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Practicing with the Metronome On Beats 2 & 4

Charlie Porter | November 30, 2010

There are many benefits to be gained from practicing with a metronome on beats 2 & 4. Classical players often practice with their metronomes sounding every downbeat of the meter they are in (ex: 1 2 3 4). However, in jazz music (as well as country, rock'n'roll & some other more contemporary popular music) beats 2 & 4 are heavily emphasized as opposed to the 1 & 3 feel more prevalent in European classical music. Having an emphasis on 2 & 4 creates a more energetic drive to the next beat. Ironically enough, a large part of emphasizing 2 & 4 so much is to bring out the energy of 1 & 3 even more. This is not a loud energy, but more of a suspenseful inertia bringing you to each next 2 & 4..

A very large part of the jazz feel is the unevenness of the notes. Whether playing eighth or quarter notes the emphasis should never be completely equal in jazz music- it would sound "corny". It makes sense that the pulse of the music also has a built in unevenness as its clave (2 & 4), if you will. Just as a Latin musician must learn to play within the son and rumba clave to acquire the true feel of the music, the jazz musician must learn to play within the 2 & 4 clave.

Before beginning practice with 2 & 4 on a metronome, check out some jazz recordings and just try tapping along on 2 & 4 only. Also try saying "2" & "4". The battle of acquiring the "feel" is mostly a mental one, so by practicing 2 & 4 without your instrument first along with great musicians and dealing just with your voice and your feet, you can get to the right feel even quicker than trying to do it on your instrument right away. Make sure you start with some nice slow recordings first. Perhaps you can start off easy with some old Louis Armstrong Hot Five tunes and progress to Charlie Parker and beyond. Just tap on 2 & 4 until it starts to feel more natural at several different tempos. Since music is an aural art form it makes sense to incorporate listening into acquiring the 2 & 4 feel. A metronome is simply an outline (perfect as it is) of the true feel of 2 & 4 that can only be acquired from listening to great players. You can play at home perfectly with a metronome at quarter note=400 on 2 & 4 and still sound sad on a gig with real musicians playing at that tempo. That being said, there is no substitute for playing with a real drummer or rhythm section.

On to the metronome:

When beginning to practice with the metronome on beats 2 & 4, make sure you start off as slowly as you need to feel comfortable. Practice tunes, scales, repeated notes & improvisation with the tempo until it feels easy. Then progress to a faster tempo...but little by little. Don't be in a rush! Remember that fast practice makes slow progress and slow practice makes fast progress.

Make sure to tap along with the metronome on beats 2 & 4, just as with listening to music. Now, the only difference is that you are making the music and tapping to it at the same time. The coordination it takes to tap 2 & 4 perfectly with the metronome and also incorporate it into your playing will transform your feel. Eric Lewis, the famous jazz pianist, told me that he tapped his feet on 2 & 4 all the time, whether it was on gigs, practicing at home or on recordings. He did this on purpose as a way of training himself never to lose that feel. As a result, he is one of the most swingingest cats on the scene.

On a side note...back when I was in West Africa in 2007, I went to a small town called Tia Salle. It just so happened that this was a major slave port back in the day. Many of the Africans that were brought to the U.S. as well as other countries departed from this small port town. It is a big part of their heritage and they told us all about it when we were visiting on tour.

Something amazing happened while we were in Tia Salle. Before we were getting ready to play a concert, the ladies of the town came around in tribal dress doing a kind of song while stomping the ground with large sticks. They were blessing the performance venue for us. Well, guess what beats they were stomping on? Yup, 2 & 4!! It blew my mind- they were singing old songs passed down through hundreds of years of tradition and the guiding pulse of the rhythm was emphasis on 2 & 4. I have a video of it somewhere which I will post one day. This was the ONLY place in West Africa where we heard this particular emphasis on 2 & 4. Its amazing to think that a groove particular to the people of Tia Salle could have had such a profound affect on the feel of jazz music.

Happy 2 & 4'ing to you all!

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