Practicing With A Metronome: A Love-Hate Relationship.

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Did you play a musical instrument as a child? If so, chances are that you have not-so-fond memories of practicing with a metronome.metronomeAh yes, the metronome.

My favorite teacher whom I love dearly always had me practicing with a metronome. Like all the time. I had to play my warm-up scales, arpeggios, chords and Hanon exercises with this ticking. It accompanied me during the “middle” learning stage of each and every sonatina.

I spent many childhood practices seething at it. Wishing I could throw it through a wall.

Now, however, I am grateful that I have the ability to play with this strange little contraption. I actually have a metronome app downloaded on my phone. I use it to check the tempo of a piece while accompanying the choir and work out a tricky rhythmic passage. As it turns out, the metronome has been a valuable tool, and something that I use with ease.

It does the counting for me when I’m in a sticky spot.

Many teachers and musicians have mixed feelings about the metronome. Johannes Brahms LOATHED IT. He actually said, “I am of the opinion that metronome marks go for nothing.”

Then there are the teachers, like mine, who require it for each and every exercise and use it as an all important tool to learning pieces.

So what’s the answer?

As with all things, I think it’s important to be flexible and meet your student where he is at. In my online program for kids, I don’t actually introduce the metronome until Level 3, about 40 lessons into my program.

During Level 1, so much emphasis is placed on learning to read notes on a page and to count rhythms. I like to emphasize my students counting and saying note  names out loud. During Level 2,  I teach more music that puts both hands together, another difficult skill to master. I’m of the mind that these two levels can be frustrating enough without the constant ticking in the background. Frankly, sometimes that ticking can discourage kids from wanting to practice.

So I wait until students have a strong foundation and confidence in their abilities before I introduce the metronome.

I do believe the metronome is so valuable in helping with accuracy, and encourage my students (especially those in my adult level courses) to spend time practicing with the metronome. It can be a way of testing your rhythm accuracy and trouble shooting errors that you may not pick up on. At my home studio, I often introduce the metronome to students in our technique exercises. Then I use it in pieces as needed — if a student is having a tough time keeping an even tempo, for example.

Here are my tips for practicing with the metronome.

Your student may find it easiest to familiarize herself with a metronome while doing a scale or exercise that has similar rhythm notes.

An exercise composed with all eighth notes or all quarter notes is a good way to get started. This allows a student to get used to the “noise” of the metronome and begin to feel the beats more naturally.

Turn on the metronome and have your child simply practice clapping or tapping his head or knees on the beats.

This begins to help students feel the pulse without having to think through all the other layers of piano music (hitting the correct notes, for example). If your child becomes frustrated trying to play with a metronome when adding it to a piece, close the book. Have her clap or tap the rhythm of the music to the ticking metronome for a few moments without playing the notes on the piano.

Work in small sections and make a game out of it.

Start at a super slow tempo, and then increase the speed by a small amount — perhaps 4 beats/minute — whenever she plays the section correctly.

Be patient and don’t give up.

Practicing with a metronome can take a year or two to master. If you or your child is becoming frustrated and discouraged, this is normal. If you need to tuck it away for the next practice or two until he builds up confidence and enthusiasm again: that’s okay. Just don’t let it get too dusty!

Practicing with a metronome should be done when the music is learned.

Don’t use the metronome the first time you sit down with a piece. Work through counting, dynamics and become comfortable with the music. Then use the metronome where it might be needed to check accuracy or support counting in a tricky passage.

 

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