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Metronomes and Jeff Berlin

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Joe Nerve, Apr 1, 2001.

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  1. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    What's the deal with the hatred for metronomes. I just read Jeff Berlins advice to a newbie - saying as I've heard before - "no metronomes".

    I started practicing with a metronome a couple of years ago and it has improved my playing immeasurably. It has made me a way tighter, more precise player - has helped with my speed, strength, sense of time and overall ability.

    I could see somebody saying they don't like metronomes, or they don't think they're helpful to them - but to constantly put the things down as being usesless is being a bit thoughtless (IMO). Metronomes are a great practice tool for some of us not so accomplished players.

    Anybody with or against me on this?
    Gazman likes this.
  2. Okay, let's start with the assumption that this isn't an April Fool's Day joke ( which I hope it is ).

    I can see someone having an argument against metronomes. You shouldn't have to rely on a metronome to stay in time. However, you have to be able to stay in time with one. My timing was always my biggest weakness because I rarely played with a metronome or even a drummer ( for the past few years ). When I have gotten together with drummers, my time was crap. Lately, I have been practing my ass off with a metronome and my time has improved 1000%. Even when I'm not playing with the metronome, I can feel that my playing has improved.

    The bottom line ( no pun intended ) is that for every person who tells you that you shouldn't play with a metronome, there will probably be 1000 people that tell you the exact opposite.


  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Wouldn't it have been better to put this question in the "Ask Jeff Berlin" part of the board? A very similar question has already been put there and Jeff has replied - so it may be worth a look.

    I agree you shouldn't rely on the metronome and that you have to internalise the time for yourself in any playing situation with a band. But I can't see the problem with practising with a metronome as a way of making sure you are playing exercises in time and for checking up on maintaining a consistent tempo.

    I have yet to see a convincing argument in print or on a forum like this against the use of a metronome and would be interested to hear what the big problem is.
  4. Dave -

    No, it's not an April Fool's joke, Jeff Berlin doesn't advocate the use of metronomes, at least not for everything.

    I actually agree with some of his points, but not all. Sadly, the post Bruce referred to didn't contain Jeff's reasons for his dislike of metronomes and is therefore useless to the discussion. He says in the reply that it would be impossible to discuss and demonstrate why he's against them online, but given 20 minutes with a person he could.

    My agreement with him on the topic is that when you're learning an exercise or piece of music, the metronome is useless, and can actually be detrimental to the process. You have to learn the notes and fingerings first, then work on playing "in time". Where I disagree is he claims that working with the metronome cannot help you improve your sense of time. Like both Dave and Joe, consistent practice with a 'nome has helped my sense of time tremendously, and I've also seen the improvement with students.

    What you have to do is to use it correctly, and I am betting that is what Jeff is trying to say as well. The trick is to not use it for every beat, instead have the clicks on every other beat or even just one beat per measure, and NEVER have it on the one! Typically I will have the clicks on 2 and 4 when working on something in 4/4. I don't teach this to students right away, I do advocate using it on all beats for a while, until they get used to working with that click, then wean them to the other way. If you are always having to hit the downbeat of each measure squarely and without assistance (from a click), your time can't help but improve.
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Ah.....but I have replied in the thread on metronomes, asking this very question - i.e. is having the 'nome on 2 &4 any good? I actually did this before your post - uncanny huh?

    But this is why I said it might be worth looking to see what Jeff says in reply to my follow-up post - I was also saying - why not ask him straight out on his part of the forum, rather than putting it around here, where he is less likely to look?
  6. Well Bruce, I didn't ask him on his forum because he specifically said he wouldn't answer it there. Maybe I misunderstood what he was saying, but I figure there's not much sense in asking if he's not going to answer there.
  7. It strikes me that the question of metronome use might be a classic example of individual preference, with no "all encompassing" definitive answer. I can see where JB is coming from in that it is a good thing to be able to hone in on your internal clock. However, (and I speak for myself) I prefer to rely on an external source as a reference point. After all, music is an 'interactive' affair (unless you play alone) and, as far as I am concerned, (don't crucify me) it is the drummer who provides that point of reference (when you play with a drummer). I think it is essential to be able to rely on both ones internal (for situations when you have no other reference point), as well as an external point of reference. I don't agree that it is beneficial to set aside one method in favor of the other. (Nor do I know that this is what JB is implying - although it certainly sounds that way. I am certain that there are hundreds of individuals, with impeccable credentials, whose opinions differ from those of JB, They're just not as vocal about it.)
  8. Xavier -

    I think you've got a point or two there (and we're not talking about the top of your head either! ;) ). I've always felt that good time was EVERYONE'S business on the bandstand. I certainly know that when I'm working with a drummer that has "flexible" time, it drives me nuts. I use the metronome to get myself used to staying in something resembling a steady tempo when I'm working alone, and it seems to translate itself to situations without the metronome in evidence (i.e. onstage). I think the main thing you get from working with the 'nome is that you learn to relax a bit and not speed up from nerves, or get stressed about playing wrong notes and slowing down. Again, when you're working on new stuff, the metronome isn't your friend, but once you get something comfortable under your fingers it's great.

    Oh, and you're right, there are other, just as qualified bassists who hold somewhat different opinions on the subject of metronomes and time. I studied with Dave LaRue, and he's a BIG advocate of working consistently with a 'nome. I won't say either is right or wrong in all cases, but it seems that at least SOME metronome work is beneficial.
  9. Interestingly enough, my experience in a band situation is this - It seems that the bands I have been involved with always looked to the drummer for 'tempo-guidance'. What I found usually happened was that, if the drummer sped up (or slowed down) ever so slightly, everyone seemed to be able to adjust instantly. If that tempo change went over a certain 'acceptable' limit (which we subconsciously set, based on our internal clocks), we'd start glaring at the drummer. If that didn't work, someone would walk up to him and smack him on the head. The point? ... it takes a delicate balance between playing to an external and internal tempo to make it work in real life situations. But then again, what do I know? ;)
  10. Xavier -

    Of course no one's sense of time is PERFECT, and there will be tempo variations all through a song live (heck even in the studio with a click track there will be). Variations are good, if you ask me, they let the tune "breathe", stretching the tempo can add drama, squeezing it (speeding up a bit) can add energy. Metronomic time would SUCK, just like all that sequenced and sampled dreck they play in the dance clubs does (because it's metronomically perfect :rolleyes: ).

    What I meant was that there has to be agreement between all participants in a song, you can't have one guy/girl back there bashing away at the wrong tempo, everyone is responsible for time. I once had a teacher who was a real heavy jazz cat, and he always said that the drummer set the time, but the bassist DEFINED it.

    Now I'm working in Latin-Rock and Latin-Pop bands, and working with large percussion/drum sections. It seems that I get looked to for keeping tempo with these bands, and everyone works off what I'm doing. This may be just the guys I'm working with now, or possibly something that is inherent in the style of music. The bass is actually treated more like a "pitched (not thrown ;) ) conga" than what is typically happening in jazz or pop/rock music. If I don't keep my $h!t together with this stuff, it all falls apart, so my time has to be pretty solid. Seeing as I'm working with some guys that have been doing this for longer than I've been alive, and they're not kicking me out of the band, I must be doing OK ;).
  11. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...I was in bands like that for awhile; in fact, the drummer basically said "...it's(the time)mine". No problem.
    Then reality struck when I began playing with drummers that were more "open"(ie not your basic backbeat 1&3/2&4 kinda guys).
    So, say your groovin' with a guy that likes playing polymetrics? Or likes playing in a 6 over 4 feel? Or likes displacing the kick so that it's in the backbeat? Or plays certain parts of the kit in 1/2 time while playing other parts of the kit in doubletime to your "straight time"? Where do you reference yourself? So, as Gard(ian) sez, "Time is everyone's responsibilty". And I agree, the time should breathe.

    If interested, check out guys like Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Vinnie Coliauta, Terry Bozzio, Cornell Rochester & Grant Calvin Wesley(Blood Ulmer's The Music Revelation Ensemble or Ornette Coleman's Prime Time), Chad Wackerman(Alan Holdsworth), Dave Weckl's solo cds(he even describes the 6 over 4 feels in the liner notes), Jo Jo Mayer, Gene Lake, Hamid Drake, William Kennedy, etc.
    In fact, if you have The Spin by The Yellowjackets, cue up the title track; it sounds like Kennedy is playing 2 bars of 6(12 beats)as Haslip plays 3 bars of 4(12 beats). Time is a fun & complex thing, huh?
  12. I am in complete agreement. Precisely why I say ... it takes a delicate balance between playing to an external and internal tempo to make it work in real life situations. You can't always rely on the drummer.
  13. JimK -

    Good call on the drummers that like to play with feels and time, particularly Will Kennedy. I was listening to "The Spin" just recently, and there's some serious stuff happening rhythmically there. Funny thing, I was never into them until my wife hipped me to them...pretty cool wife, eh? :D

    Another of my favorite examples is Vinnie Coliauta's groove in "St. Augustine In Hell" from Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales. 7/4 with half notes on the ride cymbal! How cool is that? :)

    ONE two THREE four FIVE six SEVEN
    one TWO three FOUR five SIX seven....

    Implies a 4/4 feel over the 7/4 meter. Nifty.

    Another example of Vinnie's mastery of that stuff is the very end of Frank Zappa's "Little Green Rosetta" from Joe's Garage, when Franks hollers out "Hey Vinnie, gimme five!", and Vincenzo just smoothly segues into a 5 against 4 groove without so much as a blink.
  14. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...exactly. That Coliauta ride example in 7 is a great example. If you're a guy(like I was/still am at times)that's depending on the drummer's kick/snare &/or ride to keep YOU in your place...you may have the rug pulled out from under you. Believe me, been there, done that(& it hurts!) ;)
  15. JimK -

    Yeah, I fell flat on my face (not literally, but rhythmically ;) ) one night playing with a guy that was really a jazz drummer, not an R&B drummer like I was used to. He was leaving these weird holes all over the groove, like not hitting on the one, but on the 16th after it! :eek: It grooved like crazy, but he wasn't always pounding out quarter notes somewhere, and I got lost all through the first set.

    Luckily, he was a real mellow dude, pulled me aside after the first set, and had a very kind and informative heart-to-heart with me. The rest of the night went beautifully. I started to be more self-reliant, and he didn't get as weird all the time. Since then, I have made it a point to ALWAYS be at the helm of my own time, even if it's unnecessary. The best lessons are usually learned on the bandstand....
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that reply if I were you...he's already made two passes through the forum, and appears to be abandoning that thread. Hmmm...why is that, I wonder?

    Not that it really matters, but I think metronomes are absolutely essential for most people in their quest to improve their time. All (and I mean ALL) of my students who use one regularly show dramatic improvement within a couple of weeks. And speaking of odd meters and Vinnie, that kind of playing requires an even keener sense of time, which - IMO - should be practiced with a metronome.

    Just because you play with a reference pulse doesn't mean that you have to try to become a human drum machine. I had a lesson recently with German bassist Sigi Busch (oddly, he lives in Berlin - the city, not the bassist) , and we spent a fair amount of time working on his concept of "microtiming", which involves developing the ability to play either right on, slightly behind, or slightly ahead of the beat. His take on the issue is that there are situations in which all are called for, and as long as you are aware of what you're doing, playing "imperfect" time can be a useful thing - but he strongly advises against doing it by default, and advocates metronome use in no uncertain terms.
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Gard and Chris - you're probably right I was being a bit optimistic (naive?) about getting a definitive reply in the forum, but there are a few clues there in the other thread on this subject.

    I must say that I don't use a metronome but will set up clicks on my microcomposer and I was once asked to play 15/4 tune and there was no way I could get any idea of how this should sound without playing along with a click.

    I have the problem in the large Latin band that I am in, where our drummer sometimes speeds up or slows down. We have a couple of percussionists as well, but the personnel has been changing recently with people drooping in and out and they generally look to the drummer. I find it very difficult to keep the tumbao going when this happens - but our drummer practices a lot with a metronome and always brings one along to rehearsals - but it doesn't stop him speeding up! ;)

    Having seen the "Afro Cuban All-Stars" a couple of times, I am always amazed at how Cuban musicians have such a relaxed approach to time and how they all seem able to drop in and play amazingly relaxed but tight percussion parts, as needed. Whether they are singers, trombonists etc. But apparently they don't use metronomes but rather seem to grow up with the clave and hear it in everything!
  18. I just hate it when people just DROOP in and out! ;) Yes, personell changes can be trying at times, hopefully things will settle down for you and your group soon. And no more unsightly drooping either...heh...

    I think you're right on the money with the "growing up with the clave". I'm working with a couple Puerto Rican percussionists in my band, and they just groove the heck out of it, it's like breathing to them. They do stretch time a bit, in both directions, but the basic tempo never really shifts...and always the huge groove based around the clave, no matter what instrument they're playing.
  19. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    well, from my perspective, practicing to a metronome was essential, since all of our recording is done to a click track, one instrument at a time.

    for instance, for the instrumental in my sig, i scored the complete bass part on a sequencer, as well as a bunch of the guitar parts, and then the drummer recorded his parts to that and a click track. then i recorded to the drums and a click alone. then the guitarists each recorded to the bass and drums, no click. with all the tempo and signature changes in that song, it had to be smooth or else it would sound either sloppy or stilted. if you listen to it now, it certainly doesn't sound like it was done one instrument at a time, and that's because jim (the drummer) and i practiced to a click track individually, and together, to learn how to make our parts smooth and real sounding.

    as for jeff berlin's viewpoint on metronomes, i would be really interested to hear what he has to say, or see his demonstration. i haven't always agreed with what jeff berlin has said, but i love his playing, and i really admire his willingness to put his money where his mouth is and also to stand up and shout against things, like tab, that are very popular but ultimately detrimental to a player's development.
  20. I, too, like JB's style and playing very much. I wish I were half as accomplished as he. One can disagree with the methods (techniques), but, ultimately, it is the finished musical product that counts. I don't think there is a conflict. Perhaps a caes of the end justifying the means. (?)

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