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Often times when I'm doing simple strokes (as from Stick Control) to the tick of a metronome, I get into streaks of not hearing the metronome, just my strokes. I suppose that's a good thing, right? Meaning it's well coordinated enough as to suppress the metronome's tick.

But since it's just my guess, I wanted to know if it's something to aim for. Maybe consistently hearing the tick just after the stroke could be more desirable, I don't know. And I often wonder if I don't subconsciously do louder strokes as to suppress the tick, masking my actual timing precision.

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Yes, I think that's exactly what you want to aim for. –  MετάEd Nov 17 '11 at 22:21
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Well, what happens when you just turn the metronome so loud that you can always hear it? (ie. with closed headphones) –  leftaroundabout Nov 17 '11 at 22:21
    
I don't use closed headphones for the metronome, is it preferrable? I'll have to try! But would I have a good sense of when stroke and tick matched this way? –  Vic Goldfeld Nov 18 '11 at 13:32
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Ignore the answers suggesting to change something. It's a good thing! As soon as you can't hear the metronome anymore, you're perfectly on the spot. Consistently hearing the tick just after or before the stroke doesn't work, it's too difficult to decide if it was really precise (consistent enough). As long as you are able to hear the metronome when you're off the beat, there's no need to increase the volume. Anyway, closed headphones or another way of protecting your ear is never a bad idea. –  groovingandi Nov 18 '11 at 14:21
    
Interesting that answers and others' comments have upvotes but not my question, wonder what it means. Just wishing I could upvote myself but oh well. –  Vic Goldfeld Nov 18 '11 at 14:29

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

If you can't hear the click because it falls right underneath your strokes, that's called "burying the click", and it's generally a good thing. If your stroke is consistently just before the click, that's referred to as playing "ahead of the beat"; If your stroke is just after the click, it's called playing "behind the beat". Both are valid techniques to achieve a certain feel, but you don't generally want to use them all the time.

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When you say "generally a good thing", do you mean there are disadvantages to it? If so what would those be? –  Vic Goldfeld Nov 18 '11 at 13:37
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If you're trying to achieve a certain feel you might not want to be straight on the click beat every time - listen to something like The Roots "Dilla Joints"; Questlove is a master at playing around with the feel and getting ahead/behind deliberately. I can see not wanting to be dead on the click if you're playing with other musicians doing something like jazz, where the music should be as organic and flexible as possible. –  spbots Nov 18 '11 at 21:36
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Hi Vic, I just meant it's a good thing, unless you're specifically going for an "ahead of the beat" or "behind the beat" feel. –  Stretch55 Nov 19 '11 at 22:17

I cannot speak specifically to percussion, but when I have worked with both wind players and pianists, when the student "loses" the metronome click, that is typically a bad thing. This is because they are so caught up in what they are playing that they are not concentrating on their time, and they are actually ignoring the metronome so much that they do not perceive the metronome sound anymore, no matter how audible it is. I would be surprised if a similar phenomenon was not in play here to some degree.

I have three suggestions for such students:

  1. Slow down, possibly ridiculously, until it is possible to play the passage easily without losing the metronome. Then, and only then, work on speeding up.
  2. The metronome is not usually the first thing to use when practicing. If the student does not have reasonable control of the technique of a passage, the metronome will not help anything. If stability of tempo or evenness is in question but the student can basically play everything, that is when the metronome is the best.
  3. If possible, get a metronome with a different timbre. "Dr. Beat" is one such metronome, though I typically recommend avoiding the voice counting "one, two, ..." because it does not adequately indicate the takt (plus, it's annoying). In your case, if the metronome sounds too much like the instrument, this suggestion could be particularly helpful.
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That's an interesting point, but I usually always pay attention to the metronome's visual cue even when I'm not hearing the tick because my stroke suppresses it. So I'm talking about situations where I'm seeing the metronome's visual indication but not hearing it. –  Vic Goldfeld Nov 18 '11 at 13:40
    
If you are seeing the cue and are sure you are with it, then the only suggestion I have would be the timbre change (and possibly headphones, as others have suggested). –  Andrew Nov 18 '11 at 16:56

You could watch the "visual" beat on the metronome instead of trying to hear the tick. That would not be masked by the sharp sound of the drum.

Edit:
Some metronome apps for Android has vibrator. Maybe this could help if having it in your pocket, and you will feel the beat.

Edit2:
To help with the timing on a visual cue, you could look to a classical old style mechanic metronome, where you have the pending stick that gives you a clue when each beat approaches, and not just a sudden blink as you have on the digital ones.
Classic metronome

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Yes, I often try to take that as a visual cue as well, but I find that I just can't make as good an assessment for when the visual cue and my stroke match perfectly. Can you? I'd be interested in more tips on practicing like this. –  Vic Goldfeld Nov 18 '11 at 13:34

I can't work with a visual cue either. I would suggest using headphones like leftaroundabout said. Others have made a fair point that the sound may be obscured due to perfect timing, but it also may be obscured by other things including psychology (as Andrew said) :P.

If your timing is perfect, hearing the metronome via headphones and confirming it won't hurt anything. Of course, you'll also want to practice without the metronome to see if you can manage without it, and playing with it there but inaudible unless you go off-time may be a good intermediate step between off and always-audible.

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