the teachings of noiz...

lessons in noiz

The First Machine

Just what is the first machine?
It is the one thing that you will keep with you at all times. Heck, I even have one on my wrist!
This ever so important and primary machine is the metronome.

It will be the one device that will take you from beginner to master Industrialist Noiz Generator.

Metronomes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The best one to get though is a digital metronome. They are usually very small and easy to carry around in your stickbag. Now you are probably wondering why i would go through all of this trouble over a metronome and just why would I call it a machine?

Just like any other electronic musical device, it's sole purpose is to keep time for a musical reason. I guess the same chirp, beep, or click, isn't too musical sounding but nevertheless it serves a musical purpose. This first machine will lay foundations which will quickly become more complex as you work with more and more machines. Remember, machines do not fluxuate time the way humans do. (YES, i know this can be argued with the advent of percentile quatizisation, but forget about that for a moment. If you didn't know about that then forget you just read this statement.)

The metronome is an unforgiving timekeeper and it's division of time does not have the ratio of error we bipeds do. SO, now that i have described the idea of the metronome as the "first machine" let's see how to work with one.

Work with one? How can I work with something that does not work with me?

The applications of the metronome varys from situation to situation. If you are studying from Stone's "Stick Control" or Podemski's book of snare etudes, the use of the metronome can be rigid and precise. Everything mostly revolves around the fact that you must be consistently "on the beat." When playing other types of studies they may ask you to "groove" with the beat.
Let's start with the first part of this situation. You have an exercise or etude that you are working on. It's tough and you can't seem to speed it up. Maybe you are working with the metronome to begin the exercise but then you turn it off and try to speed up the repetitions until you run into a wall. As my professor always said, "If you keep running into walls use the door!"

Here is the door...
Always use the metronome in a stairstep fashion. For example, you are working on a rudiment that you can easily play at 100 beats per minute. A real piece of cake at 100 bpm but for some reason when you try to play it really fast you always crash and burn. Play the rudiment at 100 bpm till you are so comfortable that you could have a conversation with someone. Then kick the metronome up 10 bpm. Now you may still be able to play the exercise easily but you will have to get a little more comfortable with the slight change in tempo. You hands might want to slow the exercise down ever so slightly but the change in tempo is not drastic enough to mess you up. Once you are completely comfortable with 110 bpm kick it up another 5 bpm. After 115 go to 120 bpm, etc. Now when you can hold that same conversation at each one of these varients of time then try grouping them together. Begin at 100 bpm and speed up to 120 bpm as well as slowing back down to your beginning tempo. What you will see is that as you gain a comfortable foothold at each stairstep your ability to play the exercise at the faster speed will become consistent and stable.

Don't forget that playing any exercise at TEMPO = MURDER is just as difficult at say TEMPO = GLACIER MIGRATION. Always try to accomplish both extremes when working out these details.

Now onto the second part...
How do i "groove" with this device that doesn't drift with me?

The idea here is to always "know" where the next beat will fall. The metronome is dividing the time up for you and you know where the beginning of each phrase or bar is. What your job to do here is to make a "feel" or "groove" out of this mechanistic thing. Play your most comfortable exercise or beat. Play it right with the metronome and stay right on top of the click. Make it sound as inhuman and machine like as possible. Try changing your beat or exercise when doing this but make the transition mechanistic sounding as well. The next step is to "drag" the beat. don't play right on with the click anymore. Play right behind it. Play as if your beats are "folowing" the beats of the metronome. When you are comfortable with this reverse the situation. Play as if the metronome is following you!

Here are a few metronomes I use:

with the practice pad is...
Dr. Beat
The Boss DB-90
A bit expensive but WELL worth it.
Has volume control for the different subdivisions of the beat and many other features that are useful in the studio.

I wish it had had more MIDI features on it. But that's just me.

on my wrist is a... watch metronome
Just in case you are in an EXTREME situation like armageddon, battling the undead, fighting lycanthropes or trying to fill Steve Smith's can still get the tempo you need.

in the stick bag is metronome
Boss DB-12 Dr. Beat
A small and tough metronome. This one has travelled all over the planet with me.