A Review of Beyond the Metronome: Becoming an Inchronous Musician
By Bill Stieger
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There has never existed a musician who has not, at least on occasion, struggled with keeping an even tempo, either as an individual performer or as a member of an ensemble. Whether tempo difficulties originate in the instrumentalist’s perception of musical time, or by way of performing a difficult musical passage that hinders rhythmic evenness, the existence of the problem--for all musicians--is inescapable. “Beyond the Metronome,” is a book, along with an accompanying cd, designed to enable musicians and singers improve their sense of internal time, and become, as author Malcolm “Mac” Santiago calls it, inchronous.
Santiago defines inchronous as, “Exhibiting an ability to play rhythm accurately in steady time without the aid of a metronome, recorded music, or other musicians...” Whether one wants to call having a steady inner clock being inchronous, or simply groovy is immaterial. What is material is that “Beyond the Metronome” may prove be among the most indispensable rhythm aids a musician can own.
In the book’s preface, Santiago asserts--and correctly--that playing one’s instrument along with a metronome is to simply to follow its rhythm. “By doing this you may eventually recognize what is “in time,” writes Santiago,“but there’s an important difference: you didn’t create the time, the metronome did. You simply followed.”
So how does a musician learn to be inchronous? Santiago offers a roadmap to rhythmic redemption.
The first part of the book is entitled: “Tools of Inchronation.”
Lesson 1 begins with a rhythmic self-evaluation test. Using one of the cd’s 326 click tracks, which consists of various tempos, with various subdivisions and time alterations. In this lesson, the musician discovers his or her rhythmic tendencies as the clicks diminish from quarters to half-notes, whole notes, and tied whole notes that span more than four measures. Those results can be written down on the Margin-of-Error Spreadsheet that accompanies the book.
Chapters 2 and 3 explore properties known to many musicians: the concept of subdividing, verbally and mentally, to keep one’s place over a span of beats, as well as what Santiago calls “The Little Dance,” which he defines as “walking in place, tapping your foot, tapping the side of your leg, bobbing your head, shoulder movements, etc.”
Chapter 4 addresses the matter of rhythmic evenness, or what Santiago calls rhythmony, the rhythmic counterpart of harmony, or the “synchronization of sound in time.” Among the exercises offered in this chapter is the use of two metronomes, played at slightly differing tempos. “Notice how they separate and come together and determine when rhythmony (or perfect rhythmic unison) has been achieved.”
Following Chapter 4 are chapters on creating tempo with half and whole note clicks; a chapter where the musician gives the click its value by playing a written rhythm to it, followed by the therapeutic exercise of playing to a click that diminishes, which can go far in teaching the musician to become rhythmically self-reliant.
Part Two of “Beyond the Metronome,” entitled “Concepts and Applications,” introduces many of the psychological factors in attaining and keeping strong, musical time. Santiago addresses cognitive, or conscious responses, versus reactive, or automatic responses. Santiago believes that “timekeeping can be viewed as an indication of how much the performance has become a reactive response,” which he believes is a measure of a musician’s familiarity with the music. A chapter entitled “Tempo Memory” is one to interest any bandleader who has counted in a group of musicians. Santiago sites “tempo by association” as the concept for accurate count-ins, with relative reference tempos listed of well-known hits of every stripe.
Musicians, or course, vary their attacks as to where they place their beats--most often called time-feel--in relation to the pulse, no matter which style of music is being played. Expressions like “playing on top,” “In the pocket,” or “behind the beat” is common parlance on nearly every bandstand. “The choice to play on top, in front, or behind the beat is something the player must be in control of,” writes Santiago. The chapter ends with another exercise that utilizes two metronomes.
The last chapters of “Beyond the Metronome” deal with accelerando and retardando, dynamics, and a host of challenging exercises involving volume drops, elongated clicks, along with a blank self-evaluation test that can be copied for the ongoing monitoring of one’s timekeeping progress.
“Beyond the Metronome” is self-published by Mr. Santiago, and can be purchased for $21.95 via his website, www.inchronicity.com.
The beauty of Santiago’s “Beyond the Metronome” lies not only in its brilliant and useful timekeeping exercises, but in its convenience. A musician can practice the exercises anywhere he or she has access to laptop or any device that can either play back the recorded drills from the cd. Take a flight from Los Angeles to New York, and land in the Big Apple with a elevated feeling for the groove. Is this possible? Santiago insists that it is. All he asks is to be able to prove it to you.
Bill Stieger is a freelance writer and jazz drummer from St. Paul, Minnesota."