Metronome Sessions

Metronome Sessions

I’m finding that speeding up tunes is more common than not. I am one of the culprits, surely, though I try to keep tempos even. Finally broke out the metronome and started using it regularly. Then I thought, slow sessions usually aren’t slow and folks can’t keep steady beats at that level or most other levels, so why not have a metronome session since it seems that’s what I and many many other folks need to work on and would benefit from the most playing music derived from dance tunes.

Just wanted to get that off my chest. Any suggestions on how to keep tempos steady and how to keep other folks from speeding up your set?

Cheers,
Jason

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By all means, each player should have his or her own metronome, preferably clipped onto an ear lobe, or use the mini type that fits directly in your ear. If that fails, there’s a metronome with a little electrode that sticks to your skin. I’t basically inaudible, but you’ll readily feel its vibrating pulse at whatever tempo you set it. An accordion player I know who regularly plays for step dancers at precise paces for feissiana tapes the electrode to a very sensitive spot (left to your imaginations) so as to be sure about not missing a beat. I can well picture a pub corner full of session players with just such an arrangement.

If the metronomes fail, it may help to have six or seventeen bodhran players keeping the beat for you…..

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@DD

Brilliant stuff, MH and DC. Interesting how MH double taps with the right foot and single taps with the left. Great suggestion, so simple, yet I don’t think it’s full-proof, idiot-proof, tune-accelerator proof.

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WH,

LOL. The drum clip has to be one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen, though it looks like a phenomenal workout.

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ISoC, glad you liked it. 🙂

In full flight, Mr. Hayes gets a whole leg pumping away, capable of lighting the entire town of Feakle for a week just on one set of 3 or 4 reels.

Here’s a more serious suggestion:

Take your pulse. Find it on your wrist on a carotid on your neck and just feel it for a good solid minute. Probably a decent tempo for a leisurely slip jig.

Now go out for a brisk 15 minute walk.

Immediately feel your pulse again. Ought to be about right for a brace of reels.

Boom Boom Boom Boom Boom Boom Boom Boom

There’s your rhythm. It’s already inside you. Next time you sit down to play some tunes, don’t go looking elsewhere for your beat. Just pay attention to the one you already have.

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Yes, Master WH Yoda, inside I shall seek.

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Seems to me that increase in tempo in sessions is a function of numbers, not so much who starts the tune. Some people just seem to get faster and faster but they don’t seem to notice it. Get a couple of people like that together and they’d likely get a ticket if there was a speed camera around. 😉

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…maybe it’s saying something about less focus on innate sense of rhythm than on whatever else to do with the tunes e.g. go fast.

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…what I mean is: MH is being very symbolic in what he is doing in that clip…the speed is increasing obviously, but the rhythm doesn’t miss. He’s emphasising this by foot tapping - he doesn’t have to do that does he, but he’s doing it. Why?

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That will make for an interesting session. Everyone playing along with their pulses.

And just when we get everyone’s pulse in time together, an attractive young lady will walk by and all the men will suddenly be in reel tempo. ;)

Here’s how Cape Bretoners do it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_yytnddx88


You can’t see their feet (but you can hear them), when they go into the reels they’re toe/heeling it (heel on the downbeat).

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elbow,

uh, a bit extreme, don’t you think? Sounds like their riding in the back of horse drawn carriage--clip, clop, clip, clop, metal horseshoes on hard concrete. Jeez. Point well taken though.

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Isn’t it interesting how in different places (cultures?) where the tunes are played, while the tunes might be the same, the ‘functionality’ between speed and rhythm, or the lack of it, is different, and which gives an entirely different feel to the tune.
I think that’s remarkable, Dr Holmes.

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elbowmusic, I’m not saying follow your heart’s pulse literally. But *do* feel the beat you already have inside you. And let it anchor your playing.

Too many people think rhythm comes from a drum or from some learned, practiced, contrived thing. The harder you look for it outside, the easier it is to miss the pulse you already have.

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Will, do you think everyone who plays the music (or not) actually have that innate “beat you already have inside you”?

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Duij, in 30 years of teaching music, I’ve come across only one person who seemed genuinely unable to tap a toe (or pluck a string) to a steady beat.

Of course, I’ve seen a fair number of people who apparently have no clue what a steady pulse feels like at first. And then, once they *do* feel it, how to let it into their playing.

But most people latch onto it it pretty easily once they’re shown how to feel it.

I also like to help them feel the beat not just in their playing hands but right in their gut. You can do this easily by looking at a clock with a second hand. Puff out through your nose ever time the second hand moves. And take a quick inhale in between. To do this, your diaphragm has to clench a little on each puff, creating a pulse in your gut. A sense of pulse in 4/4 happens when you puff out for times in a row, on every second, and then inhale:

puff - puff - puff - puff (inhale) puff - puff - puff - puff (inhale)

You can blow a touch harder on the first puff to feel the downbeat.

Don’t do this for more than a minute or you’ll likely wake up on the floor with a headache…..

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Well, if you couldn’t feel the rhythm after all that…
I always think of this music as tunes around rhythm, not the other way round. I think the two are just as important as each other in this particular genre. Tunes without rhythm seem particularly sparse to me, speed is no substitute. I think Martin Hayes nails the message.

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ISoC might have thought this thread was a bit tongue in cheek, but I think it addresses some huge issues in this music actually, wherever it is played.

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The tunes have their own metronome, too fast they sound like crap, too slow likewise.

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Duijera Dubh, thanks for the Hayes/Cahill link. Had my foot tapping for nine minutes and suddenly realized that virtually no one in the audience did that. This reminds me of the quote ‘if his music doesn’t make your foot tap you need to see a doctor’ or something likewise.

Quiz: about which musician was that?

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Some slow sessions have been known to do that, but not for the whole night, just for a tune, to help people find their feet and steady them, take it all to heart. But, throughout the session would, I think, be overkill. You really just need to have a focus, a player, the person directing things, who keeps a good steady beat, something for the rest to find comfort and direction from. As we are about using our ears, that can be hard, listening to what is happening around you and trying not to let it distract you if it is off tempo.

Another ill is the tendancy to rush small parts of a tune, or a full part, like rushing into the change to the B-part, or rushing a simple group of descening or ascending notes, or even rushing triplets and starting the next note too soon. It helps to find a steady heart to the music and then relax into that groove together, instead of leap frogging one another and getting faster and faster till its more a rush of noise than a melody with all the possible subtleties and lift of that. Such poor playing also exhausts dancers as there’s nothing to trust in the tempo, nothing to hold on to and be guided by.

You need a good steady player to lead you, the best bet, or to use the metronome only sparingly, just to show where things go wrong. It is amazing how many folks will blame the metronome for being erratic.

The better metronome will actually distinguish time signature beats, such as 6/8, 4/4, 3/4, etc… This has the added benefit of helping to also clearly define bars and phrases… Like with anything, there can be the danger of over doing it and sounding like someone reading the dots, which is pretty dull and plodding. A slow session doesn’t have to be plodding, handled properly, and yet some rushed sessions sound plodding despite and because of their being rushed…

Innate beat ~ the heart in yourself and in the music too… (after recoveing with a headache from having passed out on the floor.) 😏

“If the metronomes fail, it may help to have six or seventeen bodhran players keeping the beat for you” Will H

Funny that too. When teaching instrumental courses I also make them take up basic bodhran, and for anyone wanting the bodhran they need to take up a basic melody instrument, with me anyway, though I have drop-outs because of my expectations. If a group effort we do take turns, usually, with one half playing the melody while the other beats the basic rhythm, and better than a metronome I teach then the basics of rhythm, including the words, phrases and sentences ~ that fit the basic structures of this music. I find that the percussion side of it helps them get better centered on the rhythmic heart of this music, and the melody side gives the percussionist motivated a respect for the language and communication of melody, the phrasing and the need for a steady hand.

No, we don’t do it with a phalanx of bodhrans. Instead we REUSE old plastic bottles, holding the neck, cap off, and even using our hands and fingers to change tone on the plastic bottle, like closing and opening the open end. It can be done freehand or with a simple length of doweling.

In other words, the class is the metronome. And, like said above, it isn’t something you want to do for the whole evening, but it is a kick and good craic, if you take it in that spirit. And, it works… This is for a ‘slow’ session or workshop…

I also like the idea of checking ones pulse, as WH suggests…

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When I first started on the pipes, my instructor told me not to tap my foot, as it was just another thing I would have to control. Instead he taught me to keep the beat with my fingers and my brain. In fact during pibroch competitions then, you weren’t allowed to tap your foot, although I believe the rules have changed. Small children have to learn to tap their feet, so it would seem not to be innate. It certainly isn’t for me: I have a metronome that keeps slowing down and speeding up when I try using it. Same with recordings when I try to play along. Mayber my instructor was wrong?

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Henk, You’re welcome.
I just wonder why it is the audience go bonkers after Martin Hayes plays like that (it isn’t just in that clip of course); I think it is the whole package he is giving - excellent playing, descriptive tunes, *and* that inexorable rhythm with increasing pace. The audience gets totally caught up, but if it wasn’t for the excellent rhythm, I wonder whether the applause would be a little more subdued.
I think I notice that the most famous of players in this genre all seem to have really good rhythm built into the music, they know the importance of it, and they seek out and choose to perform with like musicians, Sharon Shannon, Brendan Begley, Kevin Burke, Steve Cooney, Liam O’Flynn, Josie Marsh, the list goes on and on.
Rhythm in this music needs as much study as the tunes themselves.
I mean, in the MH clip up there, would you actually *want* a bodhran in there to boost rhythm, or would it just be getting in the way perhaps, of what you is already there.
A brisk walk with Martin Hayes would do anyone’s music the world of good, I would have thought.

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gam - Martin Hayes wouldn’t *need* to tap his foot to keep to his music would he? He does it all the time though doesn’t he, so it makes you wonder what he is trying to tell us.

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I would have done a lot of box practice in an upstairs London Flat in the fifties. The miserable old git downstairs (who didn’t like the Irish anyway nor our ‘bleedin’ Paddy music) taught me how to nurture the natural pulse in my head. He just kept banging on his ceiling with a broom stick until I got the idea. Just as well I never used my drum kit at the time.

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HaHa Henry. I can hear one like mine in there somewhere. It’s the one with the cough.

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Gam, Not every Irish musician would agree (obviously), but I’m also an uilleann piper, and I’ve seen that many uilleann pipers don’t tap their feet. And I’ve seen that many uilleannn pipers have horrible rhythm. I think it’s a mistake not to tap your foot. My teacher recommends tapping the heel, not the toe. It’s much easier to unconsciously speed up toe tapping than to speed up heel tapping.

And about the Cape Breton fiddlers. It’s certainly different than the Irish norm, but these are musicians who, at least during the summer, are playing one or two dances (or more) every week. (that’s constant tunes for hours). For them the rhythm is everything. Since this discussion was about rhythm I thought a ytube clip of a culture who knows rhythm was appropriate.

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I fairly recently taught myself to do that double foot tapping thing and I found it did amazing things for my timing and rhythm.

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Every time I go to a symphony orchestra concert I think to myself thank God the bastards aren’t all tapping their feet.

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SilverS, same here. I found that tapping my foot in a way that always distinguished the on and off beat, and always in the same way (always heel for the on beat), really helped my reels. Previously, I had always felt more comfortable playing jigs before I started the “double foot tapping”.

Just for sake of clarity (not trying to be a smart ass here). “Bretons” are people from Brittany. Though they’re also a “celtic” people, with great “celtic” music. Who also have fun dances to go to.

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Get a room full of dancers to accompany you, that will keep your pace steady. Find a room full of set dancers if you want to play fast, and a room full of families wishing to ceilidhe dance if you want to play at a more leisurely pace…..

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Al, my experience has been just the opposite. Dancers are often all over the beat, especially at ceilis. Gets to the point sometimes where we all look elsewhere or close our eyes to avoid the pull off the beat from their erratic feet…..

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Yes, dancers can be the worst distraction ~ ‘all over the place’, and the problem of the time delay between the musicians and what’s happening in answer out on a dance floor. The worst are the yahoos that feel they want to be right next to the stage and also feel the need to make the most noise with their feet. It can be more than just a distraction, it can be an irritation…

But, that can work both ways. The musicians can also be ‘all over the place’ and nowhere collectively…

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Duijera Dubh, it’s MR. Holmes, but Sher (his friends all call him Sher) did play the violin. The jury is still out on whether or not he was a foot-tapper. It is unlikely, however, that he had any interest in Irish music.

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Inexplicably, Dr Watson.
I reckon he’d have been playing reels and jigs out of the public eye, what with Conan Doyle’s Irish connections and all. The violin gives it away - look at the evidence, oldstrings, look at the evidence.

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gam--i think foot tapping is a good teacher. i think that dancing is the natural movement… you dont have to teach children to move when they hear music. tapping is just trying to recreate that.

although i dont like moving around when you play, sometimes it can be helpful to feel your hips WANT to move and subdue them… feel the rhythm over your whole body. the great thing about the human mind is that we have so many great inhibitory functions… you can have your dancing neurons firing in one part of your brain, but the movements not translated to actual dancing due to inhibitions in others.

it is a mistake to just “not move around.” i think this is a subtle difference most people are not aware of… think of the difference between “not saying what you think” and “not thinking at all.” the first one is wise, the second one leads to trouble. to translate, i would say when you play dance music, “dont dance the steps you feel” as good advice and “dont feel anything at all” as the bad advice.

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Wow, great clip. pity I’ve only got one

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daiv--I agree that dancing is natural, and that keeping yourself still is not. My dichotomy arises from my teacher’s original assertion, that tapping your foot needs direction from your brain--or at least some part of the nervous system. Holding yourself still when you want to move also uses up resources that could be utilised in playing. I must agree that there is a transition that is palpable between just playing the notes and hitting that rhythm, it’s not called ‘in the groove’ on a whim, that really liftes the music. But I’ve seen people tapping their feet erratically, spasmodically, spastically, off-beat, you name it. Especially at the difficult bits. For myself, I know I tend to speed up at the tricky (for me) parts, and tapping my foot wouldn’t help. It’s a different matter, IMO, if the tapping is part of the music, as a percussive accompaniment. I suppose it’s all a matter of personal preference.

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Keeping pulse doesn’t need to be loud and evident, but I have yet to find someone who can’t keep a steady beat with some part of their body who can do so with a bow to a fiddle or any other music instrument… We easily delude ourselves, and sometimes the mechanical proof is needed, even if those severly deludge blame the metornome for being erratic. Will’s basic content is at the heart ~ the heart, to internalize it, to make rhythm second nature. It can be practiced and learned and made second nature. Sadly, some folks are not born with music and dance around them and as part of their roots, like dancin‘ with the baby. That early exposure, physical and in the ear and moving through the air around us ~ it is a priceless gift. For those where such joy is limited, reconnecting with a little guided learning is not a bad thing, it is a necessary thing… Find your heart, find the heart of this music, the joy of ’being in the groove’ with others, with the music, is one of the best highs…

Getting comfortable with the rhythm, finding that groove, that grounding, frees us up for other things, including being better able to listen to those around us, and to listen to ourselves in that groove, and to find little variations and places for ornamentation. It isn’t about ‘pushing’ or ‘racing’ or ‘leap frogging’ one another. It is the zen of music, being at one with it and comfortable, and letting it then speak to you, including through others… Ohm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm ~ or ~ Oh, mm, mm, mm, mm, mm, mm ~

An erratic heartbeat, or one that races, is not healthy, including with regards to the music…

If you can’t keep it steady, slow down till you can. Eventually you’ll find you’ll be able to find the same centre at higher tempos, but only if you practice where you can for starters, avoiding practicing bad habits and bad technics, which include erratic and rushed playing out of synch with the music…

Uh oh, it’s Sunday, I’d better put the pulpit back in the closet and get out of thise priestly gear, I hate collars and ties anyway… Besides, I think there’s a session on somewhere. May the beat be with you…

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gam--the problem is that it is not so simple. people who merely tap their foot out of time do not probably PRACTICE tapping their foot, or even know how to tap their foot. here’s the thing… the people who cant pay attention to their foot tapping while maintaining time can’t also maintain time. it takes the same cognitive load to pay attention to a simulated, internal beat, as to your foot tapping.

no matter what, you are going to have to devote some cognitive resources to keeping track of a beat, separate from the music. these two functions rely in different parts of the brain. i cannot remember where, but we spent a whole day talking about it in my brain and behavior class at university, and that rhythm/feel of music is in one side of the brain, and that musical analsyis/melodic understanding where in another.

the fact that they are in different hemispheres is a good indicator that they can work independently of eachother. there is not just one type of attention, there are multiple modalities of attention… early cognitive research shows there to be verbal, spatial, etc, though more current research shows it to be much more complex than that. regardless, these attention stores can function separately… this is why you can talk and drive, walk and chew gum, and play music and think at the same time.

then the idea of cognitive load… there is a concept called ego depletion (i hate the term, but the concept is good), which posits that attention is a limited resource. though there are many memory stores (i.e. types of memory), there is only so much controlled attention (the opposite of automatic attention) you can exert before your resources are depleted. long story short---doing math problems makes you more likely to eat cookies you know you shouldnt eat.

so that being said… yeah, tapping your foot at first is an unnatural process, but that is not the whole picture. just about everything is an unnatural process--thus everything IS natural, because we are designed with unbelievable neural plasticity, which means we can acquire new abilities and tasks which we were never “designed” to do.

i would rephrase the assertion that foot tapping is not natural with the idea that foot tapping is a controlled process, until it becomes so intuitive it becomes automatic. much of learning is taking controlled processes and automatizing them. here’s the problem… when you never practice tapping your foot right, you will never get good at it. sure, you will end up tapping your food automatically and effortlessly, but that’s not the point. the point is that you need to practice keeping your foot steady, and paying attention to it. most people dont get very methodical about practicing their foot tapping.

luckily, i had a teacher who was very methodical in teaching me to tap my foot, even having me reanalyze where the beat was in relation to the arc of toe movement.

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I think that when I tap my foot and it lands making a noise the beat is when it lands. But if I tap silently the beat is earlier, much nearer the middle of the movement. Does that make sense ?

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OK, tapping silently doesn’t make sense - but you know what I mean.

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well, that’s what i thought. james kelly taught me that when you tap your foot, the beat is in the middle--not when your foot hits the ground, and not when it is at the apex. he said to watch people’s feet, and that those who speed up will play with the beat at the top of the tap, and those who tend to slow down will play with the beat at when their foot hits the ground.

so, i think that when you are tapping silently you have the right idea. if i focus on getting the beat in the middle, as james kelly taught me, i stop rushing and dragging, and have a much steadier time. also, it is easier to add lift to tunes, because you start to realize that when you accent a downbeat (for example) in irish music, you must start BEFORE the beat, and continue PAST the beat. this shows you that the feeling of each beat is a window of opportunity, and that though the beat is always in the center, that the accentuation of it is a much broader concept than a single point in time.

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There’s tappers and there’s pounders. Not only does this band have at least four ponders in it, they all pound in double time. Would love to hear what they would sound like on one of those plywood type stages……?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVkeBYlWLtc

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That makes sense. But presumably dancers feet are landing on the beat.

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I used to be one of those terrible out of time and loud foot tappers but that doesn’t help anyone, least of all me. My timing on the tunes themselves was nothing to write home about, either. Like I said earlier in this thread, I consciously spent awhile retraining myself to do the double foot tapping in time and found it made a huge difference in my playing. Whether you then use it all the time or not, it’s not a bad skill to teach yourself if you are fighting a bit for the rhythm, especially in reels. Play them really slowly and use one foot for the on beat, the other for the off beat. If you have the habit of playing erratically or unevenly, rushing random bars of a tune or cutting some notes shorter than they want to be, that works wonders.

As I am one of those compulsive foot tappers anyway, I figured I might as well use it to my advantage.

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Trouble is I have this tendency to tap in time with my playing, not the other way round. But I do usually notice when my foot does something irregular.

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david--i am worse. i tap to my playing, and then loose the beat, and then follow my foot, and then start over. i have decided to forgo it all and work on getting the music better in my head, which thus dictates my foot, which i can thus pay attention to…. *head explodes*

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