Practicing With a Metronome

I recently came across an interesting blog post written by pianist Mike Longo asking Should You Practice Jazz With A Metronome? Longo’s reply:

In MHO, absolutely not!  Why?  Because a metronome clicking is not a pulse.  What is a pulse anyway?  The sound of your heart beating.  It produces a throbbing, pumping kind of feeling as opposed to the monotonous, soulless clicking of a metronome.  All of the great jazz musicians of the past such as Dizzy, Charlie Parker, Cannonball, John Coltrane,  Erroll Garner, etc., display this kind of sound in their time keeping.

He raises some very good points that are worth some serious consideration. That said, I feel some of his reasoning is a little off base and creates another false dichotomy of the sort that pervades so much music pedagogy. Let me take a few of his points and add my own thoughts.

There is a practice among some of the jazz educators to encourage musicians to practice with the metronome clicking on 2 and 4.  In my estimation this is probably one of the worst things a musician can do and practically destroys the ability to ever swing.  I’m sure there is no malicious attempt on the part of the educators, and they sincerely believe they are “helping” students by having them do this.  The sad thing is there is a type of playing and a kind of “music” that can result from this.  The question becomes…does it swing?   Does it produce a positive reaction in the listener?  In other words, does it make people who listen to it feel good?  In my opinion, ABSOLUTELY NOT!

As someone who has played along with a click track  for recording and for shows that include prerecorded music I agree that this often makes for a stiff feeling groove. That said, there are some folks who really enjoy music that has been recorded with metronomic time and a lot of interesting music has been created this way. I think that Longo’s opinions about music made with a metronome should be placed into the context of the jazz music that he personally enjoys and performs.

But is it really the worst thing one can do? Will it destroy a musician’s ability to play with a confident and natural swing feel? Let’s examine his arguments.

Since this is a common practice being used in many jazz education environments and since the popularity of jazz has diminished in alarming proportions, I suggest that educators might want to question if there might be a connection.

Probably not. Consider how much pop music is recorded and performed with a click track. One might argue that the decline of interest in jazz is inversely proportional to not having metronomic time. I don’t this really applies to a discussion on the pedagogical or practice value of using a metronome.

Longo’s next couple of paragraphs deal with a discussion of watching musicians dance or tap their foot while performing. He argues that one can’t dance like Dizzy Gillespie or tap a foot like Count Basie to a metronome. I’m not sure that this is necessarily true (I can’t dance to either a metronome or Basie both, to be honest), nor does it really say anything about whether practicing with a metronome is useful. There’s also some thoughts about whether white musicians can groove as hard as African American musicians by Cannonball Adderly, but I’m not certain that this is evidence against metronome practice. It’s probably more due enculturation than anything else.

I had a young guitar student who was studying privately with me while attending a university jazz department trying to get a degree in jazz performance. . . He reported that the guitar teacher showed him a clip on You Tube of a guitarist playing a solo while placing the microphone on the floor next to a metronome clicking on 2 and 4.  I observed this clip and found that the playing displayed a tremendous amount of technique with speed and velocity as well as a ton of notes.  But it was not producing anything I wanted to listen to, nor did it swing.  The student proclaimed that the teacher told him, “This is why you should practice with the metronome on 2 and 4” to which I responded by sending the teacher a clip of Wes Montgomery and his group playing “Impressions” with the drummers high hat popping on 2 and 4 in a manner that started your foot tapping involuntarily from the first bar on.  I sent a note along stating, “This is why you shouldn’t practice that way.”

I will let you judge for yourself if Metheny swings and if there’s anything worth listening to, but we need to place this video in context. Metheny isn’t really performing here, he is demonstrating something at a clinic. Again, I think that Longo’s thoughts here are more indicative of his personal preferences in music than what metronome practice can do for your playing.

Further evidence that supports that there is a ring of truth to my theory is the following.  Try taking any classic jazz recording that has withstood the test of time and has everyone agreeing on the fact that it swings and see if you can get a metronome to stay with the music on that recording.  Obviously you cannot, and obviously the musicians were keeping time differently than the way a metronome clicks.

This is indeed a difficult task to accomplish. It’s much easier to use a metronome that you click or tap that tells you what tempo it is moving at and see if the tempo remains steady throughout. Musicians often play at tempos that are between the standard metronome clicks and even if they played in perfect time it would be impossible to set your metronome to the music. That said, it is true that there are almost always minor fluctuations in the tempo with human musicians. It’s part of what makes the music breathe and flow in an expressive way. But do musicians who practice with a metronome do any better at staying with perfect time when recording without a click track?

As an aside, I recently recorded a few big band charts with just four musicians, so used a click track to keep all the parts lined up correctly. When editing the recordings I noticed that many of the players, myself included, frequently played ahead of or behind the beat at times. There were times when this happened where I was able to clean up the sound by edging the notes forward and backwards a bit, but when I perfectly quantized the music to line up exactly the resulting sound was very stiff and artificial sounding.

But I feel the real question to consider is whether or not metronome practice needs to be all or nothing. What does a metronome provide for your practice? It’s good at two things – getting your  tempo correct in the first place and then providing feedback as to whether your tempo is remaining consistent. I prefer to think of a metronome as a “spotter” for your time feel. Once you’ve reached a point where you have a good idea of your tempo and have consistent tempo on the music you’re playing you turn the metronome off. Can a musician develop a static and unmusical groove by overpracticing with a metronome? Perhaps, but I don’t think that this happens to any great degree. On the other hand, the feedback that metronome practice can provide to musicians, particularly less experienced ones or even experienced ones working on challenging material, makes for a valuable tool. In my daily teaching (and performing, to a lesser degree) I come across more cases of musicians who drag or rush than players with a stiff groove.

If you can swing with a metronome click as your “rhythm section,” just think of how hard you will swing with a real one.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel that it’s better to never practice with a metronome or use it frequently? Or do you find that the best approach is somewhere in the middle of the two extremes? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Paul T.

Great points, Dave. I don’t see any harm in practicing with a metronome, and most of the great players I’m aware of make a practice of it. That said, I’ve noticed that a lot of the older jazz musicians have a strong distaste for playing with the metronome on “2 and 4” – they say that the pulse should be felt on 1 and 3.

I’ll also add that most great jazz musicians I’m aware of practice with the metronome in a variety of ways:

1. Some say that using a metronome isn’t really doing anything for you unless it’s forcing you to subdivide. (For example, play with the metronome clicking on the “and of 4” instead of downbeats, or with the metronome clicking dotted quarters while you play. These are advanced exercises, though, and very difficult even for many high-level players.)

2. Most also practice playing with a fluid time feel *against* the metronome: learning to play a little ahead of the beat or a little behind the beat, for example, while the metronome is static.

There is clearly a lot more to time feel and metronome practice than just learning to play along with a click. But that’s a good first step for most musicians, I feel: I’d always rather play with musicians with steady time than people who rush or drag.

Mike Longo

First of all, my article was specifically about jazz music. Not so much about pop or other music played to a click track. Here is the main point I would like to make. Dizzy Gillespie once made a point about the role of body rhythm being an important factor overlooked by many jazz educators. He would say that he can tell if a player can really play by observing the way that they pat their foot. In terms of my opinions concerning practice with the metronome on 2 and 4, one must consider where the 2 and 4 thing originated in jazz. The answer is hand clapping in the black church. If one observes a gospel choir clapping on 2 and 4 and notes the way they are moving their bodies, I defy anyone to prove that a metronome on 2 and 4 can produce that feel or teach a musician how to get that feeling of swing in their playing. In fact I would go so far IMHO to say that musicians who engage in this practice are training themselves to play wrong.

Dave

Hi, Mike. Thanks for stopping by and clarifying.

First of all, my article was specifically about jazz music. Not so much about pop or other music played to a click track.

I’ve used a click track in salsa and even in recording some big band charts with just a few players covering all parts. Those came out OK, for their purposes.

Dizzy Gillespie once made a point about the role of body rhythm being an important factor overlooked by many jazz educators. He would say that he can tell if a player can really play by observing the way that they pat their foot.

I feel that tapping your foot is like metronome – a tool that is useful to help provide feedback for how well a student or player is matching the time. You can abuse either or use either to benefit. I prefer to not blame the tool, but how it is used.

I defy anyone to prove that a metronome on 2 and 4 can produce that feel or teach a musician how to get that feeling of swing in their playing.

Well, I wouldn’t use a metronome to teach how to swing and groove hard, just to keep steady time. As you point out, those are not necessarily the same thing. I prefer to use the correct tool for the job.

In fact I would go so far IMHO to say that musicians who engage in this practice are training themselves to play wrong.

Perhaps you’re right, but your confidence aside, your viewpoint seems to be in the minority here.

One thing that occurs to me is that our differing ideas may be influenced by the age and experience of the students we both get to teach. As a rule, most of my students can benefit from metronome practice. Perhaps you teach mostly advanced players.

Thanks again for your comment.

Dave

Mike Longo

Hi Dave: You are right in that most of my students are professionals with the exception of students from Sarah Lawrence College where I am a faculty member. What strikes me as significant is that most people do not understand the difference between a pulse and a metronome clicking. One of my critics claimed that “pulse” was a vague term. If one puts their finger on their wrist and feels their own pulse throbbing what is “vague” about that? There is no way in life that that feeling can be reproduced by a metronome. One should experiment with their own pulse being the 2 and 4 instead of the metronome and notice the huge difference in the way it makes them play. Also, once a pulse is established as the time unit it can be moved up or down to accommodate any desired tempo. As far as tapping the foot and the metronome being the same thing I disagree strongly. They don’t look the same or feel the same and they both produce a different kind of playing. It seems strange to me that most of my critics try to skirt around the analogy I used about the body rhythm used by gospel singers clapping on two and four and how a metronome is unable to reproduce that feeling. As far as teaching how to keep good time, it is my contention that a metronome is not the kind of time music is played to. Is there an alternative? My DVD series called The Rhythmic Nature of Jazz teaches an African drum concept that produces a polymetric time conception and actually teaches young people to keep time so it swings, even children of a very young age. As a matter of fact it is being used in the school system in Connecticut at certain schools with amazing results causing children to be filled with feelings of joy and happiness producing an inner harmony in them along with feelings of extreme coordination. This was instigated by a prominent psychotherapist in that area by the name of Andrew Schoenfeld along with saxophonist Benny Wallace, both of whom were private students of mine at one point. As a matter of fact, Mr. Schoenfeld has been using the drum technique with his patients with a great amount of success and even has reported curing some of bipolar disease with it. As you mention my viewpoint, “with my confidence aside”, is in the minority there. I will say this. What appears to be “confidence”in me is probably the result of who I’ve been on the bandstand with. Mostly because of luck, I have been fortunate and blessed to have played with some of the greatest jazz musicians who have ever lived and I would bet that people who have been that fortunate are in the minority there as well. As I have pointed out, there is a big difference between experiential knowledge and intellectual knowledge and it has been my experience to encounter many educators who pass on information and ideas to students based on their feelings and imagination rather than the truths that are gleaned from an actual experience. Of course, many have experience teaching students and have observed the results of this in the students. This is to be respected and I do, for sure. However, Dizzy for example, aside from being a jazz master and a genius, was also a great teacher and, in my estimation has come up with some marvelous ideas that can benefit students greatly beyond what is currently in practice.
I wish you the best and with great respect,
Mike

Dave

Hi, Mike. Thanks for adding some additional details. I have a few thoughts to your latest:

As far as tapping the foot and the metronome being the same thing I disagree strongly. They don’t look the same or feel the same and they both produce a different kind of playing.

I wasn’t as clear as I should have been in my previous reply. I don’t mean that they do the same thing for the student, but that they are both useful tools. When used properly both can help. When used incorrectly (i.e., using a metronome all the time, allowing your tapping foot to follow a tempo that isn’t steady enough), they can end up training the wrong things. I don’t see them as an all or nothing thing.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Schoenfeld has been using the drum technique with his patients with a great amount of success and even has reported curing some of bipolar disease with it.

This is interesting. A cursory search doesn’t show any of Dr. Schoenfeld’s publications on treatment of bipolar disorder. There’s something about treating spine injuries, but that might not be the same A. Schoenfeld. I’ll try to remember to look later when I go to a college campus later tonight and have free access to more journals. Lyle, a regular commenter here, is a music therapist and he might be interested in hearing more about this too.

To provide a contrast, I note that a metronome is sometimes used for treating symptoms related to stuttering, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and therapy for stroke patients learning to walk again. While your reference to bipolar disorder and rhythmic training is interesting, I’m not sure that any of our examples really say much about whether or not a metronome is a useful practice tool for musicians.

As you mention my viewpoint, “with my confidence aside”, is in the minority there. I will say this. What appears to be “confidence”in me is probably the result of who I’ve been on the bandstand with.

I poked around a bit online to find some players that advocated metronome use, just to provide a contrast to the players you mentioned. Some of the names that came up (taken with a grain of salt, because I haven’t confirmed the sources) were Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkle, John Patitucci, and Lennie Tristano. Different styles than the players you mentioned, but in my opinion worth listening to anyway.

As I have pointed out, there is a big difference between experiential knowledge and intellectual knowledge and it has been my experience to encounter many educators who pass on information and ideas to students based on their feelings and imagination rather than the truths that are gleaned from an actual experience.

One regular theme I frequently harp on here on my blog is that we musicians are trained to trust our feelings, experiences, and intuitions. This is a good thing because it helps us become better musicians. However, in determining best practice for teaching it’s been shown that a more scientific outlook will produce better, more consistent results with our students. This isn’t to say that your experiential knowledge is wrong, per se, but that it comes with the baggage of cognitive bias and unless we apply certain controls, trusting our judgement based on the results we get with our students can lead to fooling ourselves.

Searching again through some Journal articles shows a lot of pedagogical studies that used a metronome for a variable, but the vast majority of them seem to have a sample population of children, not professional jazz musicians. I think that perhaps much of our disagreement on how much metronome use in practice is based on a large part to the students we teach. I’m currently teaching mostly high school students, but I’ve also worked with beginners and most of my teaching experience is with college music students. At these levels, I find that using a metronome can be a very powerful tool – provided it’s used correctly and for the right reason.

I would agree with you that keeping your own time is the goal and that this should be kept in mind, even when using a metronome.

Thanks again, Mike. Interesting stuff!

Dave

Christian Fabian

Hi Dave,

With high interest I do follow this exchange and to all fairness I thought it would be important to the readers to see the Wes Montgomery youtube link as well mentioned by Mr. Longo. I watched both videos and my food started immediately tapping when listening to Wes Montgomery while I had to focus to do the same with the Pat Metheny clip. It would be a good idea for all readers to do that and see what the difference feels like.

My 2 cents 🙂

Christian

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=wes%20montgomery%20impressions&sm=1

Dave

Hey, Christian. Can you try again please? The link didn’t come through this time. (Never mind, I was reading your comment behind the scenes, not at the blog post and the embedded video didn’t show there.)

Back when I wrote this post I looked around for the Montgomery video I thought Mike was referring to, but didn’t think I found the right one. My impression (no pun intended) was that it was a video recording of Montgomery soloing when the rhythm section dropped out except for hi-hat and his soloing, but maybe I misunderstood or am remembering it wrong.

At any rate, I think it’s important to consider the different styles of both Metheny and Montgomery. They are both from different generations and have different concepts of groove and what role it plays in their music. Not to mention the difference between a live performance and a clinic demonstration.

I don’t mean to imply that I disagree with everything that you and Mike are saying, just that I don’t feel that such an extreme suggestion (never practice with a metronome) is going to be helpful for all, or even most, students. Nor do I mean to imply that a metronome is the be all and end all of learning to keep steady time and groove hard. It’s just a tool that can be useful when used properly and in the correct context.

Thanks!

Dave

Christian Fabian

Hi Dave,

I happen to be a fan of both: Metheny and Montgomery! To understand each of yours and Mike’s view point it was important to me to see the other clip as well. Therefore I posted it! Great conversation 🙂

All the best,

Christian

Mike Longo

Hi Dave: It seems there is a healthy debate going on here and I appreciate your viewpoints although I disagree with many of them. Andrew Shoenfeld’s contact information should you wish to speak with him is shoenfeldandrew@gmail.com 203 926 1163. I’m not aware of any papers he has written on the subject. I know him as a part time jazz musician with a successful psychotherapy practice in the West Milford, Connecticut area.

In answer to some of the points you make let me start by saying Dizzy Gillespie was not just someone who just played jazz. Dizzy Gillespie WAS jazz. As Miles once said, “I am a branch on the tree of jazz but Dizzy is the trunk.” I may not have made myself perfectly clear with my reference to “experiential knowledge” if you think I meant just the experience of playing with Diz as I’m not particularity adept at expressing music with words. What I was referring to is this. Dizzy, in an interview conducted in London in 1973 stated that his music was founded on fundamental principles that he could not only articulate but could teach to other musicians. I can relate some experiences I had with him whereby he would reveal a certain type of rhythmic behavior to me that when applied produced rhythmic phenomenon that was not there before in my playing. I would be amazed and the effect would be that I moved to another level of accomplishment relative to the term “accomplished musician.” Further, the information he shared with me was not known to other musicians or educators and was of the nature of what seemed like a metaphysical reality known only to him. This not only brought about a change of perception on my part but a new sense of reality about jazz. Since the field of jazz academia, to my knowledge, is presently unaware of these principles I feel it necessary to call attention to this statement. “in determining best practice for teaching it’s been shown that a more scientific outlook will produce better, more consistent results with our students” This leads me to ask the question, “Science based on what?” I would consider what Diz made reference to be in fact Science. Maybe not as defined in the world of academia but surely in the world of professional jazz by the people who play it and teach it from that perspective. IMHO much of the “pedagogical studies” you make reference to have been the result of someone’s imagination and represent to me “theory without reality.” ie practicing with a metronome on two and four. I will reiterate that my analogy to the hand clapping of gospel singers seems to be ignored in this regard.

This isn’t to say that your experiential knowledge is wrong, per se, but that it comes with the baggage of cognitive bias and unless we apply certain controls, trusting our judgement based on the results we get with our students can lead to fooling ourselves.

“Cognitive Bias????” For one thing the music played by Dizzy Gillespie and his followers does not involve the mind. It comes from a place behind the mind… A “magical” place, if you will, and a place, IMHO, that practicing jazz with a metronome will render a student unable to ever achieve. Furthermore Dizzy was aware of certain techniques that activate this “place” for a musician. Since you accused me of “creating another false dichotomy” at the beginning of your article and since you are unaware of these principles your statement appears to me to be the result of projection. Who then is “fooling themselves?” Further I don’t see where this dichotomy you perceive is false but very real IMO. I know it is your opinion that these types of things are for players much more advanced than the students you are used to dealing with. The question then becomes are the students you are teaching being prepared properly to some day embrace these principles? I mean no disrespect here as I can tell that you have integrity and a sincere desire to help your students. I think the difference between our insights lies in whether one believes that a pulse in jazz music and a metronome clicking are the same thing. I know you believe that it is a tool that helps a student “keep steady time.” The question then becomes is this the kind of time jazz is played to? My former classical composition teacher, Hall Overton, referred to it as the difference between “human time and clock time.” Dizzy Gillespie said, “A metronome will cause you to play stiff.” Dizzy Reece said, “A metronome is not natural.” I cannot imagine the music on Kind of Blue having been played to a click track. If you check it out most every track on that CD ends up at a faster tempo than where it started. I recall Miles replying to this by saying that he didn’t mind the tempo going up because that was a bi product of the inertia of the swing. He did say he couldn’t tolerate the tempo going down however. (I am paraphrasing here of course and it was related to me by another musician.) If one puts one’s finger on their wrist and feels their own pulse and compares that to a metronome clicking it will be found that it doesn’t feel the same, nor does it sound the same, nor does music played to it react the same way. Another interesting observation is that one cannot find the tempo of their pulse on a metronome. It seems to me that no matter what age a student might be, if he is breathing, he or she has a pulse. Now I agree that much music that people like has been played to a click track and to me whatever floats your boat is significant in that regard. I am, however, a jazz musician and the people I teach are either trying to become jazz musicians or already jazz musicians trying to improve some aspect of their music. Among those have been Ron Carter, James Moody, Regina Carter, Patience Higgins and Cliff Coreman to name a few. I also have a great amount of respect for the musicians you list as advocating metronome use including Pat Metheny who I find amazing in many regards. On my blog site I have listed several musicians who disagree strongly with this principle. Among them are Beethoven, Berlios, Hoffman, Duke Ellington, Hal Galper and countless others of at least equal stature to those on your list. I guess different strokes for different folks applies here. This leads me to another of your statements: “we musicians are trained to trust our feelings, experiences, and intuitions. This is a good thing because it helps us become better musicians.” To me, feelings, experiences and intuitions without reality can be very misleading and furthermore if exposed to one of Dizzy’s revelations can change in an instance. Some of the musicians who have benefited from the techniques developed by Dizzy are mentioned in the following statement. Since the people mentioned all learned from Diz and since what they learned played an important role in their musical development and careers would you say that Dizzy was “fooling himself?”

“This aspect of Dizzy’s genius has been noted by musicians such as Monk, Sonny Rollins, Miles, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson and others too numerous to mention.” I can recall being on a gig with Dizzy at Red Foxx’s club in L.A. during the 70s. At that time Jymie Merritt was the bassist and Ray Brown came by the club to hear us. He was particularity impressed with the interplay between Jymie and me. On the break he came to me and said “Dizzy is not going to teach you cats like he taught us in the forties, but ask him questions. Ask him a lot of questions.” The techniques and theories espoused by Dizzy are what I would consider jazz reality as is evidenced by his music, the depth of which if beyond the scope of understanding in the world of many of today’s jazz educators, although it needn’t be. Of course they can tell what notes were played, what scales were used and what harmony was employed, all of which carries a significant amount of importance, but what Dizzy and Charlie Parker’s music was about was the HOW, not the WHAT. What I am suggesting is that today’s educators are presently unaware of the concepts that made them play what they played. I will go further by saying that if they did they would probably not go near a metronome IMHO. Mainly because modern jazz is played to a polymetric time conception that is the antithesis of the kind of time produced by a metronome clicking. I will share another statement made by Diz. “You’ve got to live it to play it.” This is profound in my estimation and what I have observed of late is the folks who set what you refer to as “the pedagogical standards” are so far removed from this reality that most of them are creating practices and arriving at conclusions that have little to do with what Dizzy was referring to as “living” it. Mostly because of society, in the past, they were afraid to go “across the tracks” so to speak and it is my belief that within that environment lies vital information for educators and students desiring to pursue jazz as a life and career as well. Instead, what I see is references to various papers written by academics mostly about figments of their imagination rather than from the reality of jazz espoused by people like Dizzy. I know you attribute our differences to the level of students we both teach but I’m not so sure that makes a lot of difference. Obviously there is a difference in levels to a New York based pro jazz player, many of which have been students of mine, and a high school or even college level student but here’s the rub. I have been under the impression that the goal of jazz education was to produce students that can play jazz and possibly make a career of it. Where we differ is this. You believe that having young musicians play to a metronome will eventually lead to this end because it sets their “time” straight and I believe you believe this because you do not know of an alternative approach. Dizzy’s African drum techniques that are taught in my DVD series is the alternative and I know you have not checked this out nor will you probably ever because most educators are set in their ways and beliefs and are reluctant to be exposed to facts and evidence that might refute them, even if it might benefit them and their students greatly. I attribute this to the break down of the apprentice system that previously fueled the development of new jazz artists and the breakdown has opened the door for academics to perceive themselves as the ultimate authorities on jazz.

Thanks for letting me air my feelings and I wish you the very best.

Mike

Dave

Hi, Mike.

You believe that having young musicians play to a metronome will eventually lead to this end because it sets their “time” straight and I believe you believe this because you do not know of an alternative approach.

No, I didn’t write that! I think you’re still creating a false dichotomy. I certainly agree with pretty much all your points – excepting that one should avoid practicing with a metronome at all times. In my opinion, this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are plenty of situations when players can benefit from using the metronome in their practice. For example, it’s extremely common for musicians to drag when the dynamics get soft or when the texture thins and they don’t even realize it at the time. Practicing changing dynamics and texture with a metronome will provide the student with immediate feedback so that they can get used to keeping better time.

Once you’ve spent whatever amount of time you feel you need to work on steady tempo, turn the metronome off and move on to other things – including keeping your own tempo and grooving hard.

Dave

Mike Longo

Hi Dave:
I guess we should just agree to disagree. I don’t quite understand that you “agree with pretty much all my points” but think I’m creating a “false dichotomy.” Sounds like an oxymoron to me. You believe that “Practicing changing dynamics and texture with a metronome will provide the student with immediate feedback so that they can get used to keeping better time” and I believe it is the wrong kind of time. With the Dizzy drum techniques the time becomes immediately internalized and the slowing down with dynamics doesn’t come up. “Grooving hard” has to do with physics not emotion and those particular physics are created by the polymetric time and rhythm that manifests itself naturally when Dizzy’s concepts are employed. Again, we should agree to disagree and just see where our ideas take students. I wish you the best and have enjoyed our stimulating debate. Good luck with all of your endeavors. Best,
Mike

Dave

I don’t quite understand that you “agree with pretty much all my points” but think I’m creating a “false dichotomy.” Sounds like an oxymoron to me.

Only because your opinion seems to be all or nothing. I agree with most of your points on the drawbacks to overly relying on a metronome, but in my opinion you take this belief to a too extreme end result. Sure, there are some downsides to metronome practice, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t derive some benefit from them as well – again, provided that the metronome use is done correctly and not exclusively.

Additionally, most of your arguments against using a metronome really are red herrings and don’t address the pros and cons of metronome use at all. Most of your evidence comes down to because you say it is so. Perhaps I haven’t been clear enough in my writing here, but I get the impression that you seem to have misconceptions about what I mean by “false dichotomy,” “science,” “cognitive bias,” and other points that I use to conflict your extreme perspective.

Thanks for taking the time to respond here. Best of luck to you too.

Dave

Mike Longo

Hi Dave:
You haven’t seen the DVDs nor the techniques taught on them. Nor have you seen what they have done for the people who have and continue to embrace them. Of course this is your prerogative. But this also means that you don’t have a clue as to what I am talking about or where I am coming from and I can back up every point I made with testimonials from the students who have . So it is not “because I say so” but because the people who have benefited from what I espouse say so. Example- A guitar student who came to me three months ago a nervous wreck because he claimed he had a “time problem.” It turned out his former teacher had him practicing with the metronome on 2 and 4 and he was getting put down by all of the musicians with whom he was playing, particularly a Brazilian drummer, and losing gigs. He came to his lesson yesterday and related to me that the drummer shook his hand after the gig the night before and called him Maestro. I appreciate that you think my position is extreme but you don’t know the alternative. I might also mention that the metronome wasn’t invented until Beethoven’s time so I feel sorry for all those sad musicians before him who must have had time problems including Bach, Mozart, Handel, and on and on. And to think of what their poor students must have endured. There is a story about Beethoven smashing the metronome against the wall and proclaiming, “This is not music!” This was related to me by a musician so I am not sure is it is a true story but if it is Beethoven was surly an extremist. Since you have not bothered to check out where I am coming from you undoubtedly will continue to consider me to have an extreme perspective. I might suggest you reach out to Andrew Schoenfeld. As far as pros and cons of metronome use I will say that there is an alternative approach with evidence to back it up that has led me and students to conclude that there are no pros. I will also say that over 90% of my students have gone on to professional careers as performers earning a good living. I guess this would fall into the category of “cons.” With all due respect I remain,
Sinderely,
Mike

Angelo Sandy

Hi Dave,

I would like to offer my background and personal experience with Mike for you consideration. To be clear, I am not the guitar student that Mike is referencing in the preceding post.

I’ve been playing guitar for nearly 40 years and have been a periodic student of Mike’s over the last 12.

I started at 11 with someone showing me the basic chords and then took it from there by myself, learning by ear off records and watching other guitar players. By my mid 20’s I had written some pop and rock structured songs, along with a few acoustic solo pieces, but wanted to take my playing to a more creative and professional level. I also wanted to be able to understand what I was already doing, as well as communicate properly with other professional musicians in studio and performance situations. I started studying music theory with a teacher, and for the first time in my life, used a metronome.

After a year of study I started working with a drummer that tested me on every time signature known to man and a bass player that recited the harmonic and melodic minor modes backward in his sleep. We spent 6 months writing material, all of it technically correct, measured to the click, yet completely lifeless. I couldn’t understand how solo pieces I had written prior to my studies had far more feel and life to them. Shortly after this experience I stopped the lessons, put the metronome in the drawer and moved on to other endeavors in both music and life.

Years later I was living in New York City and looking to study composition and arrangement. After meeting with numerous teachers that were presenting me with the same common material over and over, I was given Mike’s name and number. When I met with him for my first lesson I immediately knew I had found what I was looking for. His approach to music was a revelation to me and at the end of my first lesson I asked if I should use a metronome when practicing. His response was “Why would you do that?” As he explained the difference between a click and a pulse feel I immediately recognized what had happened to me years earlier with the drummer and bass player.

I was only studying with Mike for a short while when I got together with a friend that I’ve been playing with for over 30 years. His musical background is essentially the same as mine prior to my studies with Mike. He immediately recognized a difference and improvement in my playing. When I asked him what was different, he couldn’t describe it exactly. But from his attempts, I knew what he was hearing and it was exactly what Mike is talking about here.

I believe that the most important point that Mike has made above is that, what he is talking about is not a natural, logical progression from within a metronome centric mindset. It is not an extension of metronome time to be grown into, but rather something completely separate. His approach leads to an understanding, not just of the fundamentals of time and rhythm, but more to the fundamental nature and behavior of both. With that understanding comes a natural feel of time with no need for a metronome, it is unmistakable, you feel it.

I agree that a metronome is a tool to be used, but only as an aid in establishing and conveying relative tempo when needed.

Angelo

I am an Orchestra

I feel that by focusing on the effects on groove/swing, this debate is leaving out the major benefits of using a metronome, the ability to play challenging passages in less time and achieve cleaner dexterity quicker and build muscle memory.

I discovered a trick that made my piano and guitar students learn to change chords in less time with greater accuracy. I found that the students that would strum/hold one chord and then wait to strum again until after they had placed their fingers in the correct spots for the next chord. They were literally ingraining a habit of hesitating.

What I did to fix this is set a metronome at a slow pace and had them change chords after four beats, and no matter where there fingers were in shaping the new chord, they had to play it. What we found is that, they would slowly play the chord with less and less finger mistakes after 5-10 passes, and suddenly they would nail the changes. It would take mere minutes to forge the seamless connection between chords, whereas it took them days or weeks of “practicing” holding and switching and flubbing through the chords previously.

Also, when I was tackling a song like Donna Lee on the bass (and alto sax) I played the head in chunks at excruciatingly slow speeds with a metronome, and as I felt comfortable, I increased the metronome by 4-5 clicks and looped the passage again and again, increasing speed periodically.
I started to not only play better at higher speeds, I learned more challenging pieces in less time, and my playing was more accurate. Most importantly, my muscle memory kicked in and I memorized the songs, so they came out effortlessly.

Dave

Thanks for you comment, “IAAO.” Yes, I agree that there are benefits to metronome practice that are somewhat separated from simply grooving. I mentioned that in my original article above, but we seem to have gotten mostly off that track in the ensuing discussion.

Ultimately, it’s just a tool. When used at the proper time it’s very helpful. When overly relied on or used for something beyond it’s intended purpose it can be somewhat detrimental. Practice smart and no one should have any issues.

Ivan

Sorry for my English, but I struggle with bad timing (I`m a bass player) and this subject is just too sensitive to me not to answer.

I saw the video above with Wes Montgomery and the pulse (not the rhythm), to me, is absolutely metronomic. You can tap the pulse with your fingers in the beginning, then scroll forward to the end and the tempo is the same.

To me, what Mike is saying, is connected with rhythm.

In general, the groove (in this particular case, swing) is just uneven rhytm (in an appealing way) – something that you must develop by yourself and, of course, the metronome cannot help you in that, due to it`s very nature.

I would call this “micro-timing”.
To be groovy, from the scientific point of view, you should learn how to subdivide the pulse in an uneven way. It can be done by listening to others do it and trying to imitate, incorporating also movements of your body (the latter is important, but not always physically possible or restricted by circumstances).
For example, in rock, a groovy drum track means that the drummer hit the snare drum (on a second and forth beats) with a very slight delay (after what would be a metronomically correct time).
It is this (hardly noticeable) anticipation that spices up the rhythm and makes the music groovy.

I don`t see (and have) any difficulty to play groovy (as Wes did) to a completely even, metronomic PULSE, because the way you subdivide it to create RHYTHM is what matters, and to me the metronome doesn`t interfere with you at all.

OK. But besides that, we have another side of the timing, that I would call “macro-timing”.

It is, in essence, a musician`s capability of holding the same tempo throughout the tune.
Based on my experience, it is this area where the metronome can help you a lot. It can be independent judge that tells you how well you are holding the tempo (not the rhythm inside the pulse!). Also, when set really slow (in the diapason of 10-25 bpm – so one click falls on several measures) or, better, used for several bars and then switched off for several bars, it can be really helpful on developing your own inner pulse.

I would also point out that different people have different nervous system.

Some musicians seem to keep the tempo almost flawlessly without connection to the emotions they encounter at the moment. These must be the people with so-called “strong” nervous system. May be some of them don`t really need a metronome.

Others people (myself included) have so-called “weak” nervous system. This means that the emotions they (we) experience influence strongly on the number of physiological parameters (the pulse included).
When I on stage, or in studio, or on important gig, adrenaline rush makes my feeling of the tempo change a lot.
And if I don`t practice it with a metronome a lot before, to remember how it sounds and feels at right tempo, chances that I am in sync with other musicians are close to zero. I would be rushing, confusing other people and worsening the sound.

To sum up. My own experience as an amateur musician trying to play with the pros is as follows: I could not play a few measures with a jazz drummer (who isn`t playing straight groove) before I started to play with an metronome, and can do it with ease now in a normal environment.
Still struggle with rushing when nervous…
I think the metronome helped me developing my internal pulse that I can keep, even not moving at all. For example, now I can count over some jazz drums solos, just sitting and tapping my fingers – something that I wasn`t be able to do earlier.

That said, I become really interested in the video course that was cited above by Mike, and will try to get my hands on it ASAP.

With respect to all,

Ivan

Dave

Thanks for your insights, Ivan. Your English is quite good, don’t be so modest!

I think you’re probably correct, timing is relative to the situation. Nervous energy certainly influences time feel and causes musicians to rush. I’ve notice that something else (laziness perhaps, or maybe overconfidence) sometimes makes more experienced musicians drag. It may be that your personal difficulties are more a matter of nerves, rather than your abilities to play with good time.

Personally, I think a good groove and good time feel are mostly dependent on focused practice on those specific qualities until they are second nature. I do feel a metronome is a helpful tool. Mike Longo’s ideas are certainly worth exploring too. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.

Good luck.

Dave

Mike Longo

First, I want to wish every on a happy holiday season. Did any of you check out the article I posted here about the metronome and the heart beat. If not here it is: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/have-you-checked-your-heart-rate-variability-lately/ As to Ivan I would say to check out Wes’ recording with an actual metronome rather than tapping your fingers as I would guess that your finger tapping is more influenced by your heart beat rather than a metronome. Let me suggest the following: Please listen to a drum ensemble from Africa and you will notice that the time is perfect as well as the deep groove they produce with their drumming and the rhythms they are playing. Then ask yourself if you think any of them practiced with a metronome. Further ask yourself if you mentioned to them things like “micro timing,” “subdividing” or any of the other terms used by some in this discussion, if they would know what you are talking about. I think you would find that they are doing “something else entirely.” It is my advice that all aspiring jazz musicians find out what the “something else” is.

Dave

Did any of you check out the article I posted here about the metronome and the heart beat.

That link is irrelevant to a discussion on metronome use for a musician. It’s about heart rate variability. What is the point you’re trying to make posting that link?

Mike Longo

In answer to your question I will pose this question. Why do you think they call it a “pulse?” The point being in the circles of jazz musicians I have associated with, particularly Dizzy Gillespie, the common belief is that the beat you play jazz to is the way your heart beats. Not the way a metronome ticks. I will say, however, that the scientists who wrote this article have missed an important aspect of jazz playing in their use of the terms “regular” or “irregular.” My question is, regular or irregular relative to what? There is a metaphysical aspect, or if you wish a Spiritual component to the kind of jazz we play. You can deny this is you want but if you do, shame on you baby! The metronome was invented by man but the heart and heartbeat comes from God and there is no man made tool that can accurately capture the essence of it. I would suggest to Ivan, who thinks he has a time or rhythm problem, that his “problem” may not have anything to do with “time” or “rhythm” but rather his concept. Ivan said “I become really interested in the video course that was cited above by Mike, and will try to get my hands on it ASAP.” I would highly recommend that you do that Ivan and after you have digested the work contained in it you might want to post here if you feel it helped you and why. In response to the question of the relevancy my posting that link I will quote Ivan once again. “I think the metronome helped me developing my internal pulse.” The article I posted is clearly pointing out that a metronome has nothing whatsoever with ones “internal pulse.”

Dave

Mike, I think your intentions are good and I don’t believe you’re intentionally being misleading. My main complaint isn’t the pedagogy you advocate, it’s the motivated reasoning you’re using. The link you’re posting isn’t research, wasn’t written by a scientist, and doesn’t support your point. Again, what is the point you are trying to make by posting the link? What does it say that supports the way you teach? Can you post a direct quote from the link so I can better understand your idea?

Mike Longo

Dave; The point I am trying to make is that many of today’s jazz pedagogues are encouraging students to practice jazz with a metronome. Particularly the practice of practicing with a metronome clicking on two and four. It is my belief that this is unnatural and detrimental to students and has the opposite effect of what it attempts to accomplish no matter how well intentioned it may be. Here is the direct quote from the link that I feel is significant.

“If your heart beats like a metronome, with intervals of identical length between each pulse, you have low heart rate variability; this is “bad.” If your heart beats follow a more fractal pattern, with beat intervals of varying length, you have high heart rate variability; this is “good.”

Most people assume that a steady, consistent pattern of heart beats is the healthiest. I mean, doesn’t the human body need a steady, consistent flow of blood and nutrients to its cells and tissues? But recall the musician’s lament about the drum machine – that it “has no soul.” The perfect metronomic unfoldment of the drum machine is too perfect. It’s robotic. It’s unnatural. Same with our hearts. A healthy heart (with soul) pumps as needed. It responds to the demands of the organism; it doesn’t follow preordained intervals.”

One of the reasons I feel it is significant is because it was sent to me by a jazz musician, by that I mean he earns his living by playing jazz, who has frequent issues with musicians who he considers to have bad time and don’t swing. He has made note that many of these musicians practice with the metronome clicking on two and four.

What I teach is that the kind of “time” that produces jazz is the beat that your heart produces and is referred to as a “pulse” for that very reason. Not the way a metronome clicks. In an interview with Louis Armstrong, when asked to define Swing, he replied, “Getting the notes in the right place.” There are two things one can learn from that. One – there is a place. And two -there is a right place. Now you might not consider Pops’ statement to be “research” nor that he fits the role of a “scientist” but to anyone who might take issue with his statement I would say “listen to him play.” So the reason I posted this article was to lend credence to my theory that practicing jazz with a metronome is incorrect and practicing to the beat produced through African drumming, as espoused by Dizzy and in my DVD series, is the correct approach. I should also point out that included with the drumming are melodic exercises that “unlock” musical behavior deemed by many who have experienced the course as “pure magic.” These came directly from Dizzy and again I would say, “Listen to him play.” The argument that the metronome is a “useful tool” which leads to having good time is something I also take issue with in that it is illogical to assume that practicing with the notes in the wrong place will lead to playing them in the right place if one is lucky enough to re considered for inclusion in a professional jazz environment.

I hope that I have made myself clear in terms of what I teach and why I think the article supports it. I’m assuming that you will disagree with this which of course you have every right to do. I will end by saying that a new recording was released in 2014 in the form of a 4 CD set called Dizzy Gillespie-Live at Ronnie Scott’s on which I am the pianist and composer of many of the tracks on it. I will say once again. “listen to the music.”

Dave

The link you provided is not scientific. It says nothing at all about music pedagogy or practice. The variability of heart rate has nothing to do with whether practicing with a metronome is beneficial, detrimental, or somewhere in between. Frankly, I feel you’re being dishonest and misleading by citing it as scientific evidence against metronome practice. At best, you’re being intellectually lazy and not taking the time to comprehend what you’re reading. Considering that you keep making the same fallacious points over after I’ve already pointed out why they don’t hold water I suspect that you’re not really interested in having an honest conversation, but rather are more interested in plugging your DVDs and recordings. Shame on me?

Happy holidays, Mike. Best of luck to you.

Mike Longo

Well Dave, apparently you are of the opinion that since you have deemed my points “fallacious and not holding water” that this means you are correct. There is no point in arguing with someone on an ego trip so I will cease responding to your posts. The main point in the article that struck me as relevant was the suggestion that the way the metronome beats, as with a drum machine, is “unnatural.” The fact that you have responded in an ad hominem fashion is enough to cause me to deem it useless to try to have any kind of discussion with you about this topic. As far as me wanting to “wanting to plug my DVDs and recordings” at least I have some.

matthias weston

Excellent dvds Mike, and judging from listening to your student Adam Rafferty it seems you are one of the best teachers on the planet!

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