Some people don't like metronomes, but I find them to be an extremely useful practicing and teaching tool.
In his weekly blog, Paul Stein raises the issue of the metronome and discusses the gap that occurs between a metronome’s rhythm and what happens in real time. He writes, “In comparing the metronome to real time, I felt that so many essential elements were missing from the metronome that it almost defied you to play along with it. On the other hand, it was an incredible invention. Like tape on the fingerboard, the metronome helped me enter the inner sanctums of music and violin playing.”
I agree that the metronome is a gateway to learning and understanding more rhythmically complex music, in the same way that knowing multiplication tables allows you to learn higher math.
Learning music can be a lot like solving a math problem in motion. The metronome is the tool that helps you conceptualize rhythm in real, physical time and learn to execute it. It allows you to work out the problem so that you understand and work within the parameters. Only then can you move those boundaries a little and still make musical sense to your listener.
Most of the time, when students can't follow the metronome, it is not because the metronome is interfering with their artful conception of a piece. The reasons tend to be more mundane, such as: rushing during an easy-to-play passage; slowing down for a tricky shift or technical issue; not really understanding the rhythm; or letting adrenaline take the driver's seat.
To use a metronome, you first have to internalize an external beat. The ability to do that is the same ability that allows you to play in sync with other musicians. Yes, the metronome is not going to do its part to follow you back, but you learn to 100 percent do *your* part. And unlike playing with humans, the metronome is at least predictable!
After internalizing the beat, then you have to put everything in its place, which involves knowing where it all goes. This can be very revealing! It can show you that you actually don't know where things go, or you have not yet mastered whatever technique is required to get it done on time. So slow it down, keep it in time, and you are still making progress.
You can probably predict how I'll vote in this one, but I do want other views on the matter! Do you use a metronome often during your practice? Do you enjoy using it? Or do you find it to be an evil nemesis? Or perhaps a little of both? Please choose whatever answer corresponds best to your experience, then share your thoughts in the comments.
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