Word 95 (Two Thoughts on Rhythm)
1. One of my jazz piano teachers told me to straighten out my eighth notes. A “bouncy” swung eighth was anathema. He said that when he was playing his best, he noticed the eighth notes tending toward evenness. It has long been observed that at a faster tempo, the difference between straight and swung eighths begins to disappear. I have been listening to Cormac Begley. Question: are those straight eighths?
2. Milford Graves said a metronome would give you a heart attack. He dismisses the metronome as a military taskmaster and tells his students to listen to their own heartbeats. I went through a heavy period of metronome practice years back; recently I use it less. That said, last year I was learning the Brahms F Major Cello Sonata, and I found myself reaching for the timekeeper. Brahms’ time is not metronomic, it’s romantic, phrase-based, breathlike, and so on, but it also operates simultaneously on multiple rhythmic levels, and sometimes features hard shifts between the foregrounding of those levels. So a metronome seemed useful to keep myself honest—I wanted to see if my eighth notes, my triplets, and my sixteenths were all actually happening at the same tempo as I hopped back and forth. In Brahms these levels are like the different floors of a house. You want them all built on the same foundation. Now I’m learning the Horn Trio, and I’m staying away from the metronome. I want to let the time grow out of the music, rather than imagining that the time is already there and the music is just being set down within its preexisting walls.
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