How do I get my band to play in time? (Part 1 of 2)
I can't tell you how many times I've started working with a program and at the first sign of a tempo tear I ask a section or student "How much have you practiced with a metronome?"
The inevitable answer "um, uh I don't really practice with a metronome." But, of course, we already knew that because otherwise we wouldn't be talking about tempo issues.
There are 3 Things Any Band Can Do
to improve the sense of internal pulse and tempo throughout the organization with the help of a simple metronome.
1. Use the met from the beginning.
From day one, start using the metronome. Most teachers will say
"Well, we are just learning the music, it doesn't have to be perfect."
I agree, it won't be perfect. The students will, however, start to develop habits (usually bad) if not held to a specific standard while learning. The first several repetitions of show music really impact how the students' brain understands the way the music is performed. I've also found many (but not all) band directors to be fairly unreliable when it comes to keeping tempo at a level actually beneficial for the students.
Many educators will start without the metronome, try to introduce it later in the season, see that it is "too difficult" because the kids can't hang with it, and go back to their old ways. The nice thing about using the met from day one is you are teaching these young musicians how to listen while playing. This is what all of the musical arts hangs on, the ability to listen to each other and respond accordingly.
The other nice thing about using the met from the beginning, even if you start learning under tempo, as you gradually speed up it will be consistent in every rep until you reach your desired tempo. Consistency is an integral part of the marching activity and shouldn't be overlooked.
2. Have both winds and percussion practice with the metronome.
Most educators understand that because the battery (drumline) is the "engine" of the group, they should be practicing with a metronome. What they miss is that the winds should also be consistently working with the metronome as well.
Is there ever a time in the show we don't want them to be perfect in tempo? Then stop guessing when it comes to rehearsal and use the met.
Typically, more than half the time spent on preparing music the band is in sections. If the wind players don't have a metronome behind them while the battery is gone, not only are they not practicing good time, they aren't practicing how to listen back either (the two things that lead to time tears).
3. When in full ensemble, only battery should listen to the met.
This point will come across as a little controversial to some. I will say, however, that through my experiences I have learned this to be the best method.
Practicing with the metronome is two-fold. It allows for consistent tempo and the ability to listen back. When in full ensemble, the winds should really be listening to the battery. The met will eventually go away, but the battery is there to stay (I did not intend that to rhyme, but it does have a nice ring to it).
Let the battery worry about keeping time with the met, everybody else (winds and front ensemble) should be listening back to the battery for their time. This shift in aural focus is critical, because if everybody only listens to the met, what happens on the first run without it?
Having the winds practice with the met on their own was really just training to have them listen to the battery in full ensemble. Teach your kids where to listen, and you will see (and hear) a huge difference on the field.