At the 2011 Austin Vintage Guitar Show during SXSW, I was digging through a pile of old Hit Parader magazines, pre-tab Rolling Stones songbooks and pedal steel guitar methods when I found an old booklet titled “Metronome Techniques” by Frederick Franz. You can view it online here.
Franz first published the volume in 1947 and the copy I have is the 1980 update of the 1964 printing. Tucked inside the cover is a typewritten note for “YOU MUSIC TEACHERS” with a suggested lesson plan. Great stuff for a vintage instructional book fan like me. It definitely started me thinking about metronomes and what I considered to be their only function: to play precise time while the student practices whatever lesson they are working on.
I knew the shredders use them to clock scale speeds and the jazzers set them to beat on “2” and “4”. I knew the famous quote attributed to jazz bassist Ray Brown “Nothing swings like a metronome”. I knew that every time I tried to incorporate one into my practice routine, I gave up…because I refused to believe my time was that off!
This book has given me several new ideas about using metronomes. Here’s just one example, I recommend reading the e-book in it’s entirety.
From the book:
Control of Vibrato
A beautiful vibrato (not a tremolo, or trill), however produced, is today considered to be an expression of emotion essential to excellent musicianship in most string and wind instruments and in artistic singing. Consisting of pulsations of pitch about the perceived tone, it has two elements. They are
(1) amplitude or extent (expressed as a fraction of a diatonic whole-step) and
(2) frequency or rate (expressed as number of cycles of pitch variation per second). The metronome is used in learning to acquire control of the second element, the frequency.
In controlled artistic vibrato the frequency varies from about 4 to 10 cycles per second. The lower values (say from 4 to 7) are found among instrumentalists; the higher values (from 5 to 10) are found among vocalists. Musicologists are agreed that an artistic vibrato must not be erratically wavering, but must be of controlled uniformity. That is if a slow (or fast) vibrato is required, it should be slow (or fast) when so required.
One successful technique employed at the University of Iowa in training singers is (a) listening to the phonograph recordings of celebrated concert and operatic singers, (b) learning, by listening, to recognize the presence or absence of vibrato, its change in extent and rate, (c) learning to tap, or fan, with the hand at the same rate, (d) learning to tap, or fan, four beats to each metronome beat and (e) using the metronome as a standard measure of the rate. Thus, resetting the metronome changes the vibrato beats per second.
The same procedure as that for vocal vibrato is used, except that for some instruments (for example violoncello or trombone) relatively heavy masses (the hand or the hand plus the slide) must move at the vibrato rate. Consequently the "natural" rate is low and high rates are often erratic. It is good training to start at a very low rate, often as low as one per second, while the instructor and the student analyze the motion of the fingers, the wrist, the arm, etc. When the motion is correct increase the rate slowly while maintaining the form.
Practice small and large amplitudes in the same manner, also increasing amplitudes and decreasing amplitudes tapering off to nothing. For other instruments or for other "methods” or "schools" of teaching, the vibrato may be produced by the jaw, the lips, or the fingers but the technique of its acquisition and control by metronome is the same. All amplitudes, from small to large, should be practiced at the low rates before proceeding to the high rates of vibrato. Simultaneous decrease of amplitude and rate should be practiced to develop tranquil endings.
It never occurred to me to use a metronome to practice vibrato. While on the gig I use it as I feel it, regular practice on in-time vibrato has got to give you more control and allow you to free-form it for expressive purposes. I’m adding this technique to my daily routine.