click every quarter note(on 1,2,3
), but that way you are being "given" every beat by the metronome. When you start off with just 2
, it reinforces the swing feeling. In most types of music the emphasis is on beats 2
. The rock and roll backbeat is one example. The reggae "one drop", if counted in half time happens on 2
. In jazz, the drummer while playing the ride cymbal will close the hi-hat on beats 2
because he is telling us the song has a swing feel.
So it can be said that beats 2
are the heartbeat
, or pulse
of most music.
When you have to be responsible for playing beats 1
without an audible click, you start to feel
these beats, which is an important first step in developing a strong sense of internalized time. Of course for starting out, use a slower tempo so that you can play everything comfortably, and move the speed up a few clicks as you progress. Walk before you run.
If you were playing a C major scale,
with the clicks on 2
, this is what it would look like, using the notes with an asterix as the notes that sound on 2
At first this may feel wrong or foreign. Soon though, you will begin to feel this subtle accenting, and your playing will start to swing a little more.As I come to grips with recording video with my laptop I will record a video lesson demonstrating this technique, and different ways to use to it.
One difference you may start to notice is in your walking bass lines. Instead of having a bass line that doesn't seem to propel the song, or help inspire the soloist, this subtle pulse
will begin to hrlp you take a more important role in the music as an active contributor to the overall feel.
Bass is a wonderful instrument. I've been playing for over 30 years now. I hope the information I'll be sharing in these articles and videos will serve to inspire you to see the real beauty that lies in our instrument. As bassists we are the heartbeat of the music
If you have any questions or would like something specific covered, please leave a comment.
Thanks, it's an honour to get to contribute to this fantastic web site.
Paul Vienneau/ Halifax, Canada