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More Interesting Insights into the Debate About Metronome Use In the Study of Jazz

Since I first posted my article stating my belief that one should never practice jazz with a metronome since a metronome is not a pulse, an intense controversy has sprung up on the internet over it.  Many people have attacked my position while a few, such as Hal Galper have defended it and agreed with it fully.  One such exchange between me and a very bright jazz educator by the name of Dr. Dave Wilken has taken place on his blog site called Wilktone.com.  While I have an immense amount of respect for Dr. Wilken’s accomplishments from a classical music standpoint as well as for his intelligence and high degree of education, I feel that his understanding of jazz in the area of time conception and pulse are questionable.  At any rate I think that you, the reader, will find his blog site not only interesting and controversial but quite entertaining as well, particularly in regard to the debate between him and me about the use of the metronome as a tool for jazz students.  I have posted two links for you to see how the debates started and how it developed with the back and forth between us and a few others.  Out of respect for his blog, I am posting my rebuttal to the statements made in his last post here because of the length and my desire to not take up so much space on his site.  Please follow the links in order before reading my rebuttal.

http://www.wilktone.com/?p=4350

http://www.wilktone.com/?p=4620

 

Now here is my rebuttal to Dr. Wilken’s statements from the second link above.

Hi Dave:

While I appreciate your points of views and understand why you believe them,  I am wondering why you started a new post making it impossible for your readers to understand the context of my statements you are attacking.  It seems to unintentionally destroy the linearity of the debate and quite frankly I am being misquoted at times.  Using the term “fallacious logic” is a rather strong statement to make by someone who doesn’t understand where I’m coming from and has made no attempt to find out.  Since you mention the word “logic” often in your arguments I will address some of your statements from the same standpoint.   For example when I related that Dizzy once said that he could tell if a player could really play by observing the way that they pat their foot.  Here is your reaction to that statement.

“Furthermore, from a logical standpoint, just because an innovative musician told you that tapping the foot was better than using a metronome to practice doesn’t mean we can believe that it must be correct (see argument from authority). Ideas need to stand on their own merit, not be based on who said them.”

Nowhere in my post nor in Dizzy’s statement is it stated that “tapping the foot was better than using a metronome to practice with.”  It appears that you have the cause and effect backwards in what you are saying.  Diz, in regards to foot tapping, felt the same way as I do in that the foot should never be used to keep time in jazz.  Foot tapping should be an involuntary response to the music swinging.  In fact I have straightened out many student’s rhythm by having them not pat their foot so that energy was transferred back to their instrument.  Foot tapping is an effect not a cause.

“If a general consensus is found among experts it’s fair to assume that an idea is correct, but in this case the general consensus among musicians and music teachers is that a metronome can be useful at times.”

At one time the general consensus among “experts” was that the world was flat.

In my response to what I regard as a detrimental practice of practicing jazz to a metronome clicking on 2 and 4, I mentioned that the accented 2 and 4 in jazz originated with hand clapping in the black church.  I go on to state that it is impossible to get that feeling from practicing with a metronome.  Here is part of your response.

 

“The gospel music sung by African Americans in around the turn of the last century is quite a bit different from the syncopated music we hear today. The texture was largely heterophonic and the music didn’t have the characteristic 2 and 4 accent we associate with jazz.”

You then go on to show a film clip of early African Americans that has no hand clapping in it and performing a piece that doesn’t require it.  This is rather misleading in my opinion.

You then continue with:

“if anyone is interested I suggest that you compare the New Orleans early jazz styles of the 1920s to how it evolved when the music and people migrated up to Chicago. Then compare it to the swing bands from Kansas City and New York. You will be able to hear an evolution of how the groove shifted from a more or less even stress on all four beats to become the standard swing feeling we have today (and of course, you can continue to trace how this groove shifts throughout different style periods).”

Let me answer this by stating that the analogy with hand clapping in the church did not originate with me.  It was a theme related by Papa Joe Jones who is credited with inventing the sock cymbal and whom I personally had the great opportunity of performing with on many occasions when I first moved to New York.  Joe said he was trying to convey with the sock cymbal “the feeling of hand clapping in the African American church” that he felt was essential to creating the feel of swing.  This can be verified by his protégé, Ray Mosca, who is still alive and playing to this day.  In your mention of comparing the 2 and 4 feel to “the swing bands from Kansas City and New York” I should mention that Joe Jones was an individual directly involved in that process as well as one of the movers and shakers.  It is also quite evident that regardless of what era in jazz one wants to relate the differences in hand clapping it was always to a pulse and never to metronomic time.  One might check out the body rhythms of gospel singers in 2014 to understand my analogy.  Further, I will reiterate my distinction made at an earlier point between intellectual knowledge and experiential knowledge, which, if I recall, was deemed irrelevant in your earlier post.  There seems to be a tendency here to regard the philosophies of academics that seem to start with words and end with words, as more relevant than knowledge gleaned from the people responsible for creating the music in the first place or the experiential knowledge gleaned from people who actually play it professionally. Some of your arguments seem to make the assumption that a youngster trying to learn to play baseball should listen to people who have compiled facts and research about it rather than consult with Derek Jeter.

I might go further and say that jazz artists are not produced by research or “research based Ideas.”  They are produced by an experience, and I’m not talking about someone’s resume here.  I’m talking about something a musician experiences on his or her instrument that came from apprenticeship with a master or a very experienced professional. I will relate an experience I had in the sixties at the risk of it being dismissed as “anecdotal” regardless of the truth contained within it. When I was a private student of Oscar Peterson at a school he ran with Ray Brown in Toronto called The Advanced School of Contemporary Music, it was the custom there to hold what they called a “Forum” every Friday in which topics and philosophies about jazz were discussed.  In one of these Oscar and Ray posed the question “What environment produces a jazz musician?”  They followed this by adding, “I don’t want to hear anything about ethnic backgrounds.”  After feeble attempts on the part of students they stated, “The environment that produces jazz musicians is called the BANDSTAND!  Who you have been on the bandstand with is what is relative here!”  Now this can be deemed to be “anecdotal” if you wish but the question that arises for me is, what bandstand have the people who have compiled the “research based ideas” you refer to been on?  Now I’m sure that the next question will have to do with “What does this have to do with my theories that metronome use is good in certain situations?’  Right?  The answer is that if you had done another kind of research you might have discovered that those theories have been replaced by something “mo betta!” 🙂

Here is another of your statements:

 

Mike and a couple of others (including at least one student of Mike’s) have stopped by with comments to try to further debate the idea that metronome practice will always produce a soulless and stiff feeling pulse.

This is another non sequitur in that what I have said consistently is that a metronome is incapable of producing a PULSE in the first place.  That includes soulless, or stiff.  It’s as if one wishes to cling to the idea that a pulse and a metronome clicking are the same thing.  This is an absurd assumption and feeling your own pulse and comparing that to the way a metronome clicks can prove it.  Furthermore one cannot get a metronome to sync up with one’s own pulse, something that people in denial will try to dismiss by playing word games at times, but nevertheless remains the truth.

Another statement I take issue with is this:

“Using a metronome that will accent certain beats in a metric pattern or a basic click on 2 and 4 can be used for feedback on whether or not they are dropping beats, which can be common when students are reading very challenging lines.”

Did it ever occur to you to contemplate why a student might be “dropping beats” or as you mentioned earlier “slowing down and speeding up when certain passages occur in the music?”  Might it be possible that this is due to missing something in their understanding of jazz rhythm and timing having absolutely nothing to do with a metronome or what it can provide?  IMHO the clicking of a metronome on 2 and 4 is not related to the playing of jazz at all and is very detrimental to students pursuing this end.  For one thing it causes students to develop the habit of hearing and feeling the swing element in the wrong place and also causes them to disconnect from their own body rhythm which is essential in playing this kind of music.  Furthermore it has nothing to with pulse or concept from a jazz perspective.

Here is another illogical statement IMO.

 

“Or another approach you can think of is if you can groove with a metronome click, think of how hard you’ll swing when you turn it off and jam with live musicians.”

Although I won’t be so unkind as to deem this a “fallacious” argument I do find it almost comical in nature in that it assumes that one can “groove with a metronome click.”  In the words of Les McCann “compared to what?”  Its comical to me in the sense that it seems to be saying to a person who has been hitting themselves in the head with a hammer, “Think how good it will feel when you stop!”

“Let me first state that Mike’s portrayal of Mr. Schoenfeld’s social work as “curing” bipolar disorder is most likely a great exaggeration.”

This is again a misrepresentation of facts that anyone would see if they followed the exchange in its original form had you not started a new post.  Please let me be clear about the fact that this statement was not made by me but by Andrew Schoenfeld, a successful Psychotherapist.  What Andrew said, after I spoke with him about it, was that he had a patient who was cured from bipolar disorder through doing the Dizzy drum work from my DVD.  Now I provided you with contact information by email or phone to connect with Mr. Schoenfeld but this has not been used while opinionated statements continue to be made about it, just as Dizzy’s drum techniques have not been investigated.  It reminds me of the absurd practice of people who offer criticism and opinions about books and movies they have not read or seen.

“The National Institute of Medical Health statement on bipolar disorder says: Bipolar disorder cannot be cured, but it can be treated effectively over the long-term.” 

They haven’t talked to Schoenfeld either, nor any patient he has treated nor are they familiar with the drum technique. You might want to check out something called the Release Technique, which also reports incidents of Bipolar disorder being eliminated.

“However, I’m a big advocate of research-based music therapy and I think that it’s certainly plausible that musical activities can be used to help individuals with bipolar disorder treat the symptoms they live with.

All that aside now, what does music therapy have to do with practicing with a metronome?”

It doesn’t. It has to do with Dizzy’s drum technique and the effect it has had on not only young school children but also the patients of a psychotherapist.

“Research done correctly applies certain controls to a particular hypothesis (i.e., metronome practice will automatically produce a stiff feeling groove) and attempt to falsify your idea. You don’t do science by looking for evidence that supports what you believe, you attempt to shoot it down. If it withstands the scrutiny, then you’re perhaps on to something.”

I agree in the sense that something cannot be established as a truth until all the arguments against a hypothesis have been exhausted.  A true seeker of truth doesn’t start with a conclusion and then look for facts.  On the contrary, they look at the facts to arrive at a conclusion.  As far as “withstanding the scrutiny” one first has to scrutinize, which hasn’t been done. i.e., calling Shoenfeld or checking out Dizzy’s African drum theories.  I will reiterate once again that knowledge about playing jazz does not come from research.  If you want proof of that I suggest that one bring their horn to New York, “the jazz capital of the world,” and sit in at a jam session and see if “research based ideas” can protect one from getting bruised. 🙂

“I’m a fan of using poetic language to help convey musical concepts to my students too, but ultimately I try to recognize when I’m speaking metaphorically and when I’m being precise. If you want to teach that music is outside of the mind and from a magical place, that’s fine, but you can’t invoke this as evidence because it is patently not true.”

While I have expressed my respect for your expertise in the field of classical music as well as your intelligence and educational credentials, this statement IMO is indicative of a shallow and superfluous understanding of the music called jazz and a real ignorance in terms of realizing who Dizzy Gillespie was or even more egregious WHAT he was.  I can recall when the Be Bop evolution occurred that well-established jazz masters of that time were referring to it as “the miracle on 52nd street.”  I also recall Mary Lou Williams writing a tune called “The Land of OO Blah Dee.”  Both of these were making reference to “the magic place behind the mind” that the music of Dizzy Gillespie represented. Eckhart Tolle has written about something very similar to this albeit not in musical terms.  A new scientific study is being conducted as we speak to determine what is taking place in the brains of jazz musicians when they improvise, as science is starting to recognize that something very special and unique is taking place worthy of investigation.  I will say this, as someone who had a close 26-year relationship with the man, I never saw Dizzy depressed.  Never!  He was a creature of joy in all his waking moments.  He was a person who escaped neurosis and was in possession of something we all need to find out about, including you Dave.

In response to my saying: “To me, feelings, experiences and intuitions without reality can be very misleading and furthermore if exposed to one of Dizzy’s revelations can change in an instance.”  You responded with:

“Again, this misses my point about cognitive bias and research based methods. Mike is taking his personal experiences and making the leap to assume that his own background must be true for everyone. I can also list some personal experiences that contrast his. Which of us should one believe? Neither, without making an effort to remove our personal agendas from the equation.”

I have never been one to exalt myself above others nor do I wish to do so here.  In terms of a “personal agenda” how can one deem something they haven’t checked out and have no knowledge of an agenda?  As far as my “making the leap to assume that his own background must be true for everyone” I would have to ask are we talking about jazz here or not?  Surely, if we are we would have to include the question, “who of significance has one been hired by and played with?”  It would also be disingenuous to ignore the level of jazz one has played and with whom they have played it.  I am not just referring to myself here but to anyone who might be participating in this debate.  In response to a student of mine by the name of Angelo who related his personal experience in dealing with the things he learned from me you stated:

“Now in no way do I want anyone to think that I’m disparaging what Mike taught you. There is definitely a benefit to this approach and in fact I would also agree that it’s essential for developing a good time feel and groove.”

While I appreciate the compliment, albeit a left handed one,  I don’t understand how one can comment on an “approach” when they don’t have a clue about what that approach is.

Here is part of another statement:

“Going back to what I wrote far above in this post, using a metronome might not have developed good time, but could just have helped the student internalize certain issues…”

On the contrary… A metronome is external.  What is internal is your own pulse and heartbeat.

“Testimonials, like those above, may be very good for selling books and DVDs, but their anecdotal nature make them extremely unreliable as real evidence.”

This is only true when a marketer places testimonials in an ad to sell books and DVDs.  Nothing of this nature is occurring here.  What should be considered is the motivation of the person making the unsolicited testimonial.  Are these people trying to sell something or are they simply expressing gratitude for something that benefitted them greatly?  Upon careful scrutiny I think it will be found that the latter is true.

 

The reason I have taken the time to respond in length to this post is that it is evident that a lot of time was spent to “twist” the arguments in favor of your point of view. By eliminating the original post a deception has occurred without it as a point of reference.  Here is an example of “twisting.” In response to my student Angelo, in an effort to dispute his claim that his response was not a testimonial to sell anything,  you claimed he did not understand the word “Testimonial” by posting the following definition.

 

“Testimonial – a written or spoken statement in which you say that you used a product or service and liked it”

 

To understand why I refer to the “twisting of arguments” I wish to present the following definition found on a simple on-line dictionary which, obviously represents the way Angelo was using the term.  I do find it hard to believe that someone of intelligence and high educational background would not know this, which accounts for my reference to “twisting” arguments.

 

Testimonial – a formal statement testifying to someone’s character and qualifications.

• A public tribute to someone and to his or her achievements.

• [ Often as modifier ] (in sports) a game or event held in honor of a player, who typically receives part of the income generated: the Yankees held a testimonial day for Gehrig.

Next I will address another point by referring to something I myself posted.

I might also mention that the metronome wasn’t invented until Beethoven’s time so I feel sorry for all those sad musicians before him who must have had time problems including Bach, Mozart, Handel, and on and on.

Now here is your response:

“In any honest discussion I think it’s important to only address points actually made by those we’re debating. Creating a “straw man argument” against which you can easily refute doesn’t benefit anyone.”

Again, this seems to be another example of “twisting” arguments by posting a new post, eliminating the context of something said in the original post.  If you check the original post it will be found that this statement was made in response to a position that my advocating elimination of metronome use was “extreme.”  It was stated:

I agree with most of your points on the drawbacks to overly relying on a metronome, but in my opinion you take this belief to a too extreme end result.” 

“ most of your arguments against using a metronome really are red herrings and don’t address the pros and cons of metronome use at all.”

These were the statements I was responding to when I made the comment about the musicians who preceded Beethoven. There is no fallacy here.  It was merely an attempt to show that there was a period when great musicians flourished without the use of a metronome and did not suffer any adverse effects. This was not the result of “extremism” but simply a fact.  My using it was to show that the same condition being labeled as extreme and a “red herring” attributed to me, had already existed in a previous time. Referring to it as a “straw man argument” seems to be an attempt to escape the reality of not having a logical argument to refute the point being made. In all fairness here I should also mention that Dr. Wilken, in another statement, said he did not consider my ideas as too extreme.

“I actually advocate a combination of both metronome use for certain situations and then always moving on to internalizing the time feeling and concentrating on musical expression.”

The point I have been making all along is that metronome use does not lead to what you claim it does and in fact has an adverse effect in the study of jazz, particularly the practice of playing to a metronome clicking on 2 and 4.  This, in my estimation is a crime against young musicians being perpetrated by educators, albeit innocently,  who espouse it.

Here is another statement I will comment on:

“Beethoven was known for writing metronome markings in his music, so he was certainly not opposed to using one for the purpose of finding tempos.”

For once we are in agreement about something, however not in the way you might think.  This is exactly why the metronome was originally invented …to indicate a tempo at which a piece should start.  It was never intended to be a practice tool nor an instrument to have music played to it as it clicks.  IMHO the latter way was a wrong turn made by musicians at some point to their own detriment.  Certainly so in the field of jazz.

Another of your statements:

“Additionally, while the metronome was invented around from the early 1700s, by the time that Johann Maezel patented it in 1815 Beethoven was almost completely deaf and wouldn’t have been capable of hearing a metronome click.”

Since at the beginning of your post you made much use of the word logic and how you were setting things straight in your post, I can’t help but wonder how Beethoven was able to indicate a tempo marking for his compositions if it is true that he “was almost completely deaf and wouldn’t have been capable of hearing a metronome click.”

One could argue that he was able to do this visually by watching the pendulum effect rocking back and forth but if you try this while holding your ears I think that once you hear it you will find it to be an entirely different tempo than what your eyes told you it was.  Just sayin’.

Now let me point out an exchange that occurred between my student Angelo and you.  Angelo said:

“There is no linear way to get from a metronome click to a pulse feel, they are completely separate. Therefore X can never lead to Y, no logical error, just creative editing.”

And your response:

“But neither you or Mike provide any evidence for this other than your anecdotal experiences.”

This is a term being used repeatedly to dismiss arguments that can’t be refuted so easily.  Let me point out that your own students, if relating something you taught them, could be described as relating something anecdotal as well.  Let us return to the dictionary once again.

 

Anecdotal – (of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research:

Let me point out that in a court of law this could be applied to any eyewitness even if he or she has sworn to tell the truth.  But lets say several witnesses report the same event in the same way.  Wouldn’t that give that account credence?  This very logic was presented by you earlier in this post… “If a general consensus is found among experts it’s fair to assume that an idea is correct.”  In this instance the “research” would be through the interviewing of the witnesses, especially if they were experts in their field or people held in high regard by their peers.  One such person is Hal Galper, an individual who is highly regarded in your own field of jazz education and on the faculty of SUNY.  He has authored a prestigious book on the subject of jazz and is also a world-renowned jazz pianist and composer of the highest order with the credentials to back it up.( i.e., Cannonball Adderley’s pianist.)  If you check out his web site you will find that he not only agrees with everything I have said about the metronome he has endorsed my DVD series and highly recommended it to students as well as teachers of jazz.  I don’t think his opinion could be referred to as “anecdotal” by any stretch of the imagination.  The following is a partial list of the drummers I have performed with in one capacity or another.  I am not attempting to be a name-dropper here in any way but will make a point of why I am doing this.  That list would include:  Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Mickey Roker, Louis Hayes, Tony Williams, Al Foster, Roy Brooks, Ray Mosca, Mel Lewis, Al Harewood, and others of equal stature.  Now, admittedly, I didn’t have discussions with any of these musicians about a metronome per se, however, I have heard most, if not all, of them denounce the use of a drum machine at some point or another, as well as scoff at the idea of anyone attempting to play jazz to one.  A drum machine is a variation of a metronome even though, unlike a metronome, it can be programmed to actually play rhythms.  These rhythms, however, are played to metronomic time which is not the time conception that jazz is played to.  Again, I know there is a lot of recordings on which they are used as well as recordings using click tracks, which a lot of people love and enjoy.  I am speaking of jazz here because that is what I do and teach.  I would assume that is what jazz educators are teaching as well, including you.

“I don’t know how many times I have to write this for you guys to grasp my point. In no way do I say Mike’s approach is wrong.”

I don’t know how many times I have to write that you don’t know what Mike’s approach is, yet you continue to express yourself as if you do, as in the following.

“ What I’m saying is that Mike’s approach is not the only way and that other approaches, particularly ones that share a general consensus among professional musicians and music educators, also have some value and are worth exploring too.”

There is a way to distinguish between a false prophecy and a true one, and that is through the fruits that are born by what is espoused.  As I said in the original post over 90% of my students have gone on to professional careers as jazz performers and I will add to that by stating that many of them have CDs out that have garnered critical acclaim leading to gigs in major jazz clubs and festivals worldwide.  One such musician is guitar virtuoso Adam Rafferty who is presently touring Europe.  Adam, aside from being a fantastic instrumentalist, is also a great teacher to which his numerous students worldwide will attest.  Adam, when reiterating the same ideas about metronome usage came up with a brilliant analogy by pointing out that the body rhythm found in the swing in jazz can be found in other activities such as jumping rope.  He pointed out that one should try jumping rope to a metronome clicking to find out it can’t be done.  The same can be said for the art of juggling.  Now I appreciate your sincerity in believing that the metronome is a “potentially useful tool.”  But in terms of Adam’s analogy it would seem that your position is that someone who is seeking to learn to jump rope should use a tool that it is impossible to jump rope to because it will eventually lead to being able to jump rope.  This makes no sense.  Adam has written a book which I highly recommend called “How to Develop Virtuoso Single Line Technique for Jazz Guitar.”  It will point out that one can develop huge chops by employing something different than what a metronome can provide, producing astounding results not obtainable through metronome use.

I believe that the time has come for musicians and educators alike to re-examine the metronome as a teaching tool in the world of jazz education to see if something producing better results has emerged.

I apologize for the long post but since someone has used terms like “fallacious logic”, “great exaggeration”  “patently not true”, “false dichotomy” about my ideas and since a link to this post has been placed on the comments section of my own blog site called www.mikelongojazz.com  containing things I said out of context, I felt I had to post this rebuttal.  In the spirit of fairness and honesty I have posted a link to the original post as well.

Best,

Mike

 


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