On Metronome Practice and Logic Based Teaching Methods

Back in September I wrote a post here on Practicing with a Metronome in response to a blog post by Mike Longo entitled Should You Practice Jazz With A Metronome? While I agree with many of Mike’s points about the cons of metronome practice, my main criticism is his emphatic dismissal of any metronome use at all limits teachers and students by  completely removing a potentially useful tool from their bag of tricks.

Since then, Mike and a couple of others (including at least one student of Mike’s) have stopped by with comments to try to further debate the idea that metronome practice will always produce a soulless and stiff feeling pulse. Since many of their comments really don’t address the points I was trying to make and also rely on some fallacious logic, I wanted to write a new post to try to discuss this further. So while this post is superficially about metronome practice, it’s really more about the inconsistent logic we often use to determine what the best teaching methods are for a particular situation.

Mike commented:

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.

Addressing the above point, I would agree that coordinating our bodies to play is essential. Tapping the foot is an excellent way to get the feeling of the tempo internalized, for example. Even though some classical music teachers discourage this practice, I’m fine with it. Sure, looking up at a stage of a concert band or orchestra where everyone is tapping their foot can be visually distracting, but there are ways to tap your foot that are less obtrusive and if it helps the music sound better I’m willing to let it go. That said, tapping the foot to play isn’t a panacea for tempo or groove problems. Watch enough students tap their foot while practicing a passage and you’ll note that sometimes when they get to a difficult passage they still change tempos – they just change their foot along with their playing.

Furthermore, from a logical standpoint, just because an innovative musician told you that tapping the foot was better than using a metronome to practice doesn’t mean we can believe that it must be correct (see argument from authority). Ideas need to stand on their own merit, not be based on who said them. If a general consensus is found among experts it’s fair to assume that an idea is correct, but in this case the general consensus among musicians and music teachers is that a metronome can be useful at times. Many great jazz musicians advocated practicing with a metronome, including Lennie Tristano, Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkle, John Patitucci, Dennis DiBlasio, and Hal Crook. Going back and forth about whose expert has the right approach is pointless if you don’t directly address the logic behind these recommendations.

Mike continues:

 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.

The gospel music sung by African Americans in around the turn of the last century is quite a bit different from the syncopated music we hear today. The texture was largely heterophonic and the music didn’t have the characteristic 2 and 4 accent we associate with jazz.

The historical evolution of the groove that evolved into the swing feeling with 2 and 4 accents is too complex to get into for this essay, but if anyone is interested I suggest that you compare the New Orleans early jazz styles of the 1920s to how it evolved when the music and people migrated up to Chicago. Then compare it to the swing bands from Kansas City and New York. You will be able to hear an evolution of how the groove shifted from a more or less even stress on all four beats to become the standard swing feeling we have today (and of course, you can continue to trace how this groove shifts throughout different style periods).

Regardless, the origins of how a particular musical style evolved doesn’t really say anything about the results that a student might get from a particular practice method. I would agree with Mike that if you don’t spend time performing with great musicians who have a steady pulse and soulful groove you’re not going to be able to pick this up by playing along with a metronome. That doesn’t mean that at times in individual practice that a metronome is going to harm your ability to swing. Certainly if you never practice without a metronome you’re missing the point. And it’s certainly possible for some musicians to achieve a solid swing feel without ever needing to turn on a metronome. None of that really addresses whether or not a metronome may be useful for certain issues in a student’s personal practice.

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?

There is no question that there are alternative methods to teaching a student to keep good time without using a metronome and that these approaches have value. What I’m arguing against is limiting our teaching to only one approach.

The other issue I have with Mike’s point here is that practicing with a metronome isn’t so much about teaching good time, but for providing feedback to a student who isn’t keeping good time.

I’ve found that most students, even the beginners I work with, are quite capable of keeping a steady pulse just by clapping or tapping their foot. But music students will often find their time to suffer when they have too much to think about at the same time. We really can’t keep our attention on more than one or two things at a time and if one thing isn’t completely internalized it can suffer when our focus is pulled away from it. As an example, students who don’t have the tempo internalized will often rush when the music gets louder or more rhythmically active. It’s also quite common for musicians to drag when playing softer and when the texture gets less active. I’ve found it quite helpful to use a metronome in these cases to help students become more aware of the tempo in these situations because the click provides them with instant feedback when they start changing their tempo. Likewise, when a passage becomes a challenge for the musician’s technique it’s very common for the tempo to slow down. Using a metronome that will accent certain beats in a metric pattern or a basic click on 2 and 4 can be used for feedback on whether or not they are dropping beats, which can be common when students are reading very challenging lines. Learning to play very challenging passages at a fast tempo can be learned very efficiently by using a metronome to start very slowly and gradually speeding up the tempo until the passage can be played correctly as fast as desired.

Is it musical to play with a metronome this way? Not really. That’s not the point of the exercise. Music students practice all sorts of things that have little musical value (Hanon finger exercises, long tones, scales, chord arpeggios, technical etudes, etc.). The purpose is to get whatever you’re working on so comfortable that you no longer have to think about it and can concentrate on playing musically when it counts.

Or another approach you can think of is if you can groove with a metronome click, think of how hard you’ll swing when you turn it off and jam with live musicians.

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.

I tend to avoid discussing medical issues here and when I do I always want to lead with the statement that I am not a medical professional and in no way should anything I say be taken for medical advice. Nor should you assume that anything I write about health is correct. Check with your family doctor or another medical professional. Never get your medical advice from the internet.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me first state that Mike’s portrayal of Mr. Schoenfeld’s social work as “curing” bipolar disorder is most likely a great exaggeration. The National Institute of Medical Health statement on bipolar disorder says:

Bipolar disorder cannot be cured, but it can be treated effectively over the long-term.

However, I’m a big advocate of research-based music therapy and I think that it’s certainly plausible that musical activities can be used to help individuals with bipolar disorder treat the symptoms they live with.

All that aside now, what does music therapy have to do with practicing with a metronome? If medical treatments constituted as evidence for what is best for musical practice then there is likely more evidence for using a metronome than not. A cursory search through medical literature available online shows that a metronome has been found to be helpful for treating symptoms of stuttering, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, hypertension, walking issues due to a stroke, and much more. None of this really says anything about whether or not we might find a metronome to be helpful in certain musical teaching situations.

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.

We can’t redefine words like “science” to mean whatever we want it to in order to support an agenda. If it helps, reword my statement to say that “research based methods will produce more consistent teaching.” Research done correctly applies certain controls to a particular hypothesis (i.e., metronome practice will automatically produce a stiff feeling groove) and attempt to falsify your idea. You don’t do science by looking for evidence that supports what you believe, you attempt to shoot it down. If it withstands the scrutiny, then you’re perhaps on to something.

The reason we go through this effort in teaching is because of the cognitive bias that we all have.

“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.

I’m a fan of using poetic language to help convey musical concepts to my students too, but ultimately I try to recognize when I’m speaking metaphorically and when I’m being precise. If you want to teach that music is outside of the mind and from a magical place, that’s fine, but you can’t invoke this as evidence because it is patently not true.

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 think perhaps I’m not being very clear on explaining my thoughts on metronome practice, but I also think that possibly Mike does not understand what a “false dichotomy” is. This logical fallacy is created when a situation is manufactured where only two extreme positions are listed as the only viable options, leaving out the possibility for a combination of both or other additional options.

I have never stated here or on my other post that I think metronome practice is the be all and end of learning to play with good swing. In fact, I have acknowledged many times that Mike’s points about the detriments of relying on a metronome should be kept in mind. The false dichotomy Mike has created is that because of the drawbacks to metronome practice exist there are no situations where a metronome might be helpful. The fact that one can get by without a metronome doesn’t mean that careful and correct use of a metronome at times might not be helpful. Nor does my recommending that a metronome can be helpful mean that I don’t think other approaches have validity and aren’t worth exploring.

Students are infinitely variable. Some students will need different approaches or explanations to grasp the same concepts. Anyone who has taught for long enough will also be familiar with how the exact same student can sometimes respond great to one method only to require changing our instruction up at another time. As I’m fond of saying here, if the only tool in our toolbox is a hammer every problem begins to look like a nail.

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.

Again, this misses my point about cognitive bias and research based methods. Mike is taking his personal experiences and making the leap to assume that his own background must be true for everyone. I can also list some personal experiences that contrast his. Which of us should one believe? Neither, without making an effort to remove our personal agendas from the equation.

One of Mike’s students, Angelo, made the same logical error:

I would like to offer my background and personal experience with Mike for you consideration.

. . .

I started studying music theory with a teacher, and for the first time in my life, used a metronome.

. . .

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. . . He immediately recognized a difference and improvement in my playing.

Now in no way do I want anyone to think that I’m disparaging what Mike taught you. There is definitely a benefit to this approach and in fact I would also agree that it’s essential for developing a good time feel and groove. That said, this is a common fallacy that I hear many folks make all the time. Here it is again, this time made by Mike.

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.

It’s very common for musicians to say variations on the above. You will frequently here someone say something like “I practiced X over and over and didn’t get better. It wasn’t until I forgot about X and went to Y that I suddenly found my way.” What this completely forgets is that X might just have been a necessary step along the progression. Going back to what I wrote far above in this post, using a metronome might not have developed good time, but could just have helped the student internalize certain issues to the point of where forgetting all about the metronome click and going on to something else would be that much more beneficial. This may not always be the case for all situations, but it’s an important area to consider when we’re trying to determine the best way to help a student.

Testimonials, like those above, may be very good for selling books and DVDs, but their anecdotal nature make them extremely unreliable as real evidence. No matter how many positive testimonials you have, they still can’t be used in research-based approaches because of the inherent bias they carry.

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.

In any honest discussion I think it’s important to only address points actually made by those we’re debating. Creating a “straw man argument” against which you can easily refute doesn’t benefit anyone. I never said that a metronome is the only way to develop good time feel. Again, this is a false dichotomy by reducing my argument to using a metronome is the only way and Mike’s way must therefor be ineffective. I actually advocate a combination of both metronome use for certain situations and then always moving on to internalizing the time feeling and concentrating on musical expression.

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.

This story is almost certainly apocryphal. Beethoven was known for writing metronome markings in his music, so he was certainly not opposed to using one for the purpose of finding tempos. Additionally, while the metronome was invented around from the early 1700s, by the time that Johann Maezel patented it in 1815 Beethoven was almost completely deaf and wouldn’t have been capable of hearing a metronome click. Furthermore, Mike is again creating a straw man by implying I feel a metronome click to be musically expressive. It’s not. Or at least not unless you count pieces like György Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes.

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 want to reiterate that I don’t find Mike’s alternative to metronome practice extreme or something to avoid altogether. What I find extreme is his dismissal of any other approach as having some validity. Again, there are many different approaches that music teachers can take according to the situation and needs of the individual student and it’s my contention that the best teachers are able to draw from a variety of approaches.

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.

Simply because alternative approaches exists and that these methods are helpful doesn’t mean that we should automatically dismiss the metronome. There are definitely good reasons for avoiding a metronome at times, but there is a vast majority opinion among musicians and music teachers that a metronome, when correctly used for specific issues, can be quite effective for helping a student work out problems that cause time issues.

For anyone who is curious exploring ideas on how to best use a metronome, a good general discussion can be found on the Wikipedia entry on metronome practice. I’ll close this post by quoting a passage from this entry, with my bold emphasis to illustrate my basic point.

The “intuitive” approach to metronome practise, is to simply play your music along with a metronome. With metronome technique however, musicians do separate exercises with a metronome to help strengthen and steady their sense of rhythm, and tempo; and increase their sensitivity to musical time and precision. Only occasionally do you play your music with a metronome, to deal with particular issues. It is entirely possible that you never play your music with a metronome at all.

Angelo Sandy

Dave,

You are being disingenuous.

You chose not to include my main point when you quoted me above, allowing you to frame my view as a “logical error”.

You omitted the fact that I already been playing for 15 years and had written and recorded several different styles of music before I studied music theory.

Stating that I may not have been aware of “X leading to Y after forgetting X” is ridiculous. I addressed this in my original post, but you again failed to include it above. There is no linear way to get from a metronome click to a pulse feel, they are completely separate. Therefore X can never lead to Y, no logical error, just creative editing.

You have also tried to trivialize my response by calling it testimonial. My comments were very direct and pertained only to my background and what I had personally learned from Mike. I specifically refrained from mentioning any of Mike’s books or DVD’s on purpose, so, no testimonial.

You also called my post anecdotal, meaning not necessarily true. That’s just rude. My statements are based on my own personal experience, both with the metronome and with Mike.

You admit to having no knowledge of Mike’s approach, yet you insist he is wrong. So what are you basing these dismissive views on? Without at least some knowledge of the alternative, your opinions of it are meaningless.

In closing let me just state this,

I would much rather learn from a man that played with the masters, than from a man who read a book about how the masters played.

Angelo

Dave

Hi, Angelo.

I’m sorry you’re feeling frustrated, but I think if you read through my comments carefully you’re still missing my points.

You chose not to include my main point when you quoted me above, allowing you to frame my view as a “logical error”.

I apologize. Can you reiterate your main point?

You omitted the fact that I already been playing for 15 years and had written and recorded several different styles of music before I studied music theory.

I don’t see this as relevant to my points.

Stating that I may not have been aware of “X leading to Y after forgetting X” is ridiculous. I addressed this in my original post, but you again failed to include it above. There is no linear way to get from a metronome click to a pulse feel, they are completely separate. Therefore X can never lead to Y, no logical error, just creative editing.

But neither you or Mike provide any evidence for this other than your anecdotal experiences.

You have also tried to trivialize my response by calling it testimonial. My comments were very direct and pertained only to my background and what I had personally learned from Mike. I specifically refrained from mentioning any of Mike’s books or DVD’s on purpose, so, no testimonial.

You also called my post anecdotal, meaning not necessarily true. That’s just rude. My statements are based on my own personal experience, both with the metronome and with Mike.

Both you and Mike seem to misunderstand some of the terms I use here and in my other posts.

Testimonial – a written or spoken statement in which you say that you used a product or service and liked it
Anecdotal – based on or consisting of reports or observations of usually unscientific observers

You admit to having no knowledge of Mike’s approach, yet you insist he is wrong. So what are you basing these dismissive views on? Without at least some knowledge of the alternative, your opinions of it are meaningless.

I don’t know how many times I have to write this for you guys to grasp my point. In no way do I say Mike’s approach is wrong. What I’m saying is that Mike’s approach is not the only way and that other approaches, particularly ones that share a general consensus among professional musicians and music educators, also have some value and are worth exploring too.

Dave

Angelo Sandy

Dave,

I’m not frustrated about your comments, I was merely offering my experience. What does frustrate me is the fact that you have presented my comments, not only out of the context of my post, but also out of the context of the full conversation without any link back to the original statements.

I’ve stated my main point twice and you quote it above. It’s right there after you question the relevance of my prior experience.

The fact that I had been playing for so long before my training with a metronome is very relevant. It shows that I had knowledge of both sides of this coin, metronome vs. non-metronome, prior to my studies with Mike. Your editing leads the reader to assume I had no prior musical experience to contrast and compare.

You again have called my response anecdotal. What scientific studies have you done? Which scientific journals are they published in? I have no misunderstanding of the terms you use, you are over-reaching in the way that you are using them.

Regarding general consensus. I have a book that states that the atom is the smallest known particle to man. It was the general consensus among the most brilliant scientists for many years, until sub-atomic particles were discovered.

You say that these approaches that have a general consensus are worth exploring. That is EXACTLY what I did. Can you say that you have explored the alternative?

My original post was offered as nothing more than my personal experience with BOTH methods. I fail to see the point of continuing this conversation until you can offer at least the same.

Angelo

Dave

Hi, Angelo.

What does frustrate me is the fact that you have presented my comments, not only out of the context of my post, but also out of the context of the full conversation without any link back to the original statements.

I addressed this quite clearly in the opening two paragraphs of this blog post. I used ellipses when quoting you to specifically show I was cutting your comments for brevity. Just in case someone else misses that, though, I’ve added a link directly to your comments now.

I’ve stated my main point twice and you quote it above. It’s right there after you question the relevance of my prior experience.

The fact that I had been playing for so long before my training with a metronome is very relevant. It shows that I had knowledge of both sides of this coin, metronome vs. non-metronome, prior to my studies with Mike.

You are still misunderstanding me. My point is that your prior experience is exactly what needs to be considered in how you responded to Mike’s instruction. You might just have not clicked with Mike’s approach as well without all the work you did with a metronome earlier.

Your editing leads the reader to assume I had no prior musical experience to contrast and compare.

No, I very clearly left in at least three different statements in your quote in the above blog post where you described your years of experience before working with Mike.

You again have called my response anecdotal. . . I have no misunderstanding of the terms you use, you are over-reaching in the way that you are using them.

Angelo, with due respect, you have not demonstrated in your writing that you understand what an anecdote is and why it is considered unreliable for research.

What scientific studies have you done? Which scientific journals are they published in?

When I taught in academia I focused my professional development mostly on performing and composing. Still, I managed to get four peer reviewed articles published in the Online Trombone Journal (qualitative research, three on history and one on brass pedagogy). I have conducted quantitative research on other topics and either written papers or presented at professional conferences on them. If you are the sort of person who gets off on reading up on null hypothesis, P values, and Pearson correlation coefficients (or have insomnia) I’ll send you a copy of my dissertation. I’ve taken several courses in graduate school on research methodology and have also served as a faculty advisor to undergrads conducting research and presenting it at symposiums. So while my research chops are not as strong as some, they are probably better than your average musician on the street.

None of that really matters, however. It’s not the individual’s credentials, but the strength of their ideas and the logic used to present it. I mentioned the argument from authority fallacy above and try to avoid making that mistake when I can catch myself.

Regarding general consensus. I have a book that states that the atom is the smallest known particle to man. It was the general consensus among the most brilliant scientists for many years, until sub-atomic particles were discovered.

Yes, science is self correcting. For every paradigm shift in science there are a hundred dead ends. What overturns general consensus by experts is evidence, not personal stories with an agenda.

You say that these approaches that have a general consensus are worth exploring. That is EXACTLY what I did.

What anecdotes are great for is finding those new ideas for further exploration. Thank you for sharing yours here.

Can you say that you have explored the alternative?

Mike’s approach specifically? No. But the gist of his ideas are not new and I’ve had many teachers and colleagues who have offered what I imagine are very similar approaches. Again, they are valuable and definitely essential tools to draw from. The main point I am trying to argue is that other approaches, including using a metronome, have value in specific situations and are worth hanging on to, even if they are ultimately left behind when a student achieves a certain degree of success with it. (See Bloom’s Taxonomy) to learn more about how educators attempt to adapt instruction according to the needs of the student.)

Thanks again for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

Dave

Mike Longo

“Mike’s approach specifically? No. But the gist of his ideas are not new and I’ve had many teachers and colleagues who have offered what I imagine are very similar approaches.”

Oh really??? You have colleagues who know Dizzy Gillespie’s African drum technique and can play it so that they are in 5/4 and 4/4 at the same time. And of course they all know the melodic exercises included that activate the poly metric behavior that fuels his music. Right! Give me a break!

Jay D'Amico

Jay D’Amico pianist- composer, Dear Dave, I’ve been following your exchange with Mr. Longo. I must say that I met Mike Longo in 1978, and as one of his early students I had the opportunity to experience the joy and the realization of his rhythmic teachings. Mike acquired and developed them directly from Dizzy Gillespie. The drum rhythms are a way of life. When an aspiring musician digests and works on these exercises before a practice session, he will have in his “touch” the polyrhythmic nature of these forces. Mike once told me… “These are the forces…spirits that move the planets…” One cannot compare this to practice with a metronome click. When one is tapped into this flow all tempo problems will disappear! I also recorded and performed with the great bassist Milt Hinton from 1974 to his death in 1990. Milt was also an active teacher and I assisted him at jazz workshops at C.U.N.Y. Milt never advocated using a metronome, and he played in the greatest rhythm sections of all time. SIncerely, Jay D’Amico

Dave

Thanks for stopping by, Jay.

Again, to reiterate, in no way am I trying to say that Mike’s approach must not work. In fact, I think the opposite is probably true. What I’m arguing against is a complete dismissal of a tool (just a tool, not a spirit that move the planets) that can be useful in many situations for many students who can benefit from the feedback that a metronome provides when working out issues that cause them to change their tempo.

James Divine

Wow! Such a long post. With 30 years experience in music and education, I would like to address this from the issue of NEEDING a framework to work from. As a performer myself, I always start with the metronome, using it less and less as I get further refined. I need to START with it because my sense of timing is not what I THINK it is, and so it goes with my students too.

Visual artists start with what seems like a confining “box”, but then they go outside the lines. We need to start with the box of the metronome, and then wean from it when a piece is more polished.

Dave

Hi, Mike.

Use whatever you find is going to work for the particular situation. I doubt that any single framework is going to work for every single student and for every single situation. Sometimes you need a hammer and sometimes you need a screwdriver. I wouldn’t throw out a clamp because the glue had dried, because you might use it for another situation.

Lyle Sanford

Dave – There’s a lot going on here! I just want to thank you, as a music therapist, for pushing back on that “curing some of bipolar disease” comment. Music and music making activity can do wonderful things, and rhythm generally is its most primal element, but single handedly curing major psychiatric diseases is not one that’s supported by any research I’ve seen. Bipolar disorder is especially tough.

I’m convinced that music therapy as a part of a treatment plan including other modalities can be very helpful for lots of what ails us – but when it’s said to be solely responsible for a cure, I always suspect a charismatic practitioner is involved. Or that it’s a placebo effect and won’t last.

Over the past 35 years I’ve seen various “Music is the cure!” claims come along. I figure if there’s really something there, time will prove it out. So far, haven’t seen that happen – they all sort of fade into the mists of time and the books get remaindered.

As to the metronome discussion I’ll only add that my main music group, which does Dixieland and jazz standards and things I like, is made up of pro level players and motivated amateurs like me. The pros let us know when we’re rushing or dragging, and over time I’ve become better at noticing it sooner. One time when we were talking about the issue, one of the pros said that if you put a metronome on some of the greatest big band recordings you’ll find that the sense of time is elastic over the course of the piece.

I’ll also throw in my very long held belief, for which I’ve never seen a shred of empirical backing, that pro level players process music more quickly, and for them to get the sense of speed they want – it’s way faster than what I need to feel the same sense of speed.

From what I’ve seen – what the neuroscientists know about how we keep time is practically nil. My sense is that just as people of different musical proficiencies seem to have different senses of the speed of a piece of music – they also have different sensitivity to variations of time over the course of a piece. It’s only a hypothesis – but for me it’s a helpful concept.

As to the metronome itself – as an amateur – I couldn’t make progress overall without using it from time to time to deconstruct and learn odd rhythms. I also find that when I play an instrument with a computer generated playback of something I’ve written – there are almost always places where what the the written music does and what I intended diverge a bit.

Thanks again for all the efforts you put into keeping up the blog – wonderfully thought provoking stuff.

Mike Longo

Just to set the record straight, Andrew Shoenfeld never claimed to have cured the psychiatric disorder called bi polar disorder. He was referring to a patient he had success with in that area. To stretch that into “single handedly curing a major psychiatric disease “ is pretty far fetched. I provided Dave with Shoenfelds’s contact information but since he has failed to contact him but merely looks for research to refute it I seriously doubt the sincerity of the search for truth.

Dave

Just to set the record straight, Andrew Shoenfeld never claimed to have cured the psychiatric disorder called bi polar disorder.

Thanks for the clarification, Mike. However, you made that claim.

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.

Surely you can understand where that misunderstanding came from.

I provided Dave with Shoenfelds’s contact information but since he has failed to contact him but merely looks for research to refute it I seriously doubt the sincerity of the search for truth.

I’ve already addressed this issue in this post above. Your exaggerations aside, music therapy performed by a social worker says nothing whatsoever about your claim that metronome practice will screw up a jazz musicians groove. Nor do any of the examples I mentioned about metronome use being used for treating other disorders. It’s a red herring.

Oh really??? You have colleagues who know Dizzy Gillespie’s African drum technique and can play it so that they are in 5/4 and 4/4 at the same time. And of course they all know the melodic exercises included that activate the poly metric behavior that fuels his music. Right! Give me a break!

Now, Mike, let’s please be civil.

I’m sure you’re already aware that polyrhythms have been around for a long time and many musicians have explored them in addition to Gillespie. Hemiolas have been used in European music since the Renaissance and, of course, even longer in sub-Saharan African music. If I recall correctly, Gillespie became interested in this after working with Chano Pozo, who came to it from Afro-Cuban music. Rhythms subdividing the beat into patterns like 5 and 7, mixed and complex meters, and two or more time signatures simultaneously have been used extensively in contemporary classical music since at least the 20th century. The talas of Indian classical music are also quite complex. I have performed and conducted music that involved superimposing two meters on top of each other. One of my conducting teachers had an exercise where you conduct one beat pattern in the right hand and another in the left. Since writing my initial post back in September where I mentioned my lack of dance abilities I’ve taken classes in swing dancing where many of the steps are 6 count steps, which force the dancer to step in ways that move against the natural phrasing of the music.

All that said, I still contend that this says nothing about your claim that practicing with a metronome does more harm than good. Beyond the fuzzy logic you used to support this idea, my only disagreement with what you say is about that alone. I would like to focus the comments here on that point, rather than going around in circles about things I’ve already addressed, please.

Mike Longo

Hi Dave:
My “fuzzy logic” is based on 40 yeas of teaching jazz musicians in the jazz capital of the world. Many of which were harmed by metronome use in the application to jazz. Your references to hemiolas in contemporary classical music are irrelevant in that classical music, contemporary or otherwise, is driven by an entirely different time conception than the music of Dizzy Gillespie and modern jazz which produce an accentuation behavior unlike or unbeknownst by contemporary classical composers. This sort of thing is where Dizzy was coming from when he wrote the tune, “He Beeped When He Should Have Bopped.” Talk is cheap… its actions that count. If you were an individual who could get on the bandstand with people like Diz, Miles, or Cannonball and hold your own I would respect your opinions. I’m speaking of jazz here only. I certainly respect your expertise from a classical music standpoint and your intelligence about other forms of music and your education, however jazz is another thing altogether and it is the doers not the scholars that have the correct understanding of it.
I might inform you also that it was Chano Pozo who sought out Dizzy. The first thing he asked when he got to New York was, “Where Dixie.” This is because Dizzy took the polymetric and polyrhythmic behavior of African music you refer to and did something with it that was totally unique and different and I might add is something that you and your colleagues are in the dark about. The Ralph Emerson quote comes to mind here: “We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.” I am, out of respect for you and your blog, going to post a rather lengthy rebuttal to most of your points you have raised here on my own blog site because I don’t want to take up space on yours. I will provide you with a link to it when it is up and it will include a link back to yours as you have done on the comments page of my site.
Best,
Mike

Dave

Hey, Mike.

My “fuzzy logic” is based on 40 yeas of teaching jazz musicians in the jazz capital of the world.

Your logic (that is, the arguments you use to make your point) and your experience are two different things. See the short list in my blog post above for a few musicians who can boast similar accomplishments to yours who advocate metronome use. Other musicians with equally impressive credentials disagree with you. Who is correct here? Why?

Many of which were harmed by metronome use in the application to jazz.

It’s always hard to say without being around in person to hear a student, but one might be able to argue that it wasn’t using a metronome that hurt their playing, but using a metronome too much or using it for situations that warranted a different approach. Or never moving past the metronome click one whatever issue they wanted to use a metronome for. As I pointed out earlier, you can’t discount that the work that a musician did earlier may just have set up a situation that made another approach work so well at that time.

Your references to hemiolas in contemporary classical music are irrelevant in that classical music, contemporary or otherwise, is driven by an entirely different time conception than the music of Dizzy Gillespie and modern jazz which produce an accentuation behavior unlike or unbeknownst by contemporary classical composers.

Fair enough. I don’t necessarily agree that my experiences with classical music are irrelevant, but I will concede that there are different time conceptions. You may be interested in hearing, however, that there are classical musicians who would agree with your idea about never using a metronome too. Then again, I’m not completely ignorant about or inexperienced playing contemporary jazz, latin, and rock music either. I do a wide variety of different things and feel they all inform each other.

If you were an individual who could get on the bandstand with people like Diz, Miles, or Cannonball and hold your own I would respect your opinions.

I strive here to have my ideas stand on their own merit, not because of who I played with.

I might inform you also that it was Chano Pozo who sought out Dizzy.

It’s certainly plausible, but here are a couple of quotes from To Be or Not To Bop.

When I finally had the big band going strong, in the fall of 1947, I spoke to Mario Bauza again about what I’d mentioned to him back in 1938 – getting a conga player – and he said, “I got just the man for you.”
. . .
Chano Pozo was already in New York when I went down to his house on 111th street and met him.

Then a bit later in the same chapter, Gillespie describes learning polyrhythms from Pozo.

Chano taught us all multirhythm; we learned from the master. On the bus, he’d give me a drum, Al McKibbon a drum, and he’d take a drum. Another guy would have a cowbell, and he’d give everybody a rhythm. We’d see how all the rhythms tied into one another, and everybody was playing something different.

Of course, none of that says anything about practicing with a metronome.

The Ralph Emerson quote comes to mind here: “We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.”

I hadn’t read New England Reformers before now.

“The criticism and attack on institutions which we have witnessed, has made one thing plain, that society gains nothing whilst a man, not himself renovated, attempts to renovate things around him: he has become tediously good in some particular, but negligent or narrow in the rest; and hypocrisy and vanity are often the disgusting result.”

I am, out of respect for you and your blog, going to post a rather lengthy rebuttal to most of your points you have raised here on my own blog site because I don’t want to take up space on yours. I will provide you with a link to it when it is up and it will include a link back to yours as you have done on the comments page of my site.

WordPress I think will put a link back automatically for you. I look forward to reading your further thoughts on this topic.

Dave

Mike Longo

“I strive here to have my ideas stand on their own merit, not because of who I played with.”

Unfortunately they don’t and for that very reason. Without the experience of playing with anyone of significance your ideas are figments of your imagination in regard to jazz. As I said earlier, your ideas about classical music seem to be very informed and on the money. Jazz is a different issue altogether however, and if you had experienced playing with a master like Dizzy I can guarantee you that you would not agree with your own ideas you have expressed here as a result.

“Chano Pozo was already in New York when I went down to his house on 111th street and met him.”

I was referring to what he said when he first got to New York. “Where Dixie?” This came directly from the horse’s mouth in that both Dizzy and Mario related that story. There had to be a reason he wanted to find Dizzy. For one thing Dizzy was already manifesting that rhythmic behavior on his horn as a trumpet player but I’m sure he did not know of its application to percussion instruments. In fact Mario stated that it was because of Dizzy and what he was doing with bebop that prompted Chano to come to New York in the first place. Of course Dizzy learned a lot from Chano but the opposite was also true. Dizzy related to me that Chano only knew one tune. That tune was “Good Bait” by Tadd Dameron. When Chano played a solo with Dizzy’s big band, Diz would have to sing “Good Bait” in his ear so he would know where “0ne” was to bring the band back in.

“You may be interested in hearing, however, that there are classical musicians who would agree with your idea about never using a metronome too.”

I am aware of that. They are listed in my original post on my site. Among them were Beethoven, Berlioz, Hoffman and others.

“Your logic (that is, the arguments you use to make your point) and your experience are two different things. See the short list in my blog post above for a few musicians who can boast similar accomplishments to yours who advocate metronome use. Other musicians with equally impressive credentials disagree with you. Who is correct here? Why?”

I would suggest that you consult with those musicians and ask any one of them if they consider themselves to be on a par with Dizzy Gillespie and listen to what they tell you. It is my experience that is responsible for my logic.

“Then again, I’m not completely ignorant about or inexperienced playing contemporary jazz, latin, and rock music either. I do a wide variety of different things and feel they all inform each other.”

From what point of reference?

“As I pointed out earlier, you can’t discount that the work that a musician did earlier may just have set up a situation that made another approach work so well at that time.”

Your absolutely right. They went from playing wrong to playing right. I might add that some of them still struggle with slipping back into “playing wrong” which they attribute to the harm done to them from their earlier metronome experience.

“The criticism and attack on institutions which we have witnessed, has made one thing plain, that society gains nothing whilst a man, not himself renovated, attempts to renovate things around him: he has become tediously good in some particular, but negligent or narrow in the rest; and hypocrisy and vanity are often the disgusting result.”

Unfortunately Ralph Waldo Emerson is not around to read this, as it was he who made the attack. He was a great American poet for sure but I’m not so sure he was “negligent and narrow” in everything else. I’m not so sure about “hypocrisy and vanity” either.

One last point, in your earlier post you attributed the confusion about Andrew Schoenfeld to my post which you printed to make your point. Here is my statement you printed:

“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.”

I think the key words here are “even has reported curing some of bipolar disease with it.” Meaning it was Schoenfeld who made this claim. I have no experience or knowledge of either Psychotherapy or Bipolar disorder. That is why I gave you his contact info if in case you were interested in knowing why he would make such a claim.
Best to you,
Mike

Dave

Hey, Mike.

I’ve tried to leave a comment over on your site, but for some reason WordPress isn’t letting me log in to leave a comment. At any rate, I’m not sure that there is much new for me to respond to. I feel as if I haven’t done a very good job explaining my position, but also feel as if you’re maybe glossing over some of my points and not following some of the links I’ve left that might help. For example, my response to your Emerson quote was quote an excerpt from the exact same essay you pulled yours from.

Regarding logical fallacies and cognitive bias, perhaps if I offered some other examples not related to metronome practice it might help you understand my points. Your viewpoints on metronome practice remind me somewhat of the debate regarding teaching instrumental technique through implicit (goal oriented) instruction or explicit (process oriented) instruction. You can read more about this particular false dichotomy here.

Finally, you state that my thoughts on metronome practice don’t apply because I haven’t shared the stage with luminaries such as you have. If I were to use a similar fallacious argument, I could state that until you’ve started beginners on an instrument at age 10, got them going playing jazz for the first time at age 11, worked with high school jazz bands and private students, directed college level groups and taught improvisation to music majors and minors, taken coursework in psychology of education, studied assessment methods to design ways to remove as much subjectivity from rating student progress, and helped design curriculum, then you really don’t know what it means to be teacher. Instructing highly motivated and talented musicians and that are already on their way to being professional musicians isn’t the same thing.

For the record, I don’t believe that the above truly applies. You obviously have some great ideas on teaching and are successful with it. It really doesn’t matter what pedagogy background you have if the ideas you use have value.

Best,

Dave

Mike Longo

Hi Dave:
Thanks for the reply.

“my response to your Emerson quote was quote an excerpt from the exact same essay you pulled yours from.”

I didn’t get my quote from an essay. I got it from a website called Emmerson Quotes which didn’t contain the one you quoted. Although I do not have a PHD I did graduate from Western Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Music degree and am on the jazz faculty at Sarah Lawrence College. It is not about “luminaries” that someone plays with from a resume perspective it is about what one learns from such an experience and then passes on to students.

The following “anecdotal” quote was left on my Facebook page from someone who read our exchange on my blog

LaRue Nickelson: ” I teach at a university and before I bought your videos and books I definitely think my playing was stiff because i was used to working with a metronome. Now that I can feel it more in my body (still a work in progress) I believe my feel has gotten a lot more natural. But I really notice it when playing with overly academic players who obviously rely on the metronome. Thanks Mike!”

Your ideas and opinions sound very impressive, unfortunately, they have nothing to do with the reality of jazz IMO. If you want to believe they do all I can say is “dream on brother.”
aBest,
Mike

ac

If you want to get really scientific about this, you should not ignore genetics and the psychological aspects which are used these days to find what kind of careers could be suitable for ones personality. There have been studies that suggest people who personally sought higher levels of musical education clustered around 2 different personality types. There could be a “danger” of generating excess supply of “musicians” that actually genetically lack ability to feel the music – it has been demonstrated (brain activity monitoring) that some people don’t feel a thing about music, where as some may become obsessed. Even in ancient times, psychology concept of “four temperaments” (since updated to five) had a temperament for people who end up being writers, composers etc.

It seems rather obvious that the kind of musician who can “innately” feel what the next notes should be, how the timbre, acoustics, mix should be etc, are most likely to be of certain types of personality/temperament.

In career selection based on such psychological testing, I found that people who are recommended career as teachers are not actually of the kind of personality that writers & composers have. That would suggest that perhaps the people teaching music simply haven’t got what it takes to be a practitioner and their opinions may come with the authority of being in the academia but not command high respect from practitioners – largely because the genetic difference – for if you had the ability to produce hit records, you’d have naturally gravitated to doing that first instead of gravitating to teach *first*.

So for anyone seeking talented teachers, make sure they have accomplishments in the field recognized by practitioners. Yeah there might only be few of such people available, and they might not have any kind of formal teaching credentials. But if you want “competitive edge” it is critical to learn from those people, instead of learning what everyone else learns in academia (in my book stuff that everyone knows has lost its value – trade secrets are secrets for a reason).

Dave

Thanks for your comments, AC. While you’re points are well taken and worth consideration, I take issue with much of it. First, while the personality types and career choice correlations you mention are given a lot of attention in pop culture, it is my understanding that in professional psychology circles they carry less weight. Some of what you mentioned seems pretty dubious so I wish you had provided some of the sources you seem to refer to. Your characterization of teachers and academics as not being “writers and composer” seems to be exactly opposite from my anecdotal experience. Again, I would like to evaluate the source of your information before coming to the same conclusions you have.

…if you had the ability to produce hit records, you’d have naturally gravitated to doing that first instead of gravitating to teach *first*.

Believe it or not, AC, most folks who become teacher do so because they love teaching, not because they are frustrated at their inability to succeed outside of education.

Paul T.

I’ve been reading this whole discussion concerning the metronome, and it makes me sad (a classic case of an internet argument starting over an inability to understand another’s point of view). Certainly it’s not that difficult to accept that a metronome has valid pedagogical uses, but also that it does not, by itself, do anything to create a powerful, deep “time feel” for a musician (as jazz musicians strive for), which requires experience playing with great musicians as well as musical, human variation from a “metronomic” pulse.

In any case, I am commenting to link to an interesting article concerning classical music, Beethoven, and the development of the metronome. Beethoven, it seems, was anything but against the use of the metronome. Here’s a quote, with the link to the full article (a translation from the original German) below. The excerpt is from a statement published by Beethoven jointly with Salieri:

“Malzel’s metronome is here! The usefulness of this invention of his will reveal
itself more and more; and all composers of Germany, England, and France have
accepted it; we have, however, considered it not unnecessary to recommend it,
in accordance with our conviction, to all beginners and students as well,
whether in singing or in playing the pianoforte or any other instrument, as
useful, in fact indispensable. Through its use they will be able to learn and
practice the values of the notes with the greatest ease. Also within the shortest
time they will arrive at the point of being able to perform without difficulty
and with enthusiasm; for since the pupil, after having had the appropriate directions
and explanations from his teacher, is thus prevented even in the absence
of the latter from straying arbitrarily from the tempo in singing or
playing, his feeling for time will in a short time become so developed and directed
that in this respect there will soon be no further difficulties for him. We
think it necessary to illuminate this so generally useful invention of Malzel’s
from this standpoint, too, since it appears that in this respect it has not yet
been sufficiently appreciated.”

The full article can be accessed here:

http://attach3.bdwm.net/attach/0announce/groups/group_0/personalcorpus/w/wilde/d50bbf3a2/m.1203856116.a/kolisch1.pdf

Thank you for the discussion!

Dave

Hi, Mike.

Happy holidays to you too!

Since in our past discussion on metronome use you expressed your fondness for “research based ideas” so I thought you might find the following research of interest

I’m not educated enough in biology and health to comment on the legitimacy of the things Mark Sisson writes about in it. His advice seems sound from what I can tell, but I dunno. He does link to legitimate research in PubMed, but it would take me too long to unpack everything to find out how mainstream his opinions are and how much the science actually backs up his health claims. Easier to just ask my doctor.

Does the post have anything to do with research on metronome use? Sisson uses the drum machine analogy saying it “has no soul.” I agree with that, although I think some musicians and fans in different styles than we prefer would disagree, or maybe say we’re missing the point of their music.

Thanks for stopping by.

Dave

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