From the Mail Bin: Jeff Berlin and the Metronome

Recently received this curious email out of the blue:

Hello. This is Jeff Berlin, the bass player. I am in the midst of a discussion about metronomes on I never felt that good time comes from practicing with one, and some disagree. One fellow mentioned Dave Douglas as someone who they feel acquired his sense of time from practicing with a metronome.

Could somebody please ask Mr. Douglas if this is true? It would mean a lot in this discussion to know the truth about this. Many thanks.

Jeff Berlin

P.S. If you don’t know me, please look me up on the Internet. Thanks.

Yeah, if you don’t know who Jeff Berlin is, look him up on the internet. Fantastic musician. And yes, TalkBass has plenty of forum threads like: “Show off your combos!” and “2009: A Year for Gear.” But also an incredible amount of interchange of great information on all sorts of musical topics.

Jeff’s question drove me back to something I wrote a while ago, The Practice of Ear Training. And I do talk about using a metronome to develop time playing. In the Banff thread last summer there’s also a report on Matt Penman’s rhythm classes on metronome ideas. I sent some thoughts over to Jeff and this is what he wrote back:

Hi Dave. Great stuff you’ve put down here. My take on all of it is that you regard a metronome as a tool for sub divisional ear training, not for developing a good time sense as so many young bass players seem to believe that you can get by practicing with it. I simply cannot think of a single name in all of jazz where a metronome played any part in the developed sense of time that these players exhibited throughout their careers.

There are some who regard this device as a source of good time and I reject this. But, I see that you embrace it as a great ear training device which makes sense to me. Am I correct in this assumption? To me, good time comes from experience on one’s instrument and knowledge of music which give reason to play in time. It is a result that happens later rather than earlier and supports my thinking that practicing is best done out of time, to regard and learn new information. Only then does one know what to play in a proper time feel.

I regard that everybody on every instrument acquired good time but never by using a steady click, since good time is not a metronomic reality. There are a lot of musicians in, say, Latin America who have great time and acquired it through playing and practice.

Would you agree with this? Thanks for responding because your opinion counts with me.

Take care Dave.


For Jeff there’s a difference between having good time and having a good feel or time sense. And I definitely agree with that. But Jeff is pretty adamant about not working with a metronome — he says that in fact no great player developed their music by working with a metronome.

It’s a good question for the musos out there. Does a good time feel have anything to do with metronomic reality? I’ve laid my cards on the table on this topic. But how does practicing with a metronome or click help or harm in making music? Groove happens in collaboration with other musicians — does metronome practice have anything to inform that kind of playing? The use of time in classical playing, for example a string quartet, is very different to that of jazz, pop, or Latin music. Is a metronome a more or less useful device for practicing that kind of playing?

More basically, do you agree that having steady time is different from having good time?

Meanwhile, I hope you are all having a good time.