April 30, 2020, 2:10 PM · Hello,
I can't remember if I asked this before, or if anyone else has. So here we go.
When it comes to practising, I practise a lot with a metronome (my rhythm lets me down currently). When I am practising with it, the rhythm is fine. When I take it away, and practise without, it near enough goes back to where it was before.

How do I make it stick?

Replies (59)

April 30, 2020, 2:43 PM · When you play without a metronome, are you recording yourself at least sometimes, and listening to the playback?
April 30, 2020, 2:58 PM · I'm recording myself more and more yeah
April 30, 2020, 3:00 PM · I am not sure how well this would work for you but I tap lightly with my left or right big toe whenever I play. I train myself to be synchronized with the metronome when I use a metronome.
April 30, 2020, 3:04 PM · I tried that with it and it was fine. But I then turned it off and it wasn't like "rigid"
April 30, 2020, 4:01 PM · Jake,

The process of getting the beat in your head is not easy. My guess is that you are working on new and complex music with elements that cause you to pause or at least forget your inner-metronome.

The age-old technique of Isolate, pencil, repeat, repeat, repeat, till the difficult passage is resolved does work. Boring but effective.

Edited: April 30, 2020, 7:16 PM · When I slow down, it is always due to difficulties. Any idea what causes you to get out of rhythm? [If your changes of rhythm are interpretive/musical, that's better than a mechanical metronomic beat.]
April 30, 2020, 5:04 PM · George, I am not really haha. What I think it is is that I have been playing this particular piece on and off for almost 2 years and my previous teacher said nothing about the rhythm being wrong. So it has been ingrained into my body and mind as how I did it. Its only since I brought it to my current teacher where he pointed out the gaping flaws in it. I think if I was learning something from scratch it would be less of a problem
Edited: April 30, 2020, 6:00 PM · Jake, not your problem obviously, but to add to Erin's observation about slowing down in difficult passages - before such a passage it may even happen that one inevitably and unconsciously will become faster, like as if to get momentum before a huge jump. Slowing down becomes even more obvious then...

What works well for me since my piano days if it comes to a rhythmically complex passage, is like practicing anything complex: splitting it into small and easy chunks, practice these, and put them back together one by one. Intentionally varying the rhythm and improvising about the given rhythm and theme may also be helpful. If it doesn't work for you, then make it yours...!

Edited: May 1, 2020, 4:38 PM · My experience is probably not typical. I rarely use the metronome, but I know that I got one of my jobs because of good timing. Instead, most of my playing has been with small ensembles or orchestras. And I have done over-dub recording sessions with click tracks For solos, a good pianist will keep you honest, point out your timing mistakes. Listen to the expert recordings, so you know what it is supposed to sound like.
April 30, 2020, 6:27 PM · I wonder if it might help to play along with some good youtube accompaniment for now, a piece that has the piano part online for instance, so you'd have the beat integrated totally with the music.
Edited: April 30, 2020, 7:05 PM · Jake you're planning to audition for conservatoire in a few years, right? I'm glad you've identified your problem with having an internal sense of rhythm because this is something that you want to fix -- and fast.

I have two suggestions which may seem unorthodox but they are sincere.

First, get yourself a basic digital stage piano with a realistic-feeling keyboard such as the Yamaha P-45. And start learning to play the piano diligently. I realize you may not be "made of money" and this will cost you some bank. But in an earlier thread (if I recall correctly) you complained that you are coming home from work eager to practice but you can't because it's disturbing your family. Practicing a digital stage piano with headphones will be nearly silent (there is still the mild thumping of the keys -- trust me on this). Get the book of Bach pieces linked below. All these pieces are already well known to you because they are in the Suzuki books. When you can play the first 10-12 of these reasonably okay, which might take you a month or two of earnest work (say, an hour a day), then order yourself the Clementi Sonatinas and start learning those. The reason I recommend baroque and early classical era piano music is twofold. First of all you'll likely need to learn some piano at conservatoire anyway. And later on when you are teaching lessons piano skill will be very useful. But those are not the main reasons. When you play the piano you have (usually) the accompaniment in your left hand, so your right hand cannot stray rhythmically. This will discipline you to remain rhythmic without a metronome, and it leads directly into my second suggestion. I have played piano and violin since I was a young child and I feel that 90% of my rhythmic sense came from studying the piano. That doesn't mean violists can't have rhythm, but how's that working out for you? Not very well by your own estimation.

Second, I recommend you think about what is going through a jazz musician's head while they are taking an improvised solo. I play jazz piano semi-professionally in my area so I am keenly aware of how it works mentally. You have to have multiple "tracks" running through your head all the time. One of them is the melody of the tune, which provides a continual musical reference point (Marian McPartland would say that the tune should include the lyrics!) The other "track" is your internal metronome -- a rhythmic sense -- of where you are with respect to the bar line and with respect to the chord changes of the piece overall. I play with a variety of bass players, and the rule is that they set the tempo, so when a bass player does not have a reliable rhythmic sense (it happens), that's very frustrating, even if it's only off by a little bit. So while I think Karen Egee has made a good suggestion about using pre-recorded accompaniments, eventually you need to have that accompaniment running in your head as a separate "track" while you are playing.

April 30, 2020, 7:03 PM · Paul, you are right in my apspirations yeah. Those Bach pieces they are from the Anna Magdalene notebook right? Its funny you said Clementi sonatinas as I am working through the first one at the moment (I intend to learn them all). I have a Chase 500 (I think) electric piano. I've tried using headphones with it but it needs a bigger jack which I haven't bought yet
April 30, 2020, 7:04 PM · Erin I'm not sure honestly. I just know that it is not uniform (as in always early or late, but a mixture)
April 30, 2020, 7:07 PM · "What I think it is is that I have been playing this particular piece on and off for almost 2 years and my previous teacher said nothing about the rhythm being wrong. So it has been ingrained into my body and mind as how I did it. Its only since I brought it to my current teacher where he pointed out the gaping flaws in it. I think if I was learning something from scratch it would be less of a problem"

This jumped out at me. If a student came to me with a piece he had been working on for some time with a previous teacher, with significant errors practiced into it, I would immediately have the student put that piece aside and start something new.

You are fighting a losing battle here. Ask your teacher to suggest a new piece of comparable difficulty, and start from scratch. That's the only way to get a fair idea of how your internal rhythm really is.

April 30, 2020, 7:12 PM · I got a jack adapter (3.5mm to 1/4") at Parts Express for $0.57 (yes, fifty-seven cents); maybe you have a Radio Shack or some such nearby?
Edited: April 30, 2020, 7:20 PM · Jake if you are already working on the Clementi then you don't need the Bach -- yes those are the Anna Magdalena pieces and a few others. I wasn't aware you were studying piano already. Better Bach for you would be the 18 "little" preludes and fugues (Peters has a nice edition with sane ornaments) or the 2-part inventions (Schirmer-Bischoff is what I learned from). The three or four easiest Chopin Preludes may also be within your grasp, and perhaps a few of the easiest Mazurkas. All of that is on IMSLP.

When you are working on the Clementi don't ignore the fingerings. Let the editor teach you. If you are not having piano lessons, let me say that the biggest mistake I see piano students doing is sitting too far back on the bench. Move the bench or chair back and sit only on the very edge. This will give you much more freedom of movement in your upper torso, trust me. The chair should be under your butt, not under your legs.

My daughter (14) studies cello but since we have a piano in the living room she has been teaching herself piano, and she plays the Clementi Sonatinas too. Yesterday my wife and I were watching TV in the evening, and I could hear the Clementi -- she was playing it on the cello. From memory. Of course she's supposed to be practicing something else. LOL

April 30, 2020, 7:13 PM · Mary Ellen, its funny you say that. I had been thinking about doing that. The said piece is for an exam, and have been looking at another one on the syllabus
April 30, 2020, 7:16 PM · I've only had three violin teachers in my life but I've had a LOT of piano teachers, like 10. Every time I brought what I was playing with the last teacher, and I could tell the new teacher could not wait to get rid of that so they could assign something new. It's just a matter of having a clean start, which seems very logical.
April 30, 2020, 7:23 PM · I have a Barenreiter edition of Bach's little preludes and fugues I think somewhere and thought they were a bit more advanced than I am. I don't study it as such
(I started at 17) but when not in lockdown I have a theory teacher who is a pianist, and every time I have some question, I bring it to him and take up a portion of our lesson. Alternatively, he gets me to do some pianoey things in our lessons too. For music college here (RAM, RCM, Guildhall School etc.) a requirement is to be ABRSM grade 5 or above (Grade 5-6 RCM) in piano if its not your principal study. Erin I think I could probably find one at a similar price on Amazon or Ebay I think. Will need to wait until next pay day though haha
April 30, 2020, 7:27 PM · Jake, get a pack of 4 of those jack adapters. They disappear and they stop working too if you buy the cheap ones.
April 30, 2020, 7:29 PM · Right okay. Thanks
May 1, 2020, 6:14 AM · I echo Mary Ellen's suggestion of starting with a fresh new piece. Certainly if it is for an exam, Jake. I assume Grade 8 viola? Which is the piece you are struggling with? If and when you start a fresh exam piece, make sure you start metronome work early on, slow practice and accurate rhythm practice.
May 1, 2020, 7:01 AM · M you are also correct in your assumption. Piece in question is Glazunov's Elegie. Its such a shame because I love that piece so much. But I am swapping it out for Fauré's cello elegie arr. for viola
May 1, 2020, 7:03 AM · That is a real shame, the Elegie is just wonderful. It is on my list for Grade 8 prep work.

I think you will enjoy the Faure Cello Elegie, it is important to start this fresh, with correct rhythms, timing and practice. No reason you cannot succeed with hard work and diligent practice!

Edited: May 1, 2020, 7:12 AM · I want to support Mary Ellen and M Zilpah - that piece has been burnt into your long term memory as it is, including all of the problems.

Let me tell you, when I play pieces after decades, I still get nervous at certain spots that used to be problematic for me. I would have performed the Brahms sonatas if Corona hadn't come in my way, and I changed some of my former fingerings, because I couldn't perform some of them with a good secure feeling - some types of shiftings that are easy to me, nowadays.

So, just regard THIS piece to be a monument of your self at this age with that rhythmic issue.

Now to rhythm itself: I think rhythm and the beat is something you have to feel throughout your body. One of my kids, now 13, has been clapping, stomping and singing rhythmical patterns, throughout all of his life. He just enjoys this to an extend that we have to constantly remind him "it's dinner time, no singing and fidgeting at the table". He is extremely strong in keeping a constant beat, even at very slow music. Certainly, this is one of his strengths, but in a playful way, he had been really practising it.

So, I would suggest the same: Surround yourself with music and just let yourself be drawn into the rhythm, and move along, be it dancing, clapping, nodding - whatever. Sing whatever song you might like, preferably some pop song, because the music is easy and often contains strong beats and offbeats. Sing that and clap the offbeats to yourself.
If you like, involve some family members in rhythmical games (one is knocking the beat, the other one off beats, or other rhythms).

It is possible to have a lot of fun with this - don't regard such games as silly. The more fun, the greater the effect on your learning.

This informal practising should become part of your everyday life (toothbrushing in rhythms, whatever).

Then, when you come to a certain piece of music, learn it either with no rhythm, at all, or with the correct rhythm. The first one is to make sure to learn the notes, the shifts, and so on. Just NO rhythm for these basic things, so your brain doesn't get confused.
Meanwhile, while you are not able to play the piece, yet, find out the right rhythm without the violin, and sing your piece until it has become just natural.
Whenever you start putting things together, you will instantly be able to notice at which points you are not yet able to keep the rhythm, and know what to work on.

Edited: May 1, 2020, 7:14 AM · One more thing about using a metronome:

Often, people let themselves being dragged through a piece or a scale by their metronome. So, somehow, they outsource the aspect of rhythm to the machine, without internalizing the beat.

So, for scales, for example, try to use the metronome for the offbeats, only. Can be applied to rhythmically straight passages as well.

First, listen to the metronome. It always sounds like a strong beat and takes you a while to re-define what you hear, as being offbeats, instead. Once you are there, then start playing.

It is a mentally much more active way of using the metronome. Quite challenging, but what feels challenging is just your brain being in the process of learning.

Edited: May 1, 2020, 9:28 AM · Well I understand about the Glazunov Elegie. I strongly feel the notation does not really tell me the truth about the rhythm...glad you warned me...I will be super cautious; this is a piece I had chosen to start next :) It is VERY UN-Bachian. Boy is Clementi ever a switch after G's Elegie!!! EDIT: I hear Elegie as a piece with a sway of rubato; I feel your pain using a metronome with it!
May 1, 2020, 9:23 AM · Well I've been working on Zelter's e flat concerto mvt 1 and Benjamin Britten's Reflection too haha
May 1, 2020, 9:32 AM · WOW. Talk about transitioning!!!
May 1, 2020, 10:12 AM · All part of my exam sadly
May 1, 2020, 10:25 AM · All of my teachers on piano and oboe were against playing to a metronome ever. Your use of the word "rigid" is worrisome.
May 1, 2020, 10:31 AM · What do you mean Gordon?
May 1, 2020, 11:11 AM · rigid and musical are pretty much antonyms
May 1, 2020, 11:20 AM · Ah okay that makes sense :)
May 1, 2020, 11:34 AM · It makes no sense. Practicing with a metronome is a very necessary part of a student’s development.
May 1, 2020, 11:37 AM · Mary Ellen I completely agree also. My current teacher is of the mind to play in time before pulling it about as it were. You need to know your starting point
May 1, 2020, 11:42 AM · Gordon, Leia Zhu showed us that Mendelssohn didn't seem to think so
May 1, 2020, 12:03 PM · Leia Zhu discusses Mendelssohn's preference for playing in time an 1845 Mendelssohn cadenza, not all Mendelssohn, or all music.
May 1, 2020, 12:29 PM · Jake, Molly Gebrian, a violist with a background in neuroscience as well as music, has a youtube series titled "What Musicians Can Learn About Practicing from Current Brain Research." You might get some useful information from part 3 in the series, which is all about using the metronome -
May 1, 2020, 12:43 PM · Thats a good link Dale. I'll give it a watch now
May 1, 2020, 7:00 PM · I was correct. It was a lot more informative than I thohght. Kinda annoyed it didn't come up on YouTube searches
May 1, 2020, 8:02 PM · A metronome, like any tool, should be used thoughtfully and not all the time. Setting your metronome to big beats allows you some flexibility between beats, and you can emphasize this at slower tempi, and then seek to recreate that phrasing when you click the metronome up a notch. Also, you don't have to spend all your time with the metronome right at the edge of your ability - Playing too much at the very fastest speed can encourage tension and playing with a survival mindset. Do some work with the metronome at reasonable speeds, then without the metronome at reasonable speeds. Do some work at kinda slow speeds with and without. Then try increasing your speed notch by notch. Then go back to slow and remind yourself if you've been playing tense.

Focused practice like this will build dividends over time, but benefits will not always be apparent within the practice session, which is why it's good to rest and sleep on your work, and not build tension in.

May 1, 2020, 8:39 PM · Christian that is good advice. I'll try that during my practise this afternoon
Edited: May 3, 2020, 5:38 AM · This has been a long thread and yet something is missing here: At the end rhythm does not come out of the metronome; it comes out of your belly. And I think there is a danger that practicing with the metronome can destroy or damage your innate sense of rhythm (sorry, Mary Ellen!). That does not mean the metronome is useless. I like it for example to check if I maintain a constant tempo. I just never practice rhythms with it.

As to how to practice I'd suggest to set the violin aside and practice the rhythm clapping your hands, tapping your feet, beating a children's drum or any other such way. Remove all the violinistic problems and focus on getting the feel in your belly (the noise you are going to make will help your belly "get" it).

May 2, 2020, 10:38 AM · Albrecht, my theory teacher gave me a couple of sheets of music with various rhythms on it cor that very purpose about 2 ish years ago. I had neglected it until I came on furlough 3 weeks ago and do 30 minutes every 2 days or so
May 2, 2020, 10:57 AM · I have a book of Eastern European violin music. There are dance pieces with time sigs of 11/8, 13/8. You have to get a feel for rhythms like that, and for any other rhythm.
Edited: May 2, 2020, 11:39 AM · A lot of the time we think we're playing with the metronome when what's really happening is we're playing while the metronome is on. Have you tried setting the metronome so it only clicks twice a bar? Once a bar? Once every two bars? On the off beats? Twice a beat? Try consciously to learn what it sounds and feels like when it's in tempo, instead of just checking it with the metronome. If it's a problem with the rhythm instead of a problem of slowing down and speeding up, sometimes working on it the same way you would work on a shift - slowly, then gradually and methodically speeding it up can help.

editing to add, in this particular case I agree - cut your losses, work on something new!

May 2, 2020, 11:48 AM · Albrecht, what you described is exactly what I meant by
“people let themselves being dragged through a piece or a scale by their metronome. So, somehow, they outsource the aspect of rhythm to the machine, without internalizing the beat.”
Thanks for making it clear with other words! Might be better understood.
May 2, 2020, 12:00 PM · Irene what you said is essentially what Molly Gebrian said in the video that Dale linked. Brilliant vid
May 2, 2020, 1:57 PM · Albrecht, it sounds like Jake should eat more beans, what with them being the musical fruit and all ;-)
Edited: May 2, 2020, 2:41 PM · My favorite expression of physical movement related to tempo is andante, a slow walking pace. I like to memorize a piece while walking outside; my steps are the 'beat' while I hum the notes, with my score in hand for a quick peek. If you have legs and space, no metronome is needed. (Beans may be used if you desire an extra propellant.)
May 2, 2020, 3:33 PM · Because of all of your suggestions, advice etc. and from my teacher(several of you echoed what he said) I feel a lot more secure moving forward whenever I learn something new. So thanks :)
May 2, 2020, 4:07 PM · Including the advice about the beans?

Speaking of beans, I was thinking about some old Monty Python skits recently, and I decided "practising" is tinny and "practicing" is woody.

May 2, 2020, 4:11 PM · What do you mean? And less about beans haha
May 2, 2020, 7:02 PM · I was making a joke on your British spelling of "practising."
May 2, 2020, 7:13 PM · Ahhh I see. "Practice" is used too
May 3, 2020, 3:10 AM · practise is the verb; practice is the noun.
May 3, 2020, 8:36 AM · Exactly Gordon!
May 3, 2020, 1:23 PM · LOL! I didn't know that. Over here we pretty much got rid of "practise."

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