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Mastering the Metronome: A Powerful Tool for Every Musician

Learn my “no-fail method” of learning how to practice with the metronome. 


The metronome, that simple click-track device, might seem like a basic tool in a musician's arsenal. But don't underestimate its power! 


Used correctly, the metronome can become a secret weapon for developing rock-solid timing, improving accuracy, and ultimately, elevating your musicality.


For beginning musicians, the metronome might hold mystique– almost intriguing and enticing (especially true of the nostalgia pendulum metronomes). Often eager to incorporate them in their practice sessions, new musicians quickly find themselves frustrated as the metronome begins to feel like a drill sergeant barking orders and revealing rhythmic inaccuracies.


But here's the good news: that initial awkwardness when working with a metronome is exactly why it is such an invaluable tool. It forces you to confront your weaknesses head-on, and with a little practice, you'll be surprised at how quickly you improve. 


This post will show you the steps of learning how to incorporate the metronome into your practice sessions. (Hint: We will start away from your instrument!) Let's get started!



Image of a pendulum metronome on top of a piano

What is a Metronome?


In essence, a metronome is a tool that produces a steady, audible click at a user-defined speed, typically measured in beats per minute (BPM). Traditionally, metronomes were wind-up mechanical devices with a swinging pendulum that clicked rhythmically. Today, you have a wider variety of options to choose from.


Types of Metronomes and Where to Find Them:


The classic mechanical metronome and handheld electronic devices are still readily available in music stores and online retailers. These can be a great choice for those who enjoy a simple, no-frills approach. Call me old-school, but I prefer a tangible metronome as sometimes they are more reliable and allow me to unplug from other forms of technology while practicing. 


I have both a Witter MT-50 and a Dr. Beat DB-88. The Witter is a simple small affordable option with a central knob to adjust the tempo in increments of between 3 and 6 bpm. The Dr. Beat, a more costly option, provides many other features including accents, pitch options, subdivisions, volume control, tempo adjustments in increments of 1 bpm, and a tap feature, allowing you to find the tempo marking by tapping into the metronome.  


The market also contains a variety of free online and downloadable app options, often with many features available with handheld metronomes.  However, I've noticed that sometimes their timing is less consistent and I am more easily distracted while practicing with online metronomes or metronome apps. 


Remember, the kind of metronome you choose won’t impact your playing. What matters is that you practice with a metronome, not that you select the “right” one.


Image of hands holding a phone with a metronome app

Steps to Mastering the Metronome:


The following is the no-fail method I use when teaching my students how to practice with a metronome. 

  1. Set the Tempo: Begin with a tempo that feels comfortably slow for the piece you're practicing. It's better to start slow and gradually increase the speed as you gain control, rather than struggle at a tempo that's too fast.


  1. Internalize the Beat: Start by simply counting "1 2 3 4" out loud with each click of the metronome. This helps you internalize the basic pulse of the music.


  1. Clapping or Tapping: Once you're comfortable counting, try clapping or tapping your foot along with the clicks. This engages your physical coordination with the tempo.


  1. Subdividing the Beat: Now, let's get fancy! Most music isn't just played in whole beats. Many pieces have eighth notes, sixteenth notes, or even faster subdivisions. So if your music contains these subdivisions, practice counting the subdivisions, "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and," along with the clicks. Once comfortable, try tapping out these subdivisions on your thigh or a table.


  1. Clapping or Tapping the Rhythm of Your Piece: Once you feel comfortable counting the pause and sub-divisions in sync with the metronome, it's time to practice the rhythms of your piece with the metronome.  Start by counting the beats (and subdivisions) out loud while clapping or tapping the Rhythm.


  1. Take the Passage to Your Instrument: After you've mastered coordinating the rhythms with the clicks of the metronome, it's time to take the passage to your instrument.  For instrumentalists or vocalists who use their breath to play the instrument, you must rely on internal counting.  For those, like pianists, you can count out loud while playing, you can continue to do so.   For pianists, I recommend starting with just one hand, focusing on staying perfectly in time with the metronome. This isolates the notes and allows you to concentrate solely on your timing. Once you feel confident with one hand, add in the second hand. 


  1. Adjust the Tempo as Needed: Remember, it's okay to slow down the tempo again if needed. The goal is to play accurately and smoothly. Once you can play the entire piece without hesitations, in lock with the metronome, you are ready to increase your tempo a few bpm at a time until you reach your goal tempo.


Remember: Be patient with yourself! Learning to play with a metronome takes practice and dedication. However, the rewards of improved timing and accuracy are well worth the effort. So, keep at it, and soon you'll be playing with the confidence and precision of a seasoned musician!



Image of music and a metronome on a piano

Music Isn't Only About Playing with the Metronome:


As important as it is to maintain a steady tempo when performing and as useful as the metronome can be in achieving that goal, don't forget that musically expressive performances often require deviating from the tempo from time to time. 


Music frequently requires a breath or a space between the beats, even if so slightly. So even if your piece doesn't require copious amounts of rubato, you will want to practice your music away from the metronome so that you allow the piece to have room for musical expression. 

Image of a Metronome Tempo Cheat Sheet

 

If learning the piano is on your list (or the list of someone you know), I would be honored to help in the journey.


It is my true joy to bring the joy of music into hearts and homes through personalized remote piano lessons that will leave you feeling inspired and accomplished. 


The process is simple:

1. Schedule a call to talk about your goals.

2. Select a lesson time.

3. Take your first lesson! 



 

To have these “Keys to Success” essays and resources designed to support your piano playing land directly in your inbox, subscribe to The Blossom Piano Insider newsletter.


If you are looking for additional support and encouragement in your musical journey, check out Notes to Self: A Guided Mindful Practice Journal designed to bring mindfulness and celebration to your practice sessions. 


Are you an adult musician looking for community with other adults actively pursuing the skill of mastering an instrument?  If so, you are invited to join my Facebook Group, Notes to Self Musical Community: A Supportive Group for Adults. I hope to see you there!


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