Monday, June 25, 2018

How to shift/displace the metronome

YouTube and other drumming blogs are awash with posts recommending that we try to displace the metronome - i.e. make the click feel as though it is on a part of the beat other than the downbeat - as a way of strengthening our awareness of musical time.  I’m totally for this idea, but the one thing usually left out of these posts is exactly how one goes about doing that.

To feel the metronome on the downbeat is quite natural.  Most people, musician or otherwise, can feel a beat and tap their foot along with it.  Even feeling the metronome on the upbeats isn’t too terribly difficult for most.  I’ve been able to have pretty young students feel the metronome as “&” simply by having them click their sticks or clap their hands on what they initially feel as the upbeat and then start counting “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR” out loud on those beats.  But from there things get significantly more difficult.  Even when I was already a somewhat decent player, probably in music college sometime, I tried this idea by attempting to feel the metronome as “e”, and found it difficult at first.  I had to teach myself how to feel the metronome there.

If you’re simply struggling to get started but can then keep your ear tuned in on the metronome as “e”, the easiest approach is to simply listen to a few clicks of the metronome to find the tempo, turn the metronome off, start counting “one, e, &, a….” at that tempo and then hit start on the “e”.  Chances are your ears will grab it right away.

But if this concept is completely new to you it may be significantly more difficult to get going.  If you find yourself in this boat, give this a try:

1. Turn your metronome on at a reasonably slow tempo, maybe in the 60 bpm range, and simply feel it wherever you naturally feel it, which will probably be the downbeat.  In these examples the arrow will represent the metronome clicks.

2.  Start playing steady 16th notes with no articulation.  Start with your weaker hand which is more likely to play on the “e” under normal circumstances.

3.  Next, start counting out loud starting on “e”:  “e, &, a, 1, e, &, a, 1”.  Even if your mind's ear is still feeling it is “1, e, &, a” that’s OK.  Just keep pressing on with “e, &, a, 1”

4.  Now, play accents with the metronome click while still counting “e, &, a 1” out loud.  Again, this should be your weak hand.

5.  Then, accent the note where you are saying “One”.

6.  This is where the mental switch happens for many people.  So, hopefully by this point you are now feeling it like this:

...which is identical to the previous example, but hopefully your mind’s ear has flipped it over so that the metronome now feels like “e” instead of you just saying it.

7.  If this concept is new to you it might be difficult to continue playing accents on “1” with the metronome on “e”.  If this is the case play it for one bar and then switch to accents on “e” for a bar which is a little bit easier to stick with.

This, of course, is only the beginning; a way to get started.  Some other suggestions to try with the metronome on "e", or any other less common placement of the metronome:

*play the accents on each of the various 16th notes with the metronome still on "e".
*different 16th note stickings (i.e. the first page of Stick Control), and various accent patterns (i.e. Accents and Rebounds)
*different rhythms utilizing quarter, 8th, 16th, 32nd notes
*reading snare solos
*playing drum set grooves

If you'd like all of the examples above on a single sheet, please e-mail me for a PDF.

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