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  1. #1

    Basic Counting and Use (or not ) of a Metronome

    For those still in the learning stages with all of this jazz stuff, how is your competency in playing with a basic click? How is your time with basic quarter notes, straight eights, sixteenths, triplets, swing eights etc., when played against an external beat reference like a click?

    To be clear, I'm NOT talking about JAZZ feel, jazz beat placement idiosyncrasies, swing feel, the placement of eight notes for swing feel, or anything specifically to do with accents or style... beyond very rudimentary playing with a beat reference. I've personally considered all of these other things to be whole other level of discussion and not particularly helpful when the issue is something more basic.

    I feel like very often when there are time issues with something posted on the forum and someone needs work in this BASIC area, they very often receive advice which is focused more on ADVANCED topics like jazz style, swing, or specific beat placement etc. etc. There's been a lot of talk about just simply continuing to play with the metronome, as if it will somehow magically line up at some point in the future ... or other ideas, such as visualization techniques like relaxing or thinking something different etc. I feel like the real problem is more technical and concrete than that.

    There's a lot of advice to listen to more jazz, and there's always the suggestion of using a metronome in different ways, such as once per measure, only on 2 and 4 , intermittent etc. etc. there's also the separate discussion of whether you enjoy playing with the metronome , whether it's more helpful to practice without one , whether tracks are better etc. I feel like all of these suggestions and topics can be really helpful at later stages for working on things like swing feel etc., but I don't see how they're helpful for someone with basic issues with playing fundamental rhythms to a simple beat reference. I think this is "running before you can walk" -type thing.

    So for those who struggle with this, I would ask some basic questions: If you hear these issues on playback, are you also aware of them while you're playing? What's your prior experience and training in playing basic rhythms and playing in time with a beat reference whether with a click or other people? What is your strategy going forward to fix this problem?

    I think there are two fundamental problems with guitarists being so largely self-taught:

    1. For those who have issues with time , beat, and counting in the beginning, we don't really have ANY strategies for improving the situation, and we seem to just keep plugging away with hope that it will get better.

    2. Other self-taught guitarist's who have more natural time feel don't really KNOW how to teach it, because it was never as much of a problem in the first place. Apparently, a great many of these "natural feel" guitarists become teachers who don't know how to help students with this problem.

    I may be wrong, but my gut feeling is that the "you either have it or you don't" mentality - in terms of time - is much more prevalent among GUITARISTS than for other instrumentalists who learn this stuff in group classes in school etc. So, that was the original idea before of this post , before this edit.

    I just looked on YouTube some, and I can't seem to find anything for this idea of how to play with a metronome in a BASIC way, if you're not lining up well already. This leads me to think that there's probably a basic assumption amongst other instrumental players and teachers that you've already gotten some BASIC training with a teacher in the past. Again, the self taught guitarist thing can be a problem at this point.

    TLDR: if you have time issues at basic levels (beyond feels etc.), is that something which can be worked on and fixed, or are we pretty much stuck with what we're born with? If not, how might one do that? what are the specific strategies, other than simply practicing the same way more and more?

    This video has some of my personal thoughts on it...


    I'd be interested in others thoughts as well. Anyway, sorry if I was unclear in beginning. Original post below:
    ***************
    This is very rudimentary. The ideas in the video I'm linking isn't really jazz at all, but I've seen a lot over the last year or two that tells me that we might want to talk about some of this. A lot of discussion about confusion with using metronomes, their value (or not), problems with "time", how to practice things without a metronome, the importance (or not) of counting out loud etc. anyway, it seems as though a lot of this discussion is at more advanced levels , when there are also players struggling with basic. Right now I'm talking about basic.

    For other teachers: how do you teach students to play in time with a metronome in fundamental, basic ways with simple quarter notes and eighth notes, triplets etc (not necessarily "jazz time")?

    I don't really teach jazz, but this is how I think about basic rudimentary counting and playing with a beat reference like a metronome with beginners:

    Other's thoughts appreciated.
    Last edited by matt.guitarteacher; 02-12-2019 at 11:25 AM.

  2. #2
    Here are some perceptions from playing with and talking to others.

    Some players with great time swear by the metronome and teach its use. Some like metronomes like Time Guru which allow you to drop out of percentage of the clicks, randomly.

    Some players with poor time also swear by the metronome and practice with it. Apparently, it's no guarantee of good time. Would they be even worse without it? No way to tell.

    Some players with great time teach using the metronome, but, in an unguarded moment, will admit they don't actually use it themselves.

    For myself, I think I've derived more benefit from playing with backing tracks than just a click. But, I haven't worked much on some of the techniques, like putting the click on something other than the one. I also think my time improved when I started recording myself in groups and realized how behind the beat I was playing.
    One other thing: it's very difficult to play with good time in a group where the rhythm section players don't all have good time.

    And, some great players counsel against using the metronome.

    Something else came up recently more or less on this topic.

    Great time feel can't be notated, at least in some styles, maybe in all.

    In Brazilian music the sixteenth notes are felt unevenly. What is notated as 4 16ths is actually played a little more like the Little Train that Could, "I think I can", to try to give you an idea. But, the degree of unevenness is dependent on tempo. Much more uneven at slower tempi than faster. Can be felt, but can't be conventionally notated. Some of those notes aren't going to be where the metronome clicks, no matter how much you subdivide. This is one reason why you can't learn to swing from a book.

    Same argument applies to ride beat on the cymbal. It's different, depending on tempo.

    You can absolutely use a metronome (the one's line up), but you can't get all the way there with one.
    Last edited by rpjazzguitar; 02-11-2019 at 10:45 PM.

  3. #3
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    Absolutely a fan of metronome use here.

    Absolutely a fan of metronome use here.

    Put it on the 2 and 4 - or even better - just the 2 (or 4). Never on all 4 beats let alone subdivisions. I work with backing tracks too, BiaB etc.. but metronome use is essential IMHO.

    Since some time I use an app on the phone or tablet so I can have it set to the real tempo and just switch off the beats I don't want (all but he last). That way I avoid the 40 bpm minimum problem with conventional metronomes.

    As I also advocate practicing at very slow tempi I have it typically set to 80-120 bpm with three beats switched off. That means actually 20 - 30 bpm. You can't hide your timing flaws at that speed.

    I'm very happy with the long term results.


    PS. A metronome is only as good as much as you use it....

    --- The ultimate answer to almost all guitar questions: "Practice more!" ---

  4. #4
    My band requires all members to audition every six months.
    The most efficient way to lose the gig is to play off time.
    You don't have to be "great," or "fast."
    But you MUST demonstrate the ability to stay in the pocket.
    Not sure you can get that way, and stay that way without the click (metronome) practice.
    And in reference to playing the Latin stuff on the off-beat--you need to know where the beat is to play off of it.

  5. #5
    Okay. I feel like my original post was pretty unclear. I apologize for that. I highly edited the original post, and I apologize for that as well, but my intended topic is something I feel is very important and would like to discuss at some point.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by matt.guitarteacher View Post

    TLDR: if you have time issues at basic levels (beyond feels etc.), is that something which can be worked on and fixed, or are we pretty much stuck with what we're born with? If not, how might one do that? what are the specific strategies, other than simply practicing the same way more and more?
    There are tons of examples for timing being something that can be acquired by practice. Me being one of them.

    Emily Remler initially had horrible timing which led to some problems at her music college - don't remember the exact story now, Google is your friend. She got herself a metronome and "worked it out". She was a timing and metronome apologist in later years.

    Some folks seem to be more naturals with good timing as others, if you belong to the latter you've got to work it.

    And quoting dickbangs:
    -you need to know where the beat is to play off of it
    You couldn't be more right!
    Last edited by DonEsteban; 02-12-2019 at 01:58 PM. Reason: typo "hard" vs. "had"

    --- The ultimate answer to almost all guitar questions: "Practice more!" ---

  7. #7
    I count backwards sometimes when messing up 5/4 again. It's easier to say 5 at first(rest is automatic) than to count 1 to 5.

  8. #8
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    I think it's a good point.

    I think synching to something is an important musical skill... It doesn't have to be a click but it may as well be. Counting is good as is making sure your playing is synched physically to any foot tapping you might be doing (which may be a side issue.) Obviously if you learn by synching with the snare drum or ride of a great drummer, that's not too dissimilar.

    Synching is not the same thing as good time, but it is a basic skill. You can be good at synching and have a weak sense of tempo, because you are just used to relying on the click, which is why people suggest metronome games. I think I'm getting better at synching, but feel I'm still learning it.

    Like most guitarists I tend to play on top. The more I get feedback on that, the more I can gravitate to the centre of the beat. You can provide feedback by recording yourself as you mention, but other musicians are important too.

    All of this though I feel is more the symptom than the base issue.

    I notice that myself and most people are much better at counting with the metronome than playing with it. This has led me to a similar conclusion to Matt - humans naturally have good time. The problems come in at a higher level.

    What I think people have difficulty with is coordination, and a tendency to lose track of that basic pulse when performing a complicated task, like playing a musical instrument for example. That's why it's important to be able play something without thought before trying it with a click.

    Additionally, I think there's something about the guitar that means it feels correct to play on top. Something about the way we make the notes happen.

  9. #9
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    As a non-native speaker - what exactly do you mean by „on top“? Rushing it?


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  10. #10
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    Generally yeah, playing ahead is 'on top.'

    Obviously you can play ahead in a good way...

  11. #11
    This is an interesting topic. I have been thinking about how to help those who have been asking of playing by ear (where the focus seems to be about how to hear the chord types, harmony, and melody lines) and was considering a line of thought to suggest beginning something like, "Well, consider that you already play the rhythmic aspect by ear".

    I've come to accept that there are people who are thinking of a pitch's note's name as they play, but are people also trying to assign the named notation duration, too? Are there those (performance, not reading) who don't play the rhythmic aspect by ear?

    As far as counting and foot patting, I don't view those as sources - they are reflections from the source. I encourage finding one's internal source for rhythm.

    As far a metronomes, click tracks, etc.; I might allow their use for a brief period (hours) if someone was needing to overcome some problem, but the long term effect of regular use in my opinion is potentially disastrous. The worst example case of this is drummers who learn to play by playing along with recorded music... so what they learn is to follow the music rather than learn to own the pace. Once on stage where others expect the kit to be stable (so they can lead and lag and phrase), the drummer follows the phrasing variations in time and the whole thing becomes a seasick mess - drummers need a high level of rhythmic independence that is not corrupted by timing variations of others (those others depending on the drummer to hold steady so they can phrase those variations).
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    This is an interesting topic. I have been thinking about how to help those who have been asking of playing by ear (where the focus seems to be about how to hear the chord types, harmony, and melody lines) and was considering a line of thought to suggest beginning something like, "Well, consider that you already play the rhythmic aspect by ear".

    I've come to accept that there are people who are thinking of a pitch's note's name as they play, but are people also trying to assign the named notation duration, too? Are there those (performance, not reading) who don't play the rhythmic aspect by ear?
    Well, I dunno, you can read notated rhythms? That's the same thing.

    Reading notation better certainly makes me more aware of how my phrasing would look on the page, I know if I'm playing a displaced off beat thing, a 1/4 note triplet etc etc. I just know that now, not thinking about it.

    It's like people (many horn players) who visualise the piano keyboard when they play.

    As far as counting and foot patting, I don't view those as sources - they are reflections from the source.
    Yes, I agree... But counting is a great way of keeping your playing accountable, like playing with a metronome.

    Rhythmic independence exercises etc tap into the same thing.

    I encourage finding one's internal source for rhythm.
    That sounds cool and sorta Zen. What does it actually mean?

    As far a metronomes, click tracks, etc.; I might allow their use for a brief period (hours) if someone was needing to overcome some problem, but the long term effect of regular use in my opinion is potentially disastrous. The worst example case of this is drummers who learn to play by playing along with recorded music... so what they learn is to follow the music rather than learn to own the pace. Once on stage where others expect the kit to be stable (so they can lead and lag and phrase), the drummer follows the phrasing variations in time and the whole thing becomes a seasick mess - drummers need a high level of rhythmic independence that is not corrupted by timing variations of others (those others depending on the drummer to hold steady so they can phrase those variations).
    YES.

    As a sidebar I understand this on a gut level, because this is often my job. Rhythm guitarists must do this job in trad/swing jazz, because it is usually the drummers job to create excitement and drama not hold down the pulse, the guitar player actually keeps them in check. This was Freddie Green's function with Basie.

    If I am following the drums I can't do that job. You have to be a bit obstinate, but it's easy for you to stay in time if you concentrate cos you are just playing 4's with no fills. The drummer is free to add the FIRE and push a bit if they want. I think when and if a drummer can get their head around this they find it fun.

    It's an artform. I wouldn't play that way with all drummers. And obviously comping in a modern jazz group is very different because there it's about the bass and the ride cymbal...

  13. #13
    fwiw, For a long time, whenever I tried to use a metronome I would become terribly depressed because I would just be so off. I would think, man I can't be THAT bad, I know I can always improve but jeez my time was terrible. Then I finally realized what I was doing; I did not trust myself and so, I was always listening for the click. THAT was my problem, I tried to hear the click so I could synch up with it. I was waiting for it....then it was gone. Then I started to work with the metronome set to a low volume and turned my guitar up. AHAAAA, that's the ticket, if you don't hear it , you're right in time with it!. I still can improve but I was never as bad as I thought I was, I was just using the tool incorrectly mostly because I lacked the self confidence to just trust my sense of time.
    Another little embarrassing story that hopefully will help someone else.
    Last edited by whiskey02; 02-18-2019 at 06:02 AM.
    Ignorance is agony.



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