Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Metronome: Monster or Friend?

I find myself in the midst of a diverse group of musicians who are active on twitter. We are composers and performers, students and teachers, amateurs and pros. Recently a conversation about metronomes caught my attention, which led to this collaboration of blogs on the subject.

I fall in the category of amateur. I am also a student and a composer. For this reason, I will tackle the emotional end of metronome use and leave the technical aspects of metronome use to the teachers and pro's to talk about.

My metronome is a source of love and hate; a tool that helps, or a beast to appease. I have been playing flute now for eight years, and was in my 50's when I started so it's quite a different experience than the child student.

My metronome is a merciless taskmaster, tick-tick-ticking and never missing a beat. One little falter of my fingers and I am off the beat--out of sync. And still it just goes on ticking. Pushing me to keep up and in doing so I tense, and miss all the more.
It took my teacher about two years to get me to stop complaining and resisting this beast-tool....and probably four or five years to get me to use it without being told to do so on any kind of a consistent basis. It is only in the last two years that I have come to see the good side, to actually begin to like it.

My current focus is the balanced placement of 4 notes fitting into a single beat. It is invaluable as a tool to make sure I hold a rest long enough. And don't forget those tricky places where the note is on the half-beat! I have found placing a note between the beats ever so much harder that it seems.

Speaking of beats, did you know that every beat has a beginning, a middle and an end? Even those really fast, close-together beats? Oh yes! If you lead the beat and your duet partner hits the tail of the beat, you will be out of sync, even though both of you are technically "on" the beat!

Another challenge, which may only apply to flutists, is the tone in which the metronome ticks. I find it almost impossible to hear over the flute, because the tone/tick is in the same frequency level at the flute range. I think the general tone of a flute contributes to this masking problem.

Here's what I think is happening: Back in "the good old days" of mechanical metronomes, the sound was created by the resonance of the wood casing. Today it is generated by electronics.

I have two metronomes: a Korg MA-30 and an app on my iPad, "Metronome Plus." The Korg is accurate, easy to tote around, has a visual representation of the swinging lever of a mechanical metronome. It has plenty of options for split beats, leading beats, and an earphone input. The iPad app has all of that, plus an option to change the tone of the beats. Even with several tones to choose from, I find it hard to hear. I am waiting for developers to give me a nice bass tone that I can distinguish from my flute!

Nevertheless, this beast-tool is an invaluable resource for anyone who desires to play an instrument. It is the only means to proper note placement. As a composer, when I put music into notation, I have a reason for every beat and portion of a beat. I don't want the performer to change my rhythmic choices. So I try to perform other composers work with as much accuracy as I can possibly manage.

Bottom line: if you chose to play an instrument, proper note placement is just as important as your tone, air, bowing technique, or fingerings. Yes, the metronome is an unfeeling, relentless little beast. Embrace it, love it, and get beyond the tension. It is your friend.
Read more on metronomes: I will be adding here over the next several days links to the other collaborators on this project. So check back for links! First up: 
  • Erica Sipes Click on her name to go to her blog site: "Beyond the Notes"
Please note: links for the metronome and iPad app are offered for your convenience, not as a means to generate income for me. 

Practicing Toward Perfection: Part One

The Background, or "Why I Wanted to Write About Practicing."

A couple of years ago, I was faced with a new challenge as a musician. This challenge started me thinking about practicing in a different way. However, when I sat down to write this article, I realized that I needed first to explain my background as a musician. So if you are not interested in the story, and just want the tips, thoughts and links, that will be in Part Two, which will be along in a day or two.

There are advantages to learning an instrument as a child or teen. Children have time. They have someone to push them to practice. There are--(or used to be!)--opportunities to be involved in an orchestra or band at school. When the parents can afford it, there are--(from the students point of view)--free private lessons. By the time the concerns of adult life kick in, you have six or more years of practicing as your background. That's a lot of muscle memory! 

It's different when you start your music career as an adult. You have to fit in practice around the mundane: dishes, laundry, errands, yard work, spouse, a day job, family and more. That means making the most of your time.
I returned to the world of making music late in life, and had the good fortune to find a teacher skilled at teaching adults. I had been going along for a few years, learning music for annual recitals, and to perform at or two pieces at a time. That all changed a couple years ago when my teacher said: "I think you should consider giving a full recital."

It sent chills down my spine! I'm don't have the energy than I did 35 years ago. My hands ache often, and it takes me longer to learn than it did when I was college age. I have people around me who depend on me to keep the household running. Cooking, cleaning, errands, yardwork all take my limited time and energy!

I couldn't imagine how I was going to be able to work on more than one piece of music at a time!! As it turned out, I learned the music, but after sliding the deadline back multiple times, I decided I didn't need to do the full, one-hour recital. It would have been quite expensive, by the time I rented a hall, paid an accompanist. Where would I find an audience? When you're in school the hall/accompanist/audience are all "built-in." 

I did get to perform all the pieces I learned, but not all at once. I enjoyed the challenge and learned a lot about practicing along the way.

So that's the background. I am an adult student, with arthritis in my hands, and a busy life. I've been working at playing the flute for 11 years. I have written and published 10 pieces of music for flute and piccolo, and am working on more. (Check back for details on purchasing "Musical Journeys" or "Aurora Borealis: A Trio of Solos for Piccolo or Flute.")

Practice is the foundation to being a good musician.

That is what has led me to write about practicing. How does anyone work on more than one piece of music at a time?  How do I keep track of it all? How do I use my limited time effectively? Those are the things to be addressed in Part Two.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Looking for new music?

I have written some nice 3-4 minute recital pieces for intermediate flutists.

"Musical Journeys" is a collection of 7 pieces with piano accompaniments.
"Aurora Borealis: a trio of solos for piccolo or flute" is a suite of 3 unique pieces, designed to be played without accompaniment, allowing the piccolo or flute to show it's singular beauty on its own.

You can hear samples of the music on my Youtube Page

Interested? Email me at