What is a metronome?
A metronome is basically a clicking device, programmable by you to click steadily at various speeds of your choosing. The numbers used for each level of speed stand for how many clicks, or beats, the metronome is making per minute (commonly known as beats per minute, or BPM for short). Basically, a metronome is a time-keeping device.
Can a metronome help me count?
The short answer here is…no. A metronome isn’t a counting device. It’s a TEMPO device. So, this device won’t help you if someone tells you that you need to work at better counting. Working on knowing your counting (I’ll explain later) is up to YOU. What a metronome WILL do is help people who already know how to count well keep a steady beat, and help them to develop a sense of tempo and pulse.
So, if a metronome doesn’t count for me, what is it for?
- A metronome helps you develop a steady sense of pulse. Playing along with a steady click can help you to figure our where you are rushing and where you might be slowing down. It can help fix bad habits such as speeding up drastically on the longer, "easier" notes. You must already understand how to count first!
- The metronome is a good practice tool to help you achieve the required tempo of a piece, whether slow or fast. It will help you speed up if you're a bit of a slow-poke and it can help you speed demons learn how to play at slower, more moderate speeds.
- You can use a metronome to measure and challenge your progress for everything you play from scales to etudes to solo pieces.
- The modern metronome can be set to indicate a variety of different rhythms to help with more advanced practice and subdividing.
- Metronome apps can be "programmed" to click in a sequence of different clicks for practicing difficult pieces in mixed meter. Apps can also be programmed to slow down and speed up gradually to help with those accelerandos and ritardandos in your music.
When am I ready to practice with a metronome?
This is the part I get really excited about. With young students, I don’t introduce the metronome right away, at least not on a regular basis. Instead of using the metronome, I might clap, march, or have students march along with the music to feel the pulse. So we do keep time, but we do it on our own. When we do decide to use the metronome regularly at home and in lessons, we always check to see if the following concepts are already in place:
- You can keep a pulse and keep it on your own while playing.
- You have an awareness of pulse. In other words, don’t be listening for your teacher’s clap or the click of a metronome before you play each note. Be able to FEEL when the next beat is coming. Can you feel the pulse in your body? Can you bounce along, march along, or tap along with your own music? Can you really feel it? If you can, you are probably ready.
- You know your subdivisions. One thing that might help you with feeling the pulse is to know the little notes inside of the bigger ones. The little notes that when added together equal the bigger notes are known as subdivisions. They are the parts that make up the whole. Know them really well. Know your “note value family tree.” Be able to do music math without having to think twice about it.
What does knowing my subdivisions do for me?
It makes you ready to use the metronome for what it’s REALLY for. It helps you be able to play more steadily on your own, even without a metronome. It helps you be as steady as possible even without something clicking for you. Here’s why: if you can substitute each longer note with the smaller notes that fill it up, and you sometimes do that during practice time, the note is guaranteed to be held out for the correct length. First you play the actual subdivisions out loud instead of the long note, and eventually you just think them while you play. Feeling, hearing and practicing subdivision are more important than anything else when it comes to being steady and accurate.
OK, OK, I know my rhythms. I can subdivide. Am I ready?
YES!! Now the fun part can begin. If you can already figure out and feel when the next beat will come, and know which notes should land on the beat, now you can use the metronome for what it’s really meant for.
So I just listen for the click and then play, right?
Be careful! You should already pretty much be able to feel when the next click will come. Your job is to pick a speed that works for you, play along with it, and notice whether or not you are matching the click. You will notice if you are ahead of the click or if you are falling behind. And you will adjust. If the click is too fast for you, then go ahead and choose a lower number of beats per minute. Very important: Don’t wait to hear the click. Just play, and NOTICE whether or not your playing is matching WITH the click. :)
I tried to play with the metronome and it's driving me crazy. It’s impossible to play with.
Well, you are not alone! Most people who don’t like using the metronome either don’t know their basic rhythms as well as they should or they just haven’t done it long enough or often enough. As with anything, you have to get used to it. Playing with a click can be distracting at first. But if you do it every day, pretty soon it will seem pretty normal to you. Ask your teacher to help you during lesson time.
Don’t give up, and good luck!
Please let me know if you have any questions!