And the Beat Goes On!

Mike Lawson • Technology • November 5, 2010

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This time we’re going deep into the core of music: the beat. Going all the way back to the days of Beethoven, the metronome is perhaps the oldest music technology device, and it continues to lay a strong foundation for the beat all over the world. But the metronome has come a long way over time, as there are some innovative and downright exciting options for keeping the beat in today’s music. Percussionists, in particular, have great new tools to help build their chops in record time.

Next Generation Practice Pads

Since 1936, wind, string and brass instrumentalists have benefited from electric (strobe) tuners to nail their accuracy. Now there’s a piece of equipment that can objectively nail the drummer’s accuracy. The Beatnik is an interactive practice pad with an advanced built-in metronome. This super analyzer can help increase accuracy in ways never before possible. Learning drum rudiments coordinated with note-reading skills and real-time analysis of rhythmic accuracy makes it far more than your grandpa’s drum pad. While Beatnik’s multiple analyzers evaluate timing and rhythmic skills, its multiple views can give instant timing data of a student’s technical strengths and weaknesses. This visual feedback is a powerful motivator that can speed up progress toward total rhythmic fluency and accuracy.

There are several models of Beatnik to choose from. The Beatnik RA880 P Rhythmic Analyzer is an interactive practice pad designed for beginners with an advanced built-in metronome. After you set the desired rhythm, simply start the playback and strike the touch-sensitive practice pad. Beatnik’s large graphic display records a visual representation of every stroke with pinpoint accuracy to the nearest 512th note. It can test any permutation.

The Beatnik R1200 P is a workout tool for percussionists taking rhythm and timing exercises to a high level of achievement. Its five viewers include a Groove Analyzer, a Dynamic Analyzer in AutoSwitch and a subdivision analyzer in real-time view, a tracking analyzer in History 1 view, and a phrase analyzer in History 2 view.

The Beatnik’s phrase analyzer can improve accuracy in complicated and extended rhythmic phrases. Just set a rhythmic phrase up to eight beats in length, incorporating any combination of note and rests, and it will record every stroke and give a review of the phrase performance history note by note. For a summary of both models’ capabilities, visit and find the Beatnik brochure.

Scott Johnson Metro Pad
Another sophisticated practice pad option is the Scott Johnson Metro Pad by XymoX, which has a Korg MA-30 metronome that can be mounted in the drum pad.

The Metro Pad represents a good all-around practice tool to get drummers actively using a metronome. The pad has built-in snare sound and a space to mount the included Korg MA-30 metronome. Scott Waggoner, a St. Louis, Missouri freelance composer, arranger, clinician, and adjudicator requires all of his percussionists to use this integrated drum pad because of the advanced functional metronome. “It allows the student to find different tempi with the tap option as well as use the preprogrammed rhythms as timing exercises,” he says.

Tap It Software
If you have a MIDI drum pad connected to a computer, your students can use Tap It and Tap It II by to improve their music reading rhythm-skills. This drill-and-practice software also assesses, with a quiz at the end of each level that drills rhythm accuracy. Each lesson has three skill levels with an option for a final quiz using the rhythms from level three, which is considered the All-Pro level. Tap It II includes more difficult rhythm patterns, including syncopation, eighth and sixteenth-note values, and rests. Actual note heads are introduced in this intermediate/early advanced level. Full record keeping with immediate accuracy feedback is included. Tap It Rhythm Creator allows teachers to build their own rhythm pattern drills so students can open and practice them with Tap It Rhythm Player. Popular MIDI drum pads are available from Roland, Yamaha and Alesis. If you have a digital keyboard such as an Axiom by Pro-Audio or by Akai, your drummers can play on the keyboard’s integrated drum pad with Tap It software.

Metronomes: the new generation

The infusion of technology into metronomes has added a plethora of helpful, fascinating features, taking today’s metronome far beyond the single beat of yester-year. Marching band directors can now hold their drummers’ feet to the fire of the beat, perhaps through amplifying a digital metronome through a portable public address system that even keeps irregular tempos and meters.

Dr. Beat
Many drum lines are using the programmable Dr. Beat metronome, a Roland technology, which can be conveniently connected to a portable amplification system, such as the Lone Ranger by Letroscope. The Boss DB-90 has the ability to memorize tempo and beat settings, as well as two click sounds plus a human voice count for multiple time signatures with as many as 15 beats per measure. Plus, it has an independent volume and tap function slider-based control that allows for finger tapping tempo. The device even mounts onto drum hardware.

Dr. Beat’s programming function can memorize the tempos and measures, so changes in tempos are automatically synchronized to the band’s performance. The director never has to change speeds on the metronome in the middle of the rehearsal or show. This really helps with contemporary rhythmic patterns both in the classroom and on the practice field.

Body Beat Sync
Internalizing the beat was the goal and passion of Dr. Chris Parsons, inventor of the Peterson Body Beat metronome system. And the new and improved Body Beat Sync takes the concept of a metronome to a whole new level.

First of all, the BodyBeat metronome clips onto your belt and a small separate “vibe clip” transmits with a pulsating vibration directly to your body. It can also be used like a regular metronome in both audible and visual modes.

But that’s only beginning. The revolutionary, educational feature of the BodyBeat Sync is the ability to form a network of musicians feeling and following the same pulsating beat. With powerful wireless technology, a band director can use a group of synchronized metronomes, and his master metronome broadcasts all pulsations to the members of the group, keeping them synchronized for up to 100 yards without losing a beat. The director could rehearse the whole band while controlling a master unit, and then have the students break off to form smaller BodyBeat groups for sectionals.

The BodyBeat can store up to 100 custom presets, and each preset contains tempo, meter, subdivision, and “accent pattern” settings. The accent pattern setting is unique to the BodyBeat Sync, allowing complex meters to be divided into every possible combination of twos and threes.

The BodyBeat Sync can also import MIDI files. It extracts all meter and tempo information and will play back the entire score while showing the bar number on the screen of the master unit and to others in the group. Peterson also offers a free online tool on their Web site to design your own tempo and meter changes, which can then be saved to the BodyBeat Sync as MIDI Tempo Maps.

It Gets Better

With the increased exposure of pop music on the Internet and TV, the newest generation of students we teach has been both visually and physically immersed in the exciting aural experience of music since they were toddlers. We cannot expect to succeed in reaching and teaching them if we deny that reality. Fortunately, music technology works in our favor, too, giving us many great tools to reach students.

Virtual Drumline (VDL) by Tapspace is a software library of marching band and concert percussion samples for digital audio generation for music composition programs. It is designed to include every conceivable articulation and technique produced in authentic-sounding scores. If you are a Sibelius or Finale user, you already have a •lite” version of Virtual Drumline included. But note, this lite version is scaled down and only includes a limited selection of VDL sounds.

The full version includes even more control over music notation while providing ultra-realistic virtual instrument playback. Virtual Drumline features the Santa Clara Vanguard percussion section and, it is bundled with Native Instruments Kontakt Player 2, which integrates directly into Sibelius 5 and Finale 2009, and virtually any sequencing/DAW software. There are also templates available for both Sibelius and Finale if you need to print out percussion parts in standard percussion notation. To get the best mileage from these advanced template tools, it’s important to use staves in Finale or Sibelius that contain percussion maps corresponding to the layout of Virtual Drumline’s advanced key-mapping. Note that for these latest template features, Finale 2010b and/or Sibelius 6 are required. Tapespace makes this available for about $10. To view the differences between the lite and full version for Finale go to:”

Most of the other softsynth software competitors have come and gone. The most formidable competitor still in production is Tonehammer High School Drum Corps. This offers a set of drumline sounds ( that requires a full version of the Kontakt sampler from Native Instruments. Tonehammer is a unique softsynth library focused on capturing the powerful, tight sound of high school marching drum corps. like the tight, harsh, mid-tones and truncated snap of marching drums. It is meant to be heard loud and clear over a whole football field providing realistic outdoor sounding acoustics.

Closing Comments

Music education has gone global bringing us a wealth of rhythms and sounds and enriching what we teach. And teaching students to internalize the beat is paramount in this tsunami. I have presented just a few cutting-edge tools here. Percussionists and directors have a lot more options available, thanks to all the innovators in the industry. YouTube is loaded with demos for your classroom. Feel free to check out the links I’ve posted at

But this is only the beginning. As Bryan Harmsen, owner of Visaudio Designs, pointed out to me, “With the growing popularity of iPhones, iPod Touch, and iPads, as well as Androids, some pretty slick apps are being made for percussionists like the Tempo app and Mobile Metronome. In the near future, the Pocket Percussion Teacher app for iPhone will have recordings and exercises in a variety of genres.”

… And the Beat Goes On!

Dr. John Kuzmich Jr. is a veteran music educator, jazz educator and music technologist with more than 41 years of public school teaching experience. He is a TI:ME-certified training instructor and has a Ph.D. in comprehensive musicianship.

As a freelance author, Dr. Kuzmich has more than 400 articles and five textbooks published. As a clinician, Dr. Kuzmich frequently participates in workshops throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia, and South America.

For more information, visit

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