Learning to Love Metronomes

Recently I’ve been working a lot more with students and metronomes. It’s one of those tools that are both extremely important and incredibly annoying at that same time. Until you get used to them that is.

Once you’ve been playing for a while you begin to get an idea on how fast or slow you play your repertoire. Until then, there is normally and indication at the start of your music giving an idea what speed to play.

If you’re not familiar with tempo, it’s the speed at which we play music. Speed is often measured in beats per minute. The simplest example would be a clock. The speed of the second hand is 60 bpm (beats per minute). We all know that because we understand there are 60 seconds per minute. From there, the higher the number, the faster the tempo and the lower the number the slower the tempo.

The default approach for using a metronome is each click means a beat in a bar. For example, in a 4/4 bar there would be four clicks. One per beat. However, you can use it in other ways.

For example, if you’re practicing a piece very slowly you might have a click equal a quaver or eighth note. So, in a 4/4 bar you would have 8 clicks. The opposite is true also. If a piece is very quick you might have a click per minim or half note. Using the same example, a 4/4 bar would have 2 clicks.

A challenge I have for you is to take a piece of music you normally play at a reasonably quick tempo. Say 100 or 120 bpm or faster. Set your metronome to 40 bpm and try to play your piece. I don’t know about you but I find this incredibly challenging. What’s the point, you might ask.

Sometimes we play music and you’re pleased with it. However, there may be some sections in it that you find challenging. There might be a mental block coming in to a bar or 2 and you’re glad once you come out the other side.

All this means is that you don’t know that section well enough. Spending some time with incredibly slow practice will help to solidify that section. Build the tempo up gradually from there and you will have that section as confidently as the rest of the piece.

There are loads of metronomes out there. I’d recommenf you get a traditional one (where you can see the arm swing left and right) and a digital one. The digital ones are generally more versatile because you can change the speed in smaller increments. The traditional ones have a visual cue where you can see when the beats are happening.

The main thing is, get started using metronomes. There is a learning curve however you will get used to it and then you’ll wonder how you managed without one.

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