My Tumultuous Relationship With the Metronome

Metronomes are tedious. I can’t be the only pianist who has wanted to chuck one out into traffic just to watch the tires silence it. The truth is, I’ve never owned one of those old fashioned triangular machines. The one I had growing up was digital & had a red light that flashed on the beat & arrow buttons to make it go faster or slower. What got to me about that one was that if you were properly in tempo, you couldn’t hear the clicking. In hindsight, that sounds like a blessing, but as a teenager navigating through classical material, it drove me crazy to hear the beat for a moment & then stop hearing it, only to start hearing it again when my mind played tricks on me, telling me I’d lost the beat. I still have that old metronome, it still works, but it needs a fresh pair of AA batteries, which seems silly to me. Let’s also set aside the absurdity of an electronic device that can ONLY keep a basic beat. It can’t also communicate in various ways, or browse the Internet, or take pictures of my cat. So, today’s metronome comes in the form of a picture of an old fashioned one on the screen of my smartphone, with an ad for some sort of gambling game underneath it. It’s free & it does the job! Hallelujah for always having a metronome in my pocket, even if I don’t have a piano at hand!

The truth is, over the years, I’ve come to adore my buddy the metronome, & if you are hoping to gain any real speed or accuracy on any instrument, you’d better learn to love it, too. The metronome doesn’t lie. Either you’re in tempo, or you’re not. Either your thirty-second note runs are proportional to your sixteenth note arpeggios, or they aren’t. It’s neither bad nor good, it just is, & it’s up to you to use the information given by your metronome to improve your playing. The best part about using a metronome is the data you can gather about your playing from day to day. I recently had to take on a keyboard part that wasn’t overly complex, but it was fast & required some octave stretching & articulating within that octave stretch. Without the metronome, not only did I have no consistent record of how slowly or quickly I was playing, I kept getting bogged down by the muscle fatigue of stretching & articulating with the same hand. I was playing far below the minimum speed, which was actually contributing to my sore hand by making me stretch for a longer period of time. This slowed my progress & increased my frustration. I found that as soon as I turned on that basic beat, I knew right where I stood. I was able to play the passage at just under half-speed. Over the course of three days, I increased the speed of the beat & then decreased it again in increments of five to ten beats per minute. Through that gentle perseverance, & knowing when to take breaks for rest, it took almost no time for me to master that pattern at minimum speed. I could quantify my progress, which helped me realize my goal, even when I wasn’t nailing it every time. Yes, my hand still ached a little, but not in any dangerous way, & now I’m a stronger player than I was a week ago.

I tried for years, but there is no denying it: the metronome is your best friend. Let it guide the way to stronger musicianship. You will thank yourself later. & for heaven’s sake, do not throw your metronome, or your smartphone, out into traffic.

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I’ll be playing a few shows in the near future with a couple of great bands here in Victoria! Come check us out:

Sunday, May 17 at the Crofton Hotel & Pub with Soul Source
Wednesday, May 20 at Hermann’s Jazz Club with Soul Source
Monday, May 25 at Hermann’s Jazz Club with Groovin’ Hard
Sunday, May 31 at My Bar & Grill with Soul Source

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Camosun College Hears Us!

WE DID IT!!!

Camosun College heard our message & we are in the budget for 2014/15! Below is correspondence from the CEO of the VCM, Jane Butler McGregor.

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Hello everyone,
I just wanted to let you know that we have received correspondence from Kathryn Laurin, President of Camosun College. She has advised us that the proposed financial model which was submitted by the VCM has been accepted, in principal, and has been included in Camosun’s 2014/2015 operating budget which will be brought to the Camosun Board for approval on Monday, May 5th.
She also acknowledges that this has been a challenging time for both organizations and looks forward to working with us to identify additional opportunities through which we can further strengthen our partnership and continue to work together.
I believe this looks very promising and we will, of course, welcome the opportunity to work with Camosun to continue to find creative solutions to help achieve long term sustainability.
I also want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank each and every one of you for your loyal and valued support. Your passionate belief in the power of music education is most definitely helping us “Keep the Music Playing”!
Jane

Thank you all so much for your support of our education, our music, & the arts as a whole. We could not have pulled it off without the public backing us. Our gratitude is endless.

I feel so honoured to be associated with the steadfast group of colleagues & faculty that makes up the VCM-Camosun music programs. I am overjoyed that future students will have the same opportunity for tremendous growth that I’ve had. It truly is a gift that has changed my life & made me not only a better musician, but a better human being.

I have other really good news, too. Stay tuned!

An Open Letter to the BC Provincial Government

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Hi there!

My message is one of concern. I’ve heard that the government is moving to remove arts programmes from colleges, thus terminating the Jazz Studies programme, of which I am a student, & the Classical programme, of which many of my peers are students. This concerns me as a Jazz student because Uvic does not offer a Jazz program & many new students who are interested in Jazz will have to find other options through other universities, rather than colleges.

This is problematic because not only does it reduce options for students, but it forces them into a more costly, less flexible university environment that many of us are not ready for when we apply to our first year of college. The smaller college environment of the VCM fosters the support, growth, & individuality necessary for budding arts students seeking to find their identity within their niche.

Another problem that arises is that space in programmes is already limited.
To force everyone into fewer establishments will ultimately create a bottle neck of applications, which indeed sounds lovely from a business standpoint, but creates a hindrance to passionate & talented people who are seeking self-betterment through the arts.

There is no reason to separate vocational education from arts education as if one is more important than the other. Over many years, the government has been reducing the priority of art to a point where our programmes have very little funding while other programmes deemed more “productive” are given much more support. This has driven the cost of our education up while keeping our return on investment low & often unstable. We are consistently treated like “fat” that needs trimming. This sends the message that arts & culture are not necessary & it devalues our service to humanity. This is why musicians are paid poorly in spite of how hard our work really is.

The arts are a vital part of a vibrant community & the more doors we close on it, the less understanding we will all have of one another as human beings.
While what we do may not be law, medicine, accounting, or engineering, it is an important contribution to society that tells the story of humanity. It documents history & frames our time. We must stop the slow, steady strip-mining of arts education in BC before there is nothing left. Where will we draw the line?

I ask you to please consider the ramifications of this move & to keep arts in colleges. Keep educational environments well-rounded & help us in ceasing further gutting of our treasured programmes. Everyone has a right to an education, even if we’re not mechanics or bankers. Please save Camosun’s Jazz & Classical music programmes.

Thank you for your time.

Alli Bean; Second year Jazz Piano Major; VCM-Camosun

My favourite part of studying Jazz

My favourite part of Jazz as a concept is hard to nail down. I love so many aspects of it, from the creativity & the improv, to the structure & theory.

Recently, I’ve thrown myself into the social & collaborative side of things & I’ve learned to relax at the keyboard when other people are playing along with me. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m confident that I can do it & that I’ll look back & smile at how I’ve overcome so much nervousness!

My most recent gig was playing with my friends, Deven Miles (voice), & Hannah Kaehn (trombone) at Camosun College’s Interurban Campus. The audience that we could see was tiny, but we could be heard throughout the atrium & people who came to thank us were very pleased at the end. I had a great time & I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to play keys with great people. 🙂

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