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Metronome Technique (wikipedia)

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This is the section I wrote for the wikipedia article: Metronome.

I have made a copy here to add material about how to work on these things with Bounce Metronome. I can't contribute these to wikipedia because it would be a COI (conflict of interest) - as it is difficult to be objective about something that might promote Bounce Metronome, it is often best as the software author to just not mention it at all.

Also I have some ideas to share that would count as original research so can't be included in wikipedia.

You can make copies of wikipedia articles so long as they are clearly attributed. See the Metronome history page for the authors for the introduction. The other sections are my own work, though improved through discussion on the Metronome talk page.

I have just copied the wikipedia source code to this wiki, not yet edited much - so links to internal wikipedia pages of course won't work.

This is now available as part of a kindle booklet from Amazon
Vanishing Metronome Clicks, for Timing Sensitivity: And other Metronome Techniques - Many Ways to Use a Metronome



A metronome is any device that produces regular, metrical ticks (beats, clicks) — settable in beats per minute. These ticks represent a fixed, regular aural pulse; some metronomes also include synchronized visual motion (e.g. pendulum-swing). The metronome dates from the early 19th century, where it was patented by Johann Maelzel in 1815 as a tool for musicians, under the title "Instrument/Machine for the Improvement of all Musical Performance, called Metronome".[1]

The metronome is used by musicians to help keep a steady tempo as they play, or to work on issues of irregular timing, or to help internalize a clear sense of timing and tempo. The metronome is also often used by composers as a standard tempo reference, to indicate the intended tempo for the piece.

Human beings seldom play music at an exact tempo with all the beats exactly the same. This makes it impossible to align metronome clicks with the beats of a musically expressive performance.[2][3][4][5] This also has lead many musicians to criticize use of a metronome. Some go as far as to suggest that metronomes shouldn't be used by musicians at all. The same criticism has been applied to metronome markings as well. See Criticism of metronome use.

Those in favour of metronome use understand this as a criticism of metronome technique as commonly practised by musicians, rather than criticism of the tool as such.[6][7] Their response has been to develop better methods of metronome technique to address the various issues raised by the critics. See Metronome Technique. These techniques however aren't widely known by musicians generally, including many of the critics of metronome use. What Frederick Franz wrote in the introduction to his book is still true today (the original version was published in 1947).[8] Metronome technique has developed considerably since his day, but the amount published is still small. As in his day, it is understandable that critics should be under the impression that metronome technique simply consists of playing your music along with the metronome.

There are two schools of thought among musicians concerning this use of the metronome-one opposed and the other favorable. "Practicing with a metronome" has been criticized by some musicians as "making you mechanical." In some instances such criticism is largely a prejudice, the critic having gained the impression that one starts a metronome and simply continues playing with it indefinitely. In most instances, however, such criticism is excusable since so little has been published on specific techniques of metronome uses. It is hoped that those who oppose its use for learning and improving the control of rhythm will read with tolerance these methods, employed by those who favor it, and perhaps investigate their value by experimenting with one or two of them in their own teaching or preparation for concerts.[9]


(snip - the original article has a long section here about history, criticism etc. No need to edit it here, so see the original).

Metronome Technique

Metronome technique is extensive and has been the subject of several books.[6][10][11] So this short section just summarizes some of the main ideas and approaches.

Playing in the pocket

2/4 at a tempo of 60 bpm. Following the visual bounce can help you to play in the pocket in a relaxed way]]

The basic skill required is the ability to play precisely in the pocket with the metronome in a relaxed fashion. This first step helps the musician to relate to the time of the metronome clearly and precisely at the millisecond level, to help internalize a similarly precise sense of time in yourself. It is not a goal in itself, and the aim is not particularly to be able to play like a metronome.

It is harder to play in the pocket with the metronome than one might expect, especially with piano or percussion. That's because the metronome click may seem to vanish when you hit the click exactly - or may be heard less distinctly. The further you are away from the click the more easily you hear the metronome. Musicians who attempt to play in the pocket with a metronome without use of the established techniques for doing this may find that it introduces tension and effort into their instrument technique.

To address these issues, the musicians start by learning to play consistently ahead or behind the beat whenever they want to. As a result they develop a clear sense of "where the click is" and so can also play to hit the click as well, in a relaxed way.

The other thing they do is to listen out to hear how the sound of their playing merges with the metronome to create a new sound when you play precisely in the pocket with the metronome. By listening in this way (and through other exercises) it is possible to play precisely in the pocket with the metronome in a relaxed fashion.[12][13][14][15]

At the same time as they work on playing in the pocket, they also work on flexibility and the ability to play in the same precise way anywhere in the beat.

Precision of timing and sensitivity to musical time

2/4 at 60 bpm. Plays 5 measures then goes silent for 2, 3, 4, and 8 measures (alternating with 2 measures played). Play in the pocket with the click. Are you still in the pocket when the metronome comes back on? One of the exercises in metronome technique to help internalize a precise sense of time and tempo.

Many exercises are used to help with precision of timing and sensitivity to time, also independence, to make sure you don't become a slave of the metronome. These exercises include:

  • Set the metronome to go silent for a number of measures, and see if you are still in time when it comes back on again
  • Set it to go silent for increasingly longer time periods and see if you are still in time[16]
  • Play through music in your mind's ear, and try to do keep in time with the metronome as you do so
  • Practise subdividing the beat, with the metronome set to a slow tempo, including set to click on the measure beat, every second measure, the second beat of the measure instead of the first (or the second and fourth, technique used for jazz), set to click every 5 beats for a rhythm in 4/4, and so on.
  • Playing displaced clicks[17]
  • Playing polyrhythmically with the metronome

And many other exercises. Much of modern metronome technique is to do with various methods to help resolve timing issues, and to encourage and develop a clear sense of musical time and to help with precision of timing.

Musically expressive rhythms

Modern metronome technique addresses the issues of expressive musical rhythms in many ways. For instance, much of the focus of modern metronome technique is on encourage and develop a good sense of tempo and timing in your playing, and in your mind. So you may work with the metronome in separate exercises to achieve this. When you have a more precise sense of the passage of time, you can then choose for yourself how to use this in your musical performance. You still play in a musically expressive fashion with continually changing tempo and beat, the only difference is that as a result of your work on precision of timing with use of a metronome, you are more aware of what you are doing.

To be an artist one must be able to play in perfect time- slow, fast, or anywhere between. Then one must be able to leave the time at will. This is not the same as having the time leave the player, and that is the effect if one is not able to play with the metronome.[18]

Special metronome exercises are used to help keep this fluid sense of rhythm and timing as you work with the metronome. There are many of them, they include:

  • Drift gradually from one beat to the next and play polyrhythmically with the metronome
  • Play beats ahead or behind the click - and get comfortable with playing anywhere relative to the metronome click.
  • As you play with the metronome start from a pulse unison and gradually push your notes ahead of the click then pull back again to pulse unison (also the other way pulling behind the pulse) [19]

At the same time you can work on developing a higher level of awareness of the many natural rhythms in your everyday life and use exercises to help bring those rhythms into your music.[20]

Time Feel, the subject of Chatper 7, is one of the great keys to musicality for rhythm section instruments. But being able to play behind or ahead of the pulse can also add expression to a melodic line. This, along with slight changes in dynamics, creates phrasing in music. The ability to hear the pulse and yet accelerate or decelerate slightly is a great way to incorporate human feeling into a musical performance. Of course, this is all relative to the tempo, and is best achieved relative to a steady tempo. In other words, the more definite your sense of pulse, the better your capability to manipulate it. This also works for the actions of ritardando and accelerando, as they are relative to a steady pulse and are best performed gradually rather than in sudden shifts"[21]

In this way, with suitable metronome techniques, use of a metronome helps you to improve your sense of time and exact timing without causing any of the expected issues for musicality and expressive timing. The thing to bear in mind all the way through is that you use the metronome to help with exact timing - but that the sense of rhythm and musically expressive timing is something that comes from yourself. Rhythm is natural to human beings and pervades our lives, though you may need help to bring that rhythm into music. As Andrew Lewis says in his book:

Rhythm is everywhere. Be sensitive to it, and stay aware of spontaneous occurrences that can spur rhythmic development. Listen all the time and use your imagination. Become a rhythm antenna.[22]

An exact sense of the passage of time doesn't come to humans so naturally (sometimes time may seem to pass quickly and sometimes more slowly) and that's where the metronome can help most. That's how the teachers of metronome technique referenced here think of the tool - as a way to increase your sensitivity to musical time, and develop greater precision of timing and a clearer sense of the passage of musical time - relative to which musicians can then use expressive, natural and fluid rhythms, with as much rubato and tempo variance as they wish for.

Alternatives to Metronome Use

If you decide you don't want to use the metronome, you need a way to work on timing and tempo glitches, and rushing and dragging without it's help. These ideas may also be useful as a complimentary approach along with metronome technique.

One starting point is to notice that you rely on a sense of rhythm to perform ordinary activities such as walking, running, hammering nails or chopping vegetables. Even speech and thought has a rhythm of sorts. So one way to work on rhythms is to work on bringing these into your music, becoming a "rhythm antenna" in Andrew Lewis's words[23]. Until the nineteenth century in Europe, people used to sing as they worked, in time to the rhythms of their work. Musical rhythms were part of daily life, Cecil Sharp collected some of these songs before they were forgotten. For more about this see Work song and Sea shanties. In many parts of the world music is an important part of daily life even today. There are many accounts of people (especially tribal people) who sing frequently and spontaneously in their daily life, as they work, and as they engage in other activities.

"Benny Wenda, a Lani man from the highlands, is a Papuan leader now in exile in the UK, and a singer. There are songs for everything, he says: songs for climbing a mountain, songs for the fireside, songs for gardening. "Since people are interconnected with the land, women will sing to the seed of the sweet potato as they plant it, so the earth will be happy." Meanwhile, men will sing to the soil until it softens enough to dig." [24]

(THIS NEXT PARA IS A SYNTHESIS OF IDEAS - Andrew Lewis doesn't mention the idea of replacing the metronome with the rhythms of your activities, though it is a natural idea to try out. I've left this para. out of the wikipedia article for now)

Singing as you work is one way to bring the natural fluid rhythms of daily life into music. You can also use some of the many exercises that have been developed for metronome technique; just replace the metronome with rhythms you generate yourself in your everyday activities. You can clap or click or articulate tonguing patterns in time with your activity, just as you do with the metronome. You can deliberately play ahead, behind, or in time with the rhythm of your activity. Similarly you can do any of the other metronome exercises - play polyrhythmically with your rhythm, shift your clicks gradually away from the rhythm of your activity, and back to it again, drift from one beat to the next, and so on. In this way you can do many of the exercises described in books on metronome technique, but with the rhythms of walking, running etc. taking the place of the metronome. (END OF SYNTHESIS)

You can also work on strengthening your pulse using inner sources, such as your breath, subdividing your breath. Or imagining a pulse. You can also work with your heart beat, and rhythms in your chest muscles in the same way. [23]

Another thing you can do is to play your music in your mind's ear along with the rhythms of your walking or other daily life rhythms. Other techniques include hearing music in your mind's ear first before you play it. You can deal with timing and tempo glitches by learning to hear a perfect performance in your mind's ear first.

In some styles of music such as early music Inegales it can be appropriate to use a different approach that doesn't work so much with a sense of inner pulse and instead works on ideas of gestures and is more closely related to rhythms of speech and poetry. Ideas from this approach can be useful for all styles of music.

The basic ideas are -

  • Notes should be subtly unequal - having no three notes the same helps to keep the music alive and interesting and helps prevent any feeling of sameness and boredom in the music - the idea of "Entasis"
This technique is especially challenging in its application, because musicians today are so rigidly trained in metrical regularity. Yet, like the beating of the heart, the musical pulse needs to fluctuate in speed as the emotional content of the music fluctuates. Like the natural shifting accents in speech, musical accents need to shift according to the meaning being expressed. To feel perfect, music must be metrically imperfect.
  • Notes and musical phrases can be organized in gestures - particular patterns of rhythm that come naturally - rather than strict measures.
  • Individual notes can be delayed slightly - when you expect a particular note e.g. at the end of a musical phrase - just waiting a moment or two before playing the note:
The cognitive partner of hesitation is anticipation: anticipation is created by building up assumption on assumption about what will happen. When the event which should occur fails to happen at the expected time, there exists a moment of disappointment. Disappointment, however, is soon transformed into a rush of pleasure when the anticipated event is consummated. The art is always in the timing.
  • Notes played together can be allowed to go somewhat out of time with each other in a care-free fashion "Sans souci".
When the alignment of notes in the score suggests that they be performed strictly and simultaneously, they may be purposely jumbled or played in an irregular or a staggering manner to create a careless (sans souci) effect. This technique gives music a feeling of relaxed effortlessness

This just touches on some of the ideas, for more details, see "The Craft of Musical Communication" [25]

  1. Maelzel's patent of the Metronome The Repertory of patent inventions: and other discoveries and improvements in arts, manufactures, and agriculture ... published by T. and G. Underwood, 1818 (alternative)
  2. Paul Lamere Revisiting the click track from Music Machinery, a blog about music technology - great post with graphs of variation in timing and tempo for various songs, with and without click tracks.
  3. Andrew Robertson DECODING TEMPO AND TIMING VARIATIONS IN MUSIC RECORDINGS FROM BEAT ANNOTATIONS 13th International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference (ISMIR 2012)
  4. Vijay Iyar Microtiming Studies(from thesis at Berkeley university).
  5. The Metronomic Performance Practice: A History of Rhythm, Metronomes, and the Mechanization of Musicality; PhD Thesis by Alexander Bonus (May, 2010)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Frederick Franz, revised by Jon Truelson Metronome Techniques
  7. CHAPTER III PotPourri - many quotes in favour of metronome use
  8. Metronome techniques: : being a very brief account of the history and use of the metronome with many practical applications for the musician ISBN 999834834X
  9. PRELUDE: The Musician and the Metronome from: Frederick Franz, revised by Jon Truelson "Metronome Techniques" Chapter 1 - and for the original 1947 book, with part of this quote highlighted, see quote highlighted in google books ISBN 999834834X
  10. Andrew Lewis's Rhythm, What it is and how to improve your sense of it especially his book 2 How to improve your sense of rhythm ISBN 0975466704
  11. Mac Santiago "Beyond the metronome" ISBN 1450731945
  12. Mac Santiago "Beyond the metronome" - see Lesson 4: Rhythmony
  13. Tom Hess music corporation How To Practice Guitar Effectively With And Without A Metronome
  14. StudyBass interactive online lessons: Keeping The Beat
  15. Max Krimmel (guitar builder) Online Metronome Course
  16. Mac Santiago "Beyond the metronome" - see Chapter 3: The Diminishing Click particularly
  17. Mac Santiago "Beyond the metronome" - see Lesson 7: Being Inchronouse around the Click
  18. M.L. Carr, Violin World, March, 1896
  19. Andrew Lewis Book 4: Rhythm in Performance - see the section on Fluidity and Flexibility and the various Flexibility exercises particularly
  20. Andrew Lewis Book 2: How to Improve your Sense of Rhythm - see the section on IMPROVING PULSE AND RHYTHM THROUGH MOTION AND ACTION particularly ISBN 0975466704
  21. Mac Santiago "Beyond the Metronome" 2010, Chapter 8, page 39
  22. Andrew Lewis Rhythm - What it is and How to Improve Your Sense of It, book II How to Improve Your Sense of Rhythm - A practical step-by-step guide to developing and strengthening rhythm and inner pulse, page 55 "Improving Pulse and Rhythm Using Nature and Aspects of Daily Life"
  23. 23.0 23.1 Andrew Lewis Rhythm - What it is and How to Improve Your Sense of It, book II How to Improve Your Sense of Rhythm - A practical step-by-step guide to developing and strengthening rhythm and inner pulse, page 55 "Improving Pulse and Rhythm Using Nature and Aspects of Daily Life"
  24. Songs and freedom in West Papua
  25. Marianne Ploger and Keith Hill The Craft of Musical Communication Orphei Organi Antiqui 2005
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