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The Vanishing Metronome Click - Burying the Click

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See also How to keep exact time

Here is a video introducing this idea, and what follows is a text description of the same process (not a transcript).


Here is a playlist of all the videos in the sequence Enjoyment, Relaxation and Precision in Metronome Technique

I plan to do another video as I can see many ways to improve this video now. But this will do until then.

This is about a series of valuable exercises you can use with any metronome, to play more and more in time with the metronome clicks. First let's describe what the issue is.

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

Contents

The Vanishing Click

Get close enough to the metronome clicks, and you will find that the clicks merge with your taps, and vanish - when you most need to hear them! This is especially so for loud instruments like drums, but on any instrument the clicks get at least somewhat less distinct as you get more in time with them. With drums and percussion, the metronome may seem to stop ticking completely for a few beats, for as long as you are able to keep in the pocket.

So as soon as you get almost exactly in time, it is very natural to lose your orientation and drift out of time until you hear the ticks more clearly again. It is tricky to keep up such exact timing that the clicks vanish for more than a few clicks.

This is frustrating at first - and drummers often try to deal with this either by using a very loud metronome (sometimes risking damage to their ears) or using a beep sound. Beeps are easier to hear over percussion, but not such a precise reference, at least to start with. For this exercise, to start with, definitely use a percussive rather than a beeps type metronome.

The whole thing changes once you realise you can make this vanishing click the aim of your exercise. The click doesn't literally vanish of course. It is still there, and it just merges with your notes. So, you can learn to listen out for that merge sound, which has a distinctive sound of its own. This turns it around so that you are continually being pulled towards the click.

So, that's what we aim to achieve with the exercises. But don't expect to do it right away, it takes a while. Especially it may take a while to be relaxed when you play in the pocket with the metronome click like this - to be able to do that in a completely relaxed way.

Who needs this

The aim isn't to play like a metronome or click track

First - the aim isn't particularly to play like a metronome. Human rhythms are far more variable like that. After all - when did you last come into a room with a metronome clicking away and say "what a wonderful sense of rhythm that metronome has" :). Just doesn't happen, metronomes don't sound especially rhythmical in any wonderful way to us.

See for instance the tempo plots here: revisiting the click track

You can almost always tell if the music is played to a click track from the tempo plot. If you want to play to a click track, fine, if that's the sort of music you want to make. But the idea you sometimes get - that playing like a click track is the ideal form of music, that that's what everyone should aim for, that's just plain silly I think :).

One of the things you come across as a programmer involved in algo-comp is the need to try to make it so the computer sounds less like a metronome and more like a human player. You try to find some way to bring more nuanced rhythms and tempo into your music, as that's what is needed to help it to sound much more interesting and lively to the listener.

So - the aim isn't particularly to play like a click track.

Using this as a metronome exercise can help with timing glitches, steady tempo, and musical sensitivity to time

However, burying the click as a metronome exercise is something else altogether. It depends how you use it.

For many musicians it can be a helpful thing to do, and if you ever have timing and tempo glitches, or just a tempo that's rather unsteady (that's not the same thing as a naturally changing and fluid tempo) or issues of rushing and dragging, or anything like that - and if you find them hard to fix and are not sure what to do about them, it can help with that.

Can also help with sensitivity to nuances of timing and tempo in your playing as well.

Of course some musicians have such a natural and wonderful sense of time and rhythm that they never need to work with a metronome at all, or have other ways of working with timing and tempo issues that work just fine for them so they don't need the help of the metronome. So definitely not saying this is for everyone. But if you have the need for a metronome or want to try it out, then you might as well make the best possible use of it.

How do you use it?

The "intuitive approach" - just play your music with the metronome

Most players just play their music along with the metronome. You could call that the natural intuitive approach. It is the obvious thing to do - the metronome plays a steady tempo and you have timing and tempo glitches, so just play your music along with the metronome. However often the intuitive approach in music - e.g. of singing, or holding your instrument - is not necessarily the best way to do things. It's the same with the metronome.

With metronome technique you may do very little playing of music with a metronome

If you follow the methods taught by Mac Santiago and Andrew Lewis and explained in their books, you do very little actual playing of the your music with a metronome. You make faster progress this way, and it helps with your rhythm and tempo in a more direct and thorough way.

I spent the better part of this past month rereading a great book on tempo by Andrew C. Lewis, titled Rhythm: What It Is And How To Improve Your Sense Of It. The book contains dozens of exercises on how to build inner timing, most of which can be practiced without an instrument; all you need is a metronome. So every day during my commute to and from the office, I’ve been jamming out with my Korg Beatlab clipping quarter notes at 80 beats per minute while clapping, snapping, tapping, and singing myself into oblivion. You should see the looks I’ve been getting at stoplights." [1]

Instead you play with the metronome with separate exercises =

Most of the time you work with the metronome in separate exercises. You may set it to go silent for longer and longer time periods as well. The aim of the exercises is to strengthen your own inner pulse and sense of rhythm, and bring more precision to your timing and help with sensitivity to musical time.

See the Metronome Technique section of the wikipedia article on the metronome for more about this.

A musician who can play in the pocket with a click, even through silences, is like an artist who can draw a perfect circle

If you can bury the click, and if you develop the ability to play such a steady click that you still bury the click when the metronome comes back on again after, say, a dozen beats or more, then that's like an artist who can draw a perfect straight line or circle. It doesn't mean that the artist can only draw straight lines or circles. Instead it shows mastery of the brush and fine control which you can also use to draw wonderfully expressive curves on the canvas.

So, it can be the same with music.

You could use these exercises and never play your music with a metronome or click track at all. Or perhaps more commonly, you might occasionally play tricky sections of your music with a metronome, or play entire pieces too, but occasionally. You do it as a way of dealing with glitches, rather than as a guide to rhythmic expression of the piece.

You could also use these exercises to help you to play more accurately to a click track if that is your aim. However as we see, it is much more widely applicable to all styles of music.

Basically, how you use the vanishing click is up to your preferences and style of music. But if you practise with a metronome at all, these exercises, and the other exercises of metronome technique, are likely to be useful to you.

Exercises to learn to play exactly in the pocket with the metronome

There is a series of exercises you can do to make it easier to play exactly in the pocket with a metronome click. They help you do it, not only precisely but also in a completely relaxed way.

What you do is to first play ahead of the click. Then behind. Both of those are easy exercises if you start well away from the click.

The idea is to develop the feeling that you can play ahead of the metronome click, whenever you want to, in this totally relaxed way. Also you can play behind the beat similarly. When you can do that, then you have some idea where the click actually is so then see if you can hit the click.

First you need to deal with any tension or effort you have with the metronome

Most musicians though probably have at least a little bit of tension, or effort, or just extra thought and concentration when they play with the metronome. So even before that it may be good to start with an even easier and more relaxing exercise to get to feel how relaxing it can be.

All the way through the exercises need to be very relaxed, playing with a metronome should be a relaxation exercise. You may think you are relaxed already - if so - try playing with a metronome and then switch it off. Do you feel that you relax when the metronome is switched off? If so then you can be more relaxed with a metronome than you are right now. It can be the other way around - that you relax when the metronome starts clicking.

A good way to get used to how relaxing it can be is to start by simply alternating your taps with the metronome clicks. Let yourself play anywhere within the beat so long as you are between the clicks, just alternate in a relaxed way with the clicks.

So you play just as it comes, with a natural rhythm, and listen to how your position changes in the metronome's beat. If your taps sometimes drift so far that you hit the metronome click from time to time, to either side, you may need to set the metronome to a slower tempo.

That shows how relaxing it can be to play with a metronome, you never need more effort or concentration than this. If later you feel that you are beginning to tense up or be a bit less relaxed when you play with the metronome, you can return to this exercise as a reminder of how relaxing it can be.

Then play ahead and behind

Then you can try playing ahead and behind the click. You could do a few beats where you are ahead of the click, then a few beats where you are behind the click. Then try a few where you just come in for the first time ahead or behind the beat, choosing one or the other side at random. You want to feel that at any time you can come in, before the click, and at any time, you can come in after the click, just like that.

All this time you keep well away from the click for now.

As a result of doing this exercise, you get a feeling of where the click is. So, then in a relaxed way just play where you feel the click is. Just once only at first, tap where you think the click is in the beat, in a completely relaxed way. It doesn't matter if you get it right (though you may surprise yourself) - the main thing is just to try and to do it with the same relaxation you had all along.

Getting closer, using Echo idea

Now you can try playing closer to the click. When you get closer, then you may well find that it may take just a bit of thought or attention to decide which side of the click you are. That can get in the way of this relaxed approach.

Something that can help there is to think in terms of an echo. So - if your tap sounds like the echo of the click then you are behind the click, and if the other way around the metronome is the echo, you are ahead.

That's a relaxing way to get used to playing close to the click - but noticeably away from it to either side. Then the same process as before, try before, after, then hit the click.

In the pocket on alternate clicks

You can also try hitting alternate clicks in the pocket at this stage, that's easier than hitting every click because the in-between clicks help you keep your bearings.

Even closer - reverb distance

Now you can try even closer. When you get really close, it may help to think in terms of reverb. So if you are the reverb for the metronome you are behind the click, the other way around you are ahead. Try to play so it sounds like the reverb for a large space - then a small space.

Then try hitting in the pocket again. At this point you might well be at most a few milliseconds away from the click on every click.

Be sure to use percussive sounds so you can hear clearly if you are precisely in the pocket or not

At this point it is important that you play something very percussive, at least to start with. A very dry sound with immediate attack. Even a normal drum is too "soft". Try hitting the rim of the drum. Or stick hit; hit one drumstick with another. Or claves. Or hit a stone or something else with very little reverb.

Merge your taps with the clicks

The metronome should also be set to a similar sound, for instance stick hit or claves, and if you can set the amount of reverb, make it a very dry acoustic, or the sound of the reverb may confuse your time slightly, especially when playing at the reverb distance. That's because otherwise you may find you occasionally play in the pocket with the reverb of the metronome click instead of the click itself, as this may sound like a "merge" sometimes.

At this point you can listen out again for the "merge" sound. A good analogy is with instrument doubling in an orchestra. Just as e.g. the oboe and flute when played together in perfect unison create a new orchestral colour, the "flute oboe" you could say- so you can play to merge your taps with the metronome click to create a new instrument colour. Try to play so precisely in time that it sounds as if you and the click are one instrument.

You may now be so close that every tap merges with the click to within a millisecond or two

If you do all this then it should be possible to play every single tap in time with the metronome clicks so accurately that you are within at most a few milliseconds each time.

"Polyrhythmic" Drifting click

It's nice to have a balance between exercises that you play to try to hit the click, and ones to help keep you independent of the click.

So now here is a suggestion for another independence exercise you can try. The idea is to play polyrhythmically with the metronome (or you could call it rhythm phasing). This is much easier than it sounds, because all I mean is, let your tap gradually drift from one click to another, so that you are playing at a different tempo from the metronome.

So for instance, play a slightly slower tempo, just let yourself slow down and drift away from the click, and get further and further behind the click, until eventually you hit the click again from the other side, and keep going like that. So - if that took 8 beats for instance, then you are playing a slow 8:9 polyrhythm basically. Though the idea isn't to play a polyrhythm particularly, maybe sometimes it takes 8 beats, sometimes 9, sometimes 7, that's okay too, to be expected if you are playing a natural somewhat tempo varying type rhythm at this stage.

You may find this quite easy to do at this stage, to drift in this polyrhythmic, rhythm phasing type way, because you have got used to playing at many different positions relative to the click. If not, not to worry. It's meant as an easy and relaxing exercise, so if you find it hard to do that's rather missing the point of it, but if you try it from time to time probably you'll get it eventually :).

It's a nice exercise when you get it, because it gets you playing a different tempo, independently from the metronome, also used to playing many different positions relative to the click, and is relaxing as well.

Or, if it is too hard for you right now, you can't do it in a relaxed way, maybe this is an exercise to save for a later stage.

How the visual bounce helps

Since Bounce Metronome Pro beats the rhythm so precisely and works as a silent metronome, then the visual conductor or drumsticks help you see the beat easily even when you can no longer hear it very clearly. This helps you keep your orientation in the beat and continually helps you to play more and more in time with the ticks even when you can't hear them or find them less obvious.

This makes it easier for players of any instrument to play more exactly in time with the clicks. So it continually helps you improve your timing unlike the traditional purely sound based metronome which can sometimes actually encourage you to play at least a few milliseconds out of time just so you can hear the clicks.

Since its visuals show your position in the beat so precisely, it can also help players who want to learn to play consistently fractionally before the beat - i.e. to slightly anticipate each beat. You can also practice playing fractionally behind the beat as well.

All this will help you to play in time with other players, and improve your sensitivity to fine nuances of timing. That is - as part of a balanced and well planned practice routine - one may need to take care not to rely so much on the metronome that you can only play in time when you use one. See: Metronome advantages and disadvantages

You can also see your position in the bar very easily too, with visuals which help you to internalise the rhythm of the bar.

BTW for blind musicians, you can't use visual bounces like this. But Bounce Metronome has a "pitch bounces" feature which I hope will work in the same way even when you can't see the visual bounces.

Recap

You can bury the click pretty much indefinitely. The trick is to first play ahead and behind. Then hit the pocket. To be very relaxed at all stages in the exercise. Then to listen to what it sounds like when you are slightly away from the click - first at an echo distance away and then closer, at a reverb distance away. In the process of doing that then you also get a really clear feeling of where the click is.

Then you listen out for the merge sound, how you and the metronome sound like a single instrument. All the while keeping completely relaxed, as tension and effort don't help with this. To get an idea of how relaxed it can be then try playing alternate clicks with the metronome - not trying to "bisect" the beat, but just roughly alternate with it. Playing in the pocket with the metronome on every click can be as easy and relaxed as that exercise.

Metronome Technique

You can also do exercises like setting the metronome to go silent for a number of measures and then come back again - and see if you are still in the pocket then as well. That way it is not just an exercise in learning to follow a click track or metronome, it's also an exercise to give you more confidence and strengthen your inner sense of timing and tempo.

(Few metronomes are able to go silent in an automatic way like this, but you can do this with Bounce Metronome's Go Silent Briefly feature. You can also use the online Bounce videos on the page How Steady is Your Tempo? - Test With Go Silent Briefly. Then there's an online metronome with this feature as well, called Best Drum Trainer.)

These exercises are introducing you to metronome technique. It is a well developed subject now - the technique of using a metronome. There are many more exercises for you to try.

For an overview of Metronome technique see Metronome Technique (section which I wrote for the wikipedia article on the metronome).

Links

If this interests you, you will certainly want to get the books by Mac Santiago and Andrew Lewis. They are referenced in the wikipedia article, or see the Metronome Links section of this wiki.

A google search will find much more.

You can get Bounce Metronome Pro for Windows now with your money back guarantee

Do you have a Windows laptop or PC?

You can buy Bounce now with your no quibbles money back guarantee. Buy Bounce Now

Or if you prefer, Download your Free Test Drive of Bounce Metronome Pro Now (with free taster metronome yours to keep)!

It's easy to use - just choose a preset rhythm and click on the dial to set the tempo. It has special features to help with the exercise on this page, including the Go Silent Briefly feature. Also it can play polyrhythms such as 8:9, 14:15 or whatever, and you can set it to play extra notes at the echo or reverb distance from the click.

Online Videos and other metronomes

Or you can explore its Video Resources with many videos of various types of rhythm.

I also maintain a big list of other software and on-line metronomes, which you can find here:

A big list of some of the other metronomes available for Windows - and Online Metronomes

About the author of these pages

I'm Robert Walker, the inventor and programmer for Bounce Metronome Pro. These Many Ways to Use a Metronome pages arise out of the research I did for the program, and feedback from users of the software.

References

  1. What We’re Listening To 9/22 - Review of Andrew Lewis's " How to improve your sense of rhythm" by the managing editor Managing Editor Mike Dawson of Modern Drummer Magazine
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