If a metronome was portrayed as an animal in a National Geographic special, I think it would read something like this:
“The elusive metronome is a discrete predatory species and goes largely unnoticed and ignored on a day-to-day basis within the animal kingdom. It is unassuming and blends in to its surroundings. Yet, the metronome waits patiently for just the right moment to strike its prey. Most prey have no knowledge of their weakness until it is too late. The one thing the metronome has to exploit is the one thing that its prey typically ignore: time.”
For some reason, many folks in music fight the metronome and refuse to use it as a practice tool. I’ve heard claims such as, “it messes with my groove” or simply “it messes me up.” These types of statements are generally spoken from someone who has practiced very little (or never) with a metronome and as a result, has great difficulty maintaining solid time/establishing a tight pocket. Time is going to be felt differently depending on the style of music you are playing but one must work with a metronome to help internalize a baseline. This baseline helps any musician to maintain time when playing without a constant. To work in the music industry, ignoring the use of a metronome is simply out of the question regardless of what instrument you play. Here are 3 reasons to always practice with a metronome (or a drum machine):
- You can’t fake good time. Some folks have more natural leanings towards good time/groove/pocket than others but at the end of the day, you have to be able to solidly lock down to a tempo. If you can’t, it will be very apparent to any musician who has worked with a metronome for any large degree of time.
- Live tracks/clicks are a reality in today’s industry. The usage of pre-recorded tracks in a live setting automatically requires one to work with a click. The whole band may or may not have the click in their ears (if using an in-ear system) but the drummer will most likely have it. As a result, s/he will be making sure they are locking to that click. Walking into a situation like this without having worked with a click will often make for an extremely rough time (pun intended).
- If you haven’t worked with it by the time you need it, then it’s already too late. Walking into a recording session or a band rehearsal with tight players can be an extremely humbling (and detrimental) experience if you haven’t worked with a metronome before. Don’t misunderstand me; it’s never too late to start using a metronome but don’t wait until you need it. Always practice with one or at least a drum machine of sorts.
The result of having solid time/good feel/tight pocket is that other musicians will remember this fact about you. It’s something that often goes unspoken but becomes ingrained in the memories of musicians with whom you play. Hold down your part in the pocket and it can quite possibly be the difference of being hired or not.
Aaron Kusterer is a full-time musician and producer based out of Long Beach, CA. He has worked on commercial projects for clients such as the Hawaii Visitor’s and Convention Bureau and Par Pacific Holdings, Inc. Additionally, he has performed across the globe during a 10 year-stint with the United States Air Force Band, 6 years of which was spent as a music director and tour manager. Currently, he works as a music director for Twisted Gypsy (A Power Tribute to Fleetwood Mac) and as an independent contractor advising young rock bands at Coast Music in Hermosa Beach. For more information on him, check out: AaronKusterer.com.