- Pacemaker


Didn't know you used a "Pacemaker"!:


Many years ago, I met up with some guys who had posted an ad on the Internet looking for a drummer. They wanted to play with sequences and they were enthusiastic about finding a drummer who knew to play along to the metronome. The thing was that most of them didn’t really know why a metronome should be used and actually they thought it was only used by drummers. They asked me questions about some specifications for they wanted to make sure that, if I became a member of their band – which in fact didn’t happen because there was no band at all, but that’s a topic not to be discussed here – I would be able to accurately play along to the click. In those days I studied almost everything using a metronome, I was compulsively mad about the click. I always carried a metronome with me in my little bag. When I met those guys, I took it out right there for them to see and while the others where looking in amazement, one said, ‘A pacemaker!’ Another guy immediately corrected him, ‘No, it’s called a metronome.’

I am just telling you this because it’s a funny anecdote and makes me quite nostalgic about those days, before getting into what really made me write these lines: the use of the metronome when learning to play the drums.

So let’s start by dispelling some myths:
1) Accurate tempo is not to be practised: you have it or not. You’re born with it.
2) When you study, you have to use a metronome all the time. It’s the only way to get an accurate tempo.
3) Studying with a metronome is pointless because then you will be at a loss if you don’t have it handy. What’s more, you develop a robotic groove.

And the list of myths or trivial comments goes on.

I have no intention of stating the truth of the matter – if there was one, I would have already purchased it! –. Instead I’d like to write about my own experience, my students’ and my peers’, with whom I usually exchange personal experiences and relevant information.

The truth is that the metronome will give us precise and certain information about where each beat is. We, as human beings, are interested in what happens inside each beat, this being more important than merely meeting a perfect quantification permanently, which would make us sound like a machine. If this were our goal, great! But what we usually look for when grooving with a drummer is a good rhythmic sensation, a code in common, a real rhythmic flow. If we searched for a machine-like drummer, then the best thing would be to program a piece of equipment and that’s it.

When we think about rhythmic sections which we find fabulous, no matter the style, surely we would come across several ones which are far from keeping a perfect and computerized quantification in terms of a metronome. So once again what is important is what happens inside each beat and what we do with each subdivision. In the case of a groove based on semiquavers, the position of those four notes per beat is the rhythm essence itself.

Therefore, the metronome is a great tool to record in our auditive memory the position of each space inside a beat so we ca have those spaces –which we can call quavers, triplets, semiquavers, quintuplets, etc. – and lay them in a certain way.

It is important to have the habit of practising with and without the metronome. From personal experience, playing the same exercise or the same rhythm brings good results, working without the click for a while to add it later, and then leave it aside again. By so doing, we don’t become dependent on it and, apart from that, we don’t record in our auditive memory something which in fact was badly quantified simply because the metronome successfully helped us to place it better in our rhythmic space.

Thus we can say that by carrying out a detailed study of the position of each rhythmic figure and each subdivision we will be able to recognise those spaces, since we hear them, and then we will be able to embark on the creation process.

Apart from the typical click in quarter notes, I suggest practising alternatively with the metronome in whole notes, half notes, eight notes and sixteens notes. To develop rhythmic stability and improve hearing skills towards what we are playing, it is useful to set the click in sixteens two, three and four

Although the typical language in most styles is based on the most commonly studied subdivisions (i.e., quaver, triplets, semiquavers, sixtuplets, demisemiquaver), I recommend addressing as soon as possible the subdivisions of quintuplets, seventuplets, ninetuplets, eleventuples, for the purpose of becoming familiar with as many beat subdivisions as possible, no matter whether we will use them later on within our language when playing. For example, to play a quarter-note based groove knowing only quarter notes and eight notes is one thing, but it’s quite another thing to play such groove taking into account that there is a great variety of possible subdivisions, although you are not actually playing them.