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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."



« Conformity | Main | Variables »

April 22, 2007 | Working the Clock

A "Second" Look...

Every aspiring musician ought to own a metronome. For the price of three trips to McDonalds you can buy one, or even better, own several. Keep one in your case (they make them small enough!), have one adorn your desk like an elaborate piece of furniture, or get something high-tech that subdivides or even sports a chromatic tuner. There are plenty of options available and if you ever wanted to challenge a music store salesperson, walk in and say, "I'd like to see EVERY metronome you have in the store."

That said, we want to suggest a cool tip. Most of the exercise audio demos we have in our upcoming book "Getting Into Jazz Mandolin" were recorded at 60 beats per minute (or 120 bpm). It's a great tempo, and not just because it's slow enough to give you a chance to focus on rich tone and clean execution.

There's something almost spiritual about 60 bpm. Any physician or aerobics instructor will tell you it's the goal for a healthy resting heart rate. Check your pulse in the morning when you wake up. If you're in average or better health, this is probably where you are first thing. It only gets faster when you exert yourself or get stressed. We really like 60 beats per minute (and its doubly faster subdivision 120 bpm). Playing with rich healthy tone at this pace will do you wonders later in your practice session when you've warmed your fingers up; even better when you warm up the mind and spirit! You're ready to learn.

Try something when your metronome isn't readily accessible. Try using the second hand of a clock to pace your 60 (or 120) beats per minute. Why is this good?

Watching rather than listening to the beat uses another of your five senses, the visual. We know of a drummer who insisted burying his own playing in snare drum practice with a overpoweringly loud metronome robbed him of his musicianship. The metronome was dictating tempo, rather than correcting it. If you could have someone tap tempo on your back, it would be the same idea, connecting your synapses with another of the five senses.

Our drummer friend is right; when you watch the clock rather than blindly thump along with the best, it challenges you to develop your own internal timing. It makes you subdivide and tests you along the way.

Try your scales at this tempo. Stand in front of a clock with a mechancial second hand (one that "jerks" through the second markings) and play at 60 bpm. You'll be surprised at how much it challenges the security you place in your own sense of rhythm. Anything you can do to develop this innate ability is going to benefit you in your ensemble environments, too.

After all, aren't we all out for (a) good time!


Another Tip with Metronome: Backbeat

Posted by Ted at April 22, 2007 12:28 PM


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