Metronome Practice – part 1

paul vienneau proudly presents a lesson from:


FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites 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 and 4. 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 and 4), but that way you are being "given" every beat by the metronome. When you start off with just 2 and 4, it reinforces the swing feeling. In most types of music the emphasis is on beats 2 and 4. The rock and roll backbeat is one example. The reggae "one drop", if counted in half time happens on 2 and 4. In jazz, the drummer while playing the ride cymbal will close the hi-hat on beats 2 and 4 because he is telling us the song has a swing feel. So it can be said that beats 2 and 4 are the heartbeat, or pulse of most music. When you have to be responsible for playing beats 1 and 3 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 and 4, this is what it would look like, using the notes with an asterix as the notes that sound on 2 and 4: C    *D* E   *F* G   *A* B    *C* 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

paulty said,

December 8, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

Very interesting article, thanks. I just listened to your “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright by Bob Dylan”. Beautiful Bass playing, thats what the Bass is for! Superb!!

tadejsupukovic said,

July 13, 2010 @ 7:17 pm

Ok man, I tried it.

At the moment I’m doing some timing-excercises (e.g. Drummachine: 3 bars with drums and 1 bar without drum – trying to keep time in the “blank” bar).

I’ve always practiced with “1-2-3-4”, “2-4” is much harder, because the “checkpoint” isn’t on 1 anymore. As you said: you are responsible to feel 1 and 3, the drum machine is playing 2 and 4.

Maybe somebody wants to try it… 🙂

paul vienneau said,

July 12, 2010 @ 4:11 am

It’s not about “having a problem with” a swing feel, but using your own internalized sense of time to feel where the time is instead of using the audible click on every beat.
It’s also about feeling things in a broader sense, and not beat-to-beat. Counting beat-to-beat is like using a pogo stick to hop across the street. Having a great sense of internalized time is like flying over it and looking down. There’s a great and higher sense of “musicness” when you feel the time and don’t have to rely on anything outside of yourself for it. It frees you to experience the music with your band mates and makes for a better experience with other musicians and the audience. To me it’s an act of faith that pays off every time in deep and meaningful ways.

I’m writing a long written article on this concept right now. I hope to have it submitted in a day or so.
Thank you very much for your comment.

tadejsupukovic said,

July 10, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

Hey Paul! Very interesting article! I’m always practicing with “1,2,3,4” but I don’t have problems with swing feel – anyway I’ll try “2,4”. And when it gets better I’ll leave a comment! :o)

paul vienneau said,

July 10, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

Hey David,
Bass has been very good to me over the years. I had the benefit of my older brother turning me onto great music that changed my life, or getting to play with great musicians that showed me some insight into *the real business of being a musician*.
I love Victor Wooten, Mark King, etc.
Too many bassists ignore the basics of good tone and feel, and for now I hope to share what I know about that.
I bought a Jaguar bass a couple weeks ago though. I’ve started slapping again. Watch out Thomas!

Thanks for your kind comments.
It’s great to be here.

curvedspace said,

July 6, 2010 @ 3:02 am

Thanks for sharing this playing tip, Paul. Thank you too for sharing your story. I’m inspired by your commitment to life, including your art and music. Looking forward to more lessons!

P’bro Ont.

paul vienneau said,

June 30, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

To me, playing “in the pocket” is that place where I’m not having to think about the time or the groove, and it’s about *music*. I know I’m in the pocket when I look at the drummer and we both have that look on our faces like we’re playing as one person.
Using the metronome on 2 and 4 also takes us out of living beat-by-beat, and feeling things in a broader sense. It takes all the stress out of thinking “1,2,3,4” and makes it about communication with your bandmates, and out toward the audience.

But really, playing “in the pocket” is just a term for when your playing feels really good.

pfourstring said,

June 30, 2010 @ 5:36 am

Any light on what “playing in the pocket” really means?


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