April 09, 2015
Five Metronome Hacks to Improve Time
By: Benjamin Goldman Store location: Wilmington, Delaware
Recently awarded Second Place in the International Art of Percussion Solo Competition, Ben is a versatile percussionist and educator based in Wilmington, DE. Ben is the bandleader and drummer for the Glen Boldman Quartet, a jazz/funk band that plays regularly throughout Delaware and Maryland. As a touring artist Ben has performed in Taiwan, Israel, and Trinidad, as well as numerous cities throughout the United States. Also active in Delaware’s up and coming hip-hop scene, Ben provides beats for Rakeem Miles and Rex the Rager at many of their shows.
In addition to teaching at Music and Arts in Wilmington, DE, Ben is an adjunct professor at Cecil College, where he teaches commercial drum set and classical percussion. Ben recently completed his MM in percussion performance at University of Delaware, where he served as the percussion graduate teaching assistant. He received a BFA in multi-focus percussion performance from California Institute of the Arts where he focused on contemporary chamber music and world-percussion. When not involved in musical endeavors, Ben enjoys weightlifting, running, and watching sports.
Through my experiences as a percussion instructor at Music & Arts, in Wilmington Delaware, and as an adjunct professor at a small college in Maryland, I have had a unique opportunity to work with students of various ages, abilities, backgrounds, and musical interests. While all students pursue percussion with a different degree of seriousness, hoping to “get something” different out of lessons or ensemble work, percussion method is largely the same. Books and videos focus on technical elements, eschewing the most important element of music, time. Time is a rather abstract concept, consisting of tempo, groove, and pocket. It is how the musician interacts in a good performance; however, it is usually the last thing to develop. Here are five metronome hacks to improve your student’s and your own time.
Single Metronome Work.
This sounds easy, but it is quite difficult to be precise. First, cover the click. Pick a simple rhythm or melody and play it to make sure that the beat is totally center. All too often, musicians react to the click, thus playing behind the beat. If the rhythm is totally centered with the metronome, the click will be almost inaudible. Once this is mastered, have the student play ahead, also known as the front side of the beat. Now that this is mastered, have the student play the same rhythm but on the backside of the click. When playing on the front of the back of the click, make sure to be consistent with your beat placement. Not only will this help the student’s temp, but it will also help his sense of groove and pocket, enabling him to play stylistically correct and identify stylistic elements within genres of music and individual musicians.
Set two metronomes 2-6 bpm (temp window) apart at a moderate tempo (I usually start one at 90bpm). Have the student latch on to one of the metronome’s tempos and play a simple rhythm. After it is locked in for a considerable length of time (1-2 minutes) have the student slowly phase the rhythm to the other metronome’s click and lock it in for the same amount of time. Then, just rinse and repeat! This will make the student aware of accidental accelerando or rallantando in his own playing within his own practicing and playing. Make sure to practice at various tempi and with various windows within a 2-6bpm range. While larger tempo windows make it easier to latch on to one metronome, it makes phasing at a consistent rate more difficult. Add a third metronome for some added difficulty.
It is the same exercise as metronome phasing, but rather than phase at a consistent rate, jump between the two metronomes after locking in the rhythm. This exercise is helpful in regards to identifying tempo inconsistencies.
Set one metronome at a consistent tempo in 4/4 time. Play a 16th note based pattern and lock it in for 30 seconds to a minute. For one measure, play the pattern as a bar of 15/16 by eliminating the last 16th note and then go back to the original pattern. You will not be one 16th note ahead of the click. Keep your pattern locked in and remove the 16th note for one measure again. Go back to the original 4/4 pattern and you will not be a full 8th note ahead of the click. Stay locked in and remove a 16th note again for one iteration. You should now be one 16th note behind the click. Keep alternating between 4/4 and 15/16 until you arrive back at one beat (a total of 16 times). This will help with time during syncopated passages or odd time signatures. It also opens up improvisational and compositional possibilities. You can also practice beat displacement by adding a beat, going between 4/4 and 17/16. For those playing melodic instruments, this works really nicely by running one octave scale up and down to the 9th and 16th notes. Eliminate the 9th when making it a bar of 15/16.
Pick any etude that is in 4/4. Figure out the tempo of the half note triplet by multiplying the starting tempo by 3/4. So a piece at 60bpm would have a half note triplet of 45bpm (60×3 and then 180/4=45). Play the etude exactly as written with the original tempo and time signature, but set the metronome for the half triplet value in a ¾ time signature. Beat 1 will always line up. You can also practice this at the quarter note triplet level by multiplying the initial tempo by 3/3 (so a piece at 60 bpm would have a quarter note triplet of 90bpm). In this variation, set the metronome for 6/8. Again, beat 1 will always line up. It can also be practiced with 5 against 4 by multiplying the initial tempo by 1.25. Set your metronome for 5/4 in this case. This will help the student subdivide polyrhythms or any difficult rhythms while keeping good time. Difficult and asymmetric rhythms tend to rush, so this will make you and your students really think.
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Photo via mandykoh, CC