How to use a metronome in your flamenco dance practice [part 1]
This post is part 1 of an introduction to using a metronome in your flamenco dance practice.
One of the most important and the most difficult elements of studying flamenco dance is the necessity of developing a sense of rhythm or compás.
As humans our perception of time is subjective.
I recently went to the cinema to watch a movie that was 3 hours long (Avengers Endgame have you seen it?) but I didn’t notice the time at all. Normally if a movie is too long I notice it first with some discomfort physical discomfort, but here I was engrossed for the whole 3 hours and I bounced out of the screening room with a spring in my step.
The last time I had to wait 10 minutes in a traffic jam it felt like hours!
Can you relate?
How do we know how long a second is? Or a minute or an hour?
Because we look at a clock that tells us and keeps track of the time.
What we need to do as flamenco dancers, is develop an internal sense of time. Learning how to use a metronome will help us do that.
What is a metronome?
A metronome is a tool that delivers a sound or click at a regular interval that can be changed by the user. The tempo of the clicks is measured in beats per minute (BPM).
There are mechanical, electronic metronomes and now even digital ones. Type metronome into google and see what search results you get. You can now also find digital metronomes that have been developed for different flamenco styles.
In this post we will be working with a metronome that has a constant an unaccented beat.
When to use a metronome?
You can use a metronome when practicing ANY kind of flamenco dance movement not just footwork.
We need to develop a sense of rhythmic movement throughout our whole body not just our feet.
Isn’t a metronome too cold and robotic to be used for flamenco?
No. A strong sense of rhythm is vital for all flamenco dancers. Compás is the ingredient that connects us as dancers to the singers and guitarists. A metronome, if our ears are open when we practice, will tell us when we are out of compás.
When we are accompanying a singer we need to be able to follow their lead and be confident of our knowledge of where we are in the compás, something that has never been more clear to me now that I am studying Taranto.
When we are dancing with a guitarist (no singer) we need to be able to lead the guitarist and mark the compás with clarity and confidence.
There will be times when we stop moving (and possibly the musicians will stop with you) and you will need to maintain the pulse of the compás in your body so you can come back in on a future count.
Using the metronome won’t make up 100% of your practice time but it should be a significant part of it, especially if you don’t have someone available to do palmas for you while you practice.
How can I begin to using a metronome?
Here is a simple way to start for absolute beginners.
Set the metronome at a moderate tempo say between 80 - 90 beats per minute.
The easiest way to get started is to try walking on the beat of the metronome. See if you can sense the natural pulse of your walk and then adapt your walk (each step you take) to what you are hearing.
Can you align your heel striking the floor with what you hear?
What happens if you slow down the tempo to say 60 beats per minute?
What happens if you speed it up to 120 beats per minute?
How do you have to change your walk to stay connected to the beat?
Ready to try some exercises with your shoes on?
Take a look at the following videos.
In all three video below I have the tempo set to 90 beats per minute. You can adjust the tempo you use to be slightly slower if you need to. At this stage we aren’t interested in accents, we’re just going to focus on getting a sense of a steady pulse.
The tempo you choose should be slightly challenging but still allow you execute the exercise you are trying to practice.
To begin, try doing simple golpes alternating from right to left.
One golpe on each beat.
This may seem like an easy exercise but the longer you continue you will notice that it becomes harder to keep up your accuracy.
one two one two one two
Next, the tempo remains the same but you’re going to double the amount of golpes.
You will still do golpes alternating right to left but you will perform two golpes per beat.
one and two and one and two and….
Now let’s try something a little different.
Here the step we will use is golpe tacón tacón. We’re going to try to do a golpe (or tacón) at the same time as each beat.
This exercise is an opportunuty for you to work on developing the strength of your tacones. You need to lift the heel up high and then lower it with strength.
Don’t just let the tacón fall to the ground. This is where you will develop the strength required to do more complex rhythms using the tacón.
In part 2 we’ll continue with some different kinds of exercises.
Do you use a metronome when you practice?
Do you have any questions about using a metronome?
Leave them in the comments below and we’ll answer them in a Q&A post at the end of this series.