V.com weekend vote: Do you use a metronome in your practice sessions?

July 3, 2020, 6:26 PM · Some people don't like metronomes, but I find them to be an extremely useful practicing and teaching tool.

metronomes

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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Replies

July 4, 2020 at 04:13 PM · The timing of your poll is perfect. Nathan Cole has his Violympics students using their metronomes this week to practice shifting in some selected Sevcik passages.

July 4, 2020 at 04:15 PM · I’ve tried to use the metronome but have never been taught how to use it. I’ve gone online and gotten information but still get confused as to settings and is it one bow per beat or two bows...etc. I would love to know if there is a book with simple instructions out there?

July 4, 2020 at 04:40 PM · I had to vote "never" in order to be truthful, but I may well find the need to use one again (or set up my laptop or "smartphone" - a Samsung J5, now almost totally unsmartened by operating system updates - as one).

July 4, 2020 at 04:43 PM · I had trouble hearing the metronome over my violin. So, I found some metronome beats on YouTube, plugged my computer into my stereo system (I'm old school - turntable, CD player, radio, amp, huge speakers, the whole bit.) then I crank it up so I can hear it. Works for me!

July 4, 2020 at 05:12 PM · The little box that does not lie.

July 4, 2020 at 05:17 PM · I didn't vote because I always use a metronome "now" when I practice is applicable. I started using one recently each time I practice with the goal of being a better player and strong Second Violin as some objectives. Paul Stein's blogs have been very helpful!

July 4, 2020 at 05:30 PM · Yes, lots, it is on about half the time that I am playing. I have a korg kdm-2, I did not like it at first but do now. I was never taught how to use it. I try everything -all speeds, ding on crochets and then on quavers, three against four and so on...

July 4, 2020 at 06:11 PM · I’m a convert to the Peterson “BodyBeat Pulse Solo,” a device with a cord that can be plugged into your electronic metronome or smartphone with a metronome app. It vibrates on the beat and can be clipped anywhere on your clothing that you choose. The pulse is visceral and effective when you get used to it, which doesn’t take long, and it’s silent too if you happen to be recording. If you’re having trouble hearing your metronome, this might be your solution. I actually enjoy using it, which I really can’t say about audio metronomes.

July 4, 2020 at 08:23 PM · I love Jeff's definition: "The little box that does not lie." When I commented on my struggles of using it on Paul Stein's blog, he suggested that perhaps if I named my metronome, we might become more friendly. If I could find one as cute as those shown in the photo, I definitely would!

July 5, 2020 at 12:20 AM · Suzanne brings up interesting questions. The metronome can be used for any combination of number of bows per beat, or number of eighth notes per quarter note beat. A page of alternatives would be very helpful, and you can find that in Barbara Barber's Scales for Advanced Violinists (p. 7) and Scales for Young Violinists (p.2)

Usng a metronome while trying different combinations of bowings and rhythms is called "correlation". It makes us organize new material while paying attention to what other musicians are doing. Hence, the ear improves greatly.

July 5, 2020 at 05:35 PM · Yo estoy aprendiendo a usarlo de apoco tratando de acostumbrarme tengo un cherub digital la verdad me ayuda pero igual me falta seguir adaptándome Saludos desde corrientes?? Argentina ????

July 5, 2020 at 05:56 PM · I don't use a metronome as often as I should. For teaching I prefer to use duets.

July 5, 2020 at 06:00 PM · If I can't play a particular passage with a metronome, it's usually a sign there's a problem that needs to be worked out. Using the metronome is a useful way to find these pesky issues.

July 6, 2020 at 02:32 PM · Jeff Terflinger, this is hilarious! You are so right! I use occasionally the metronom, just for control, if sth is not correct, and I do not feel it. My opinion: NEVER use it permanently!!! One has to find his own rhythm, I mean: his own STEADY rhythm. But be polite with it, for some music needs to have moved rhythm - like our heart and breathe, which is not permanently the same. We are depending from both of them. ;-)

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