is metronome really helpfull?

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by _alex_, Aug 21, 2004.

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  1. _alex_


    Feb 29, 2004
    Old Europe:)
    hi Michael and Steve ;)

    i read somewhere that Steve says that the Jeff Berlin attitude or way of thinking is wrong about the metronome among other things :confused:
    i recently check jeff´s work closely and i really enjoy it :hyper: but i am wondering is he right?should we use metronome or what?

    ps:i dont want to start a flame war,iam just very curious about this manner :help: :confused: :help:


  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Metronomes are very helpful. It seems that Jeff's main assertion is that trying to learn music with a metronome on is bad practice, as if you haven't got the notes in the right order and some idea of how the rhythm is spaced, then trying to nail the rhythm that tightly is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. Beyond that, I've not really been able to follow his argument, maybe it stops there...

    For me, I've found a metronome very useful for getting control over my internal clock - having a metronome clicking away on all four beats in a bar never did me much good, but having it on two and four like a snare, or just on the down beat has proved very useful in helping me to focus on consistent rhythm. I've always tried to work on being in control of rhythm - not that I want to play the same tempo all the way through a piece, more than I want to be able to ebb and flow deliberately, rather than just drifting.

    With loop-based music, metronomic timing is more often than not a disatvantage, given that some rhythmic ambiguity means that it takes the listener a lot longer to get a handle on where the piece is going, and means that you can imply a lot of other rhythmic subtleties against the underlying loop. If it's four square, the listener has a map of the landscape of the loop after about four repeats, and you're kinda stuck with it...

    Ed Friedland had a fabulous article in Bass Player Magazine a few years ago titled 'The Metronome As Guru' - I'd highly recommend getting hold of that and trying out some of the exercises he spelled out. I spent weeks and weeks working on those, and still come back to it from time to time. I think it's now published in his book 'The Working Bassist's Toolkit', but check his website and drop him an email to be sure....


  3. _alex_


    Feb 29, 2004
    Old Europe:)
    thanks Steve :hyper:
    yeah i think that what Jeff´s saying is that :rolleyes: when pratice and learn for example a new scale ,it is wrong to start with a metronome!but when that scale is fully memorized i think its good to use it :bassist: ´
    thanks for the reply!
    keep it up :hyper:

  4. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Hi Alex,

    I think that’s probably a good paraphrasing of Jeff’s judgment on metronomes. I was a definite metronome junkie when I was younger and hearing that Jeff was pretty down on them surprised me and made me think about how I was using mine. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jeff hopes to shake things up a bit with some of the things he says and in this case it worked for me. As with so many things in life, how well you use the metronome is probably more important than how much you use it.

    I have to say that my loopers have almost replaced my metronome these days, as they offer so many more options of what to use as a timing reference. As a tangential point to what Steve wrote, I think it’s important to get accustomed to playing along with music that isn’t metronomic -- since few musicians have that kind of machine-stable time -- so this is one of the things that makes loopers an indispensable practice tool.
  5. NuNo


    Sep 10, 2004
    Hi to all,i read this the other day and realize that is better this way. Jeff sent this to me to post for him:

    " I've been reading the comments regarding metronomes and thought to offer my thoughts to this thread.

    If a metronome is considered an important time developing device, how is it that nearly every great musician in nearly every style of music acquired good time without using one?

    The top jazz musicians since the 1920’s swung hard without practicing with a metronome. The top studio players since the 1940’s, the big bands of the last 70 years, the busiest studio musicians in New York and Los Angeles for 50 years, the best rhythm & blues musicians America ever produced, and practically every well know rock musician since the 1950's have never used a metronome to get their time. Nearly every great bass player including Jaco Pastorius, Paul McCartney, Sting, Steve Swallow, James Jamerson, Will Lee, Bill Dickens, Larry Graham, and Stanley Clarke didn’t rely on a metronome to get good time.

    Metronomes became popular because of columnists declaring their importance. Internet teachers still promote the device. Metronomes were not considered to be anything more than a click device used by classical musicians until music columnists began to state that a metronome was the best way for you to acquire good time.

    I believe that a lot of well meaning players haven’t thought this out nor investigated the facts of what it takes to have good time. Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon would sometimes lag way behind the quarter note. John McLaughlin and Jaco Pastorius would sometimes lean in front of it. Good time never meant dead center playing concepts. Billy Cobham and Max Roach rushed like crazy. Billy Higgins and Ringo Starr pulled back.

    Good time comes from knowing your instrument. It comes from knowing the notes on that instrument. It comes from knowing the style of music you are playing. It doesn't come from a click.

    Thanks for reading."
  6. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Thanks for posting that, NuNo.

    I'm happy to teach my students to use a metronome for some timing things because I've found it very useful over the years. I've found it useful to have an absolute reference to get a feel for playing ahead of and behind the beat (though a drum machine or playing along with records works pretty well too).

    The problem I've found with comparing my own learning/practice schedule with that of some of the great jazzers that Jeff lists is that many of those guys were gigging or at jam sessions up to seven nights a week, some playing multiple sets. They did a lot of their learning on the band stand - many of them, not all of them. That would be great, but living in London now - and not really wanting to go to blues or standards jam sessions with a lot of beginners - I don't really have that luxury, marvellous though it would be.

    So what do I do? I use the tools available to me, and practice in as many different ways as I can. I play with and without a metronome, with and without a drum machine, solo and along with CDs, with other musicians, with a looper, with whatever I can work to, in order to broaden my skill set. I've found it very useful to have an ability to play to an absolute time reference in much of the studio work I've done - some of it having been recording bass to a click and a string part, so without drums. The ability to read a written part along with a track that has no drums, but just a click is something that I've had to do, that I've been paid to do, and that I've done well thanks to the time I've spent learning that skill.

    It would be bad practice of me not to teach those things that I've found a) useful to me in learning the instrument and b) useful skills to have as a working pro. Jeff does the same, and from what I've heard from people who've been to the players school, has excellent results.


  7. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    "The top jazz musicians since the 1920’s swung hard without practicing with a metronome"

    Sorry, crock of ****. The students that were under cats like Walter Dyett in Chicago and that cat in LA whose name I can never remember (who taught Buddy Collette, Dexter, Wardell Gray, practically EVERYBODY who was on the swing and bop scene in LA) all came up using nomes for practice. Lennie Tristano and his whole school all use nomes for practice. The fact that almost EVERY black bassplayer (not to mention horn players etc.) coming up from the 20s (and earlier, see the KENSTON BURNSALIS saga) was coming form a legit (ie classical) background and went into jazz (popular music) because opportunities in the classical world were nil.

    If you want to find out what somebody who isn't a music columnist or internet teacher thinks about it, why don't you check out Gary Burton's response to my question on his webpage?
  8. johnvice


    Sep 7, 2004
    I think its great that outstanding bassists/musicians like Jeff Berlin, Jaco, and James Jamerson play so well AND have such impeccable timing that they don’t need a metronome!

    For the rest of us mere mortals a metronome is an excellent way to acquire a better sense of timing. As a young musician, I put chops a head of timing. Things really fell into place once I could play along in perfect timing to a metronome, I could start using 16th note grooves with ease, then putting the beat ahead of the pulse, the behind it.

    I would encourage all musicians to practice with a metronome; it will probably benefit you and won’t do any harm!
  9. PunkerTrav


    Jul 18, 2001
    Canada & USA
    Even if you don't learn songs, per se, with a metronome on, I think it is quite valuble to use while practising. It can help develop yoru internal sense of time.
  10. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    I think it’s great that we have a healthy diversity of opinions on this topic and I’d like to thanks everyone for their contributions. It’s food for thought for all of us who are in search of better rhythm.
  11. Fliptrique


    Jul 22, 2002
    Szczecin, Poland
    Endorsing Artist: Mayones Guitars&Basses, Taurus Amplification
    I`m currently lucky enough to play with a band of musicans far more experienced than I am, and the first instat thing I`ve notied after the first month of playing, that my timing got much, much better.

    Not because we play with a metronome, but because I learned to play phrases.I connect the notes I play, group them into sentences, words, and some things in a blues band complex suddenly got pretty obvious. I really, really helps my timing - because now I have a context, and can place everything I play in a specific place.

    It`s like... can you say "marchewka" 10 times in a row the same exact-and-correct way? I doubt it. It`s a Polish word, you don`t understand it and have no idea how to spell it, so it`s just a set of random letters to you. But I sincerely doubt that anyone of you guys will have any problem with saying "carrot" 10 times in a row :) Music is a language, isn`t it?

    Since then I`ve rediscovered the good old `nome and became somewhat of a metronome junkie, because Now I understand what it can help me with, and it`s no longer a boring, mechanical excersize I see no sense doing.
  12. I would be interested to know what the proof of that assertion is. Or, do I have to attend a clinic to find out?

    Since I can't verify any of these assertions, I can't comment on them. Even if everything that is said here is true, that has no impact on the assertion made by myself and most music teachers that metronomes can help improve ones sense of time.

    Of course, some people at one end of the bell curve already have a perfect sense of time and people at the other end, there are probably people who may not be able to learn good time. However, I think that for the majority of players out there, practicing with a metronome can improve one's sense of time.

    A sense of time is just like any other aspect of playing music or any other learned task. It is a skill that can be acquired. You can't learn to feel a good sense of time unless you have a standard to compare it against. (except perhaps for the minority of people who for some reason are born with a pefect sense of time) Otherwise, how would you know if you're wrong and be able to correct yourself? It's like practicing basketball by shooting free-throws with no basket. If you don't know how off you are, how do you learn to correct yourself?

    I'm not saying that practicing with a metronome is the only way to learn good time. If you have a good drummer who can play in perfect time, that should be just as good.

    This is a very important and personal subject for me. When I was taking lessons, every teacher I ever had told me to play with a metronome and I ignored them. Subsequently, I was unable to join or stay in any decent bands because my was so bad. It was just about 3 or 4 years ago that I finally tried to join another band after 5 years of just playing by myself and I had an audition with the drummer. Afterwards, he asked me whether I ever played with a metronome. It was clearly a rhetorical question since he already knew the answer.

    After that I started practicing with one more often and I almost immediately noticed an improvement in my time. What started out with the frustration of constantly rushing or lagging the beat (which is, I think, the reason why many players give up on metronomes early on), quickly became excitement when I figured out that I could learn better time and that my problem was always that I practiced without any metronome or constant time source. Now, I play in two bands with one of the best drummers in the Bay Area. We do extensive looping which requires a good sense of time.

    Good time can be learned and having a good time source to play against is the best way to do it. Most people that take Jeff's advice to not use a metronome will likely suffer because of it. I seriously doubt that any of the people that Jeff mentioned as not having learned good time from a metronome would take Jeff's militant stance against them. In fact, Jeff is the only professional that I've ever heard say that metronomes can't be used to improve one's sense of time. I understand that there is some mythical "proof" of that assertion that can't be explained here but only in one of his clinics. I am still awaiting some explanation of what that proof might be.

    A sense of swing or being able to play behind or in front of the beat is a skill that requires a foundation of being able to understand where the beat actually is. One can argue that it's all a matter of feel but feel is nothing more than an internalized understanding of something rather than the conscious thought about it. Internalizing good time is what it is all about. It is something that can be learned.

    It's easy enough to prove that metronomes can improve one's sense of time. I won't go too much into detail about it here. I did so once in Jeff's forum and it was subsequently erased along with the rest of the forum. Suffice it to say that all you need is a metronome, yourself, and a means to record yourself. Practice with a metronome for a while and compare the recordings against ones you made before you practiced with a metronome. I suggested doing this via recording yourself digitally on a computer and actually measuring timing differences but I think that a purely audio comparison would be adequate. I would bet that the majority of people performing this experiment would notice an improvement in time after only a week.

    In conclusion, writing off metronomes based on what Jeff says is as serious a mistake as writing off fretless or extended range basses because of what he says about those. I was a big fan of Jeff's for many years (from the mid 80's up until about 2002) and would buy any recording that had him on it without a second thought. He is obviously a phenominal bass player and among the best. His articles about playing Bach (which mention playing it with a metronome, by the way) were a big influence on my decision to learn the 6 Solo Cello and the 6 Solo Violin works (which I am now able to play to varying degrees of skill). However, the things I have heard him say in his forum I feel are inexcusable. Of course, that's a big part of the reason why his forum no longer exists and why something similar apparently occurred at The Bottom Line.

    "Along with great power comes great responsibility." or something like that. If someone is in a position to influence a great many people, they should do so responsibly. Making various claims as fact that are clearly based on opinion is a very easy way to lose my respect. Apparently, I am not alone on this.

    - Dave
  13. You bring up a very good point. Much music isn't in perfect metronome time, and doesn't have to be. The most interesting music I have played on is in near free-time where tempo and groove shift dramatically. My problem was, that was all I could play. When I needed to play in perfect time to play music that required it, I sucked.

    That being said, I feel that my more recent experience with playing with a metronome (though admittedly, I don't do that as much lately) is that it has improved me as a musician in ways that allow me to play in any situation better.

    The saying "You have to know the rules before you can know how to break them properly." or something to that effect really makes sense to me.

    And Michael, I don't know if I've ever told you this but you are probably the most extraordinarily entertaining bass player I've ever had the pleasure of seeing play live (or otherwise). Your originality is only equalled by your technical brilliance. It has been an honor to be able to photograph your shows and those shots are easily the best I have ever taken.

    - Dave
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Excellent analogy.

    Me too.

    Well said. A few years back, I had a lesson with German Doublebassist Sigi Busch. The subject of the lesson was what he called "microtiming". The idea was first to be able to play exactly "on" the beat, so as to make the metronome click disappear into the sound of the bass. Next we worked on playing to different degrees of playing ahead of and behind the beat, all the while discussing famous players who tended to play in different relations to the beat. It was one of the most illuminating lessons (in a big-picture kinda way) I've ever had. Without the metronome, the only other way to do this is to hire a band to attend all of my practice sessions, which could get pretty expensive.

    Agreed. Jeff the musician will always have my respect because he sounds great. But as regards this subject, I can't agree with his views in any way, shape, or form. They sound like they are designed with iconoclastic (using the term loosely, of course) rather than educational intent.
  15. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Thank you so much for your very kind words, Dave. And your very cool photos!
  16. fclef87


    Oct 12, 2004
    Metronomes are needed in order for you to make sure that you are playing in time and not stopping inbetween notes of course you need it
    it is essential
  17. NuNo


    Sep 10, 2004
    hi all,

    its healthy to see all this post are not taking in some flame war :hyper:
    i was a Jeff´s student,of course that this made me "different" on how i "see" music now.its legitime!!!
    the most impressive is that Jeff proves every word that he says with the bass in is hands... :bassist:
    i am not saying that he is right about the nome thing,but for me it worked as a student.
    i cant understand how somebody says that was a fan of Jeff ,from x to y...sorry i cant...
    i would like to stay here typing,but i miss a lot of words :help: ...
    the thing that i read a lot about Jeff is that he is very criticised among musicians.this is very sad...
    he is a musician that have no afraid of saying what he thinks!!!
    this is a rare quality!!!
    who got a chance to see him,just go and spend a few time with him...he is a wonderfull person,musicisian and of course trememdous bass player.
    thanks all

  18. There is a lot of history at and at The Bottom Line mailing list involving Jeff. It is very unfortunate that things turned out the way they did and that his forum here was removed.

    There are positive and negative ways to discuss things where people may disagree. There are ways of saying things that will get people thinking and there are ways of saying things that will just piss people off. Unfortunately, Jeff seemed to choose the negative ways and people called him on it. I was not involved in the discussion that caused him to leave (something about him being the first to record slap bass or something like that) but I have been in numerous discussions involving things that are very important to me that Jeff has been against or has strong opinions about. These being metronomes, fretless basses (we're all Jaco clones, you know), and extended range basses.

    That being said, I do agree with most of what Jeff has to say about music theory and education and stuff like that. It's a shame he had to leave but I'm afraid that he kinda brought it down on himself. It wasn't the first time and likely won't be the last.

    - Dave

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