Jennifer Spleit

All About The Metronome

October 29, 2015 10:32


The dog may be mankind's best friend, but the musician's best friend is the metronome. At least, it should be!

What Can the Metronome Do For Me?

Teachers are always nagging at their students to practice with the metronome at home. That's because we recognize the enormous value of this simple electronic device. Effective metronome practice has the ability to improve your musicianship in so many ways:

The metronome teaches you to hear what's going on around you, so you'll be better prepared to respond to other musicians in an ensemble setting.

The metronome shows you where you're miscounting (you'll feel it when you're off!), allowing you to self-identify problem areas and correct them on your own before your next lesson or rehearsal.

The metronome allows you to build speed in your repertoire gradually, in much smaller increments than our own bodies will naturally play, allowing for more successes and fewer failed attempts (when trying to play faster than you're prepared for!).

The metronome helps guide your eye to the strong beats of each measure, improving your mathematical understanding of fractions and beat fragments (hello, math brain!) and sight-reading skills.

The metronome helps guide your ear to the strong beats of each measure, lending musicality and pulse to the phrases.

The metronome makes you sound like a steady, polished, controlled, comfortable, professional musician even when you turn it off. Who doesn’t want that?!

How Do I Use My Metronome:

*Pro Tip: Count yourself in for one full measure EVERY time you re-play a passage. The trick to metronome success is FEELING the beat before you even start playing!

Step 1. Get used to responding to the metronome beat in a really simple fashion: Turn it on while you play your scales. Put it on a slow pulse ie. 50bpm and hold each note for 4 counts to practice timing your bow changes. Then try holding each note for 2 counts. Finally, match each beat with a newly fingered note - co-ordinating the timing of your left hand with the metronome. Experiment with different speeds (60, 70, 80) or rhythms (ta, ti-ti, tiri-tiri) to improve your musical flexibility.

Step 2. Choose a passage in your current practice repertoire. Play it once or twice to re-familiarize yourself with the notes before trying it with the metronome. Then turn the metronome on to 50% of the listed tempo (half-speed). We want this to feel easy so we will be successful!

Step 3. Put your instrument down and sing & clap the RHYTHM of the passage along with the metronome (ta ti-ti timri tiritiri etc).

Step 4. Pick up your instrument and try your L.H. Left Hand only – either with silent fingers or pizzicato. Isolating one hand allows you to focus 100% of your attention on your fingers without distraction.

Step 5. Now pick up your bow and try your R.H. Right Hand only while singing the rhythm. Due to slurred and hooked bowings, retakes, and ties your bow will not necessarily change with every note. Focus on changing direction at the right time, while maintaining a relaxed bow grip and a straight travel path. Don’t move your L.H.! We are dedication 100% attention to our R.H. now.

Step 6. Now you’re ready to play! When you can play the passage 3 times in a row successfully with the metronome, you’re ready for the next speed.

Step 7. Move the metronome speed up in a VERY small increment (think 3 or 4 beats per minute). The trick is to make the change so negligible that your body doesn’t even notice the difference – so you’ll play it perfectly rhythmically once again. Repeat this step about 5 times.

Step 8. STOP. Don’t try to reach your ideal tempo on Day 1 with the metronome. We want to build comfort and consistency first. Tomorrow you can start a tiny bit faster than you started today, and increase your speed a few more ticks. By the end of the week, you’ll be flying!

Where Do I Get A Metronome?

Every music store carries them! Standard models are only $15-25.

Your teacher likely even has one in stock for you to purchase or borrow.

Download an app! There are many free and inexpensive apps for smart phones and ipads.

Google “metronome!” There are many free websites you can use until you can get your own hard version.

What If I Can’t Hear it?

Some students have difficulty hearing their metronome while they are playing at first as it takes practice to learn to filter the sound (plus some devices are just really quiet). Try hooking your device in to your home speakers through the audio jack or put on a pair of headphones. I prefer to wear only one earbud so I can hear my instrument clearly, too.

Happy practicing!

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Previous entries: September 2015

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