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Exploring Essays - Metronome: Friend or Foe

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When people think of the metronome, they often have an adverse reaction. I think it is good to ask why. I believe that many times this reaction is caused by the reality that practice with the metronome is often either mundane or frustrating or both. So let's start by asking the value of metronome work and how this might be achieved in a productive and engaging manner. First of all, tempo stability is often an area that musicians need to work on. Using the metronome is often one of the best ways to draw attention to this area. That being said, many musicians work in large sections and in a repetitive manner with the metronome; while this can be useful, many students lose focus or motivation. One of the best ways in which the metronome can help is to draw the listener's attention to tempo instability. Thinking of the metronome as a tool and not as a taskmaster can be very enlightening. It is also very valuable to realize that as tempo stability improves, the music becomes more structured and the detail is allowed to shine more freely - and therefore freeing the music to be even more meaningful, beautiful and thought-provoking. Repetition for the sake of repetition itself can often lead to a lack of production and a neglect of fundamentals. Always try to ask the purpose in the exercise and construct the exercise in a sustainable manner so that success can be achieved over the long term. Here is a list of three practical ideas that can help achieve metronome productivity and therefore more efficient practicing: 1. While practicing an entire piece three times daily with the metronome can be useful, often smaller more targeted doses will be more effective for many students. Depending on the length of the piece, choose a section daily that is targeted with the metronome. One of the keys with the metronome is learning to listen carefully, so working on a small section and listening for detailed improvement can be very effective. Make a recording of a section and then work on it with the metronome. Once you hear progress, record it again, and listen to both recordings while noting with detail the improvements and the results. 2. Often students will complain that practicing with the metronome is uninspiring. This can often be the case because the lack of musicality (specifically dynamics and phrasing) will often occur. The strictness of the metronome should not stop a musician from being musical. In fact it is often a change in dynamics or a shift in phrasing that will cause a tempo to become unstable in the first place. Practicing with full musicality and the metronome should not only be more productive - it is also a lot more fun and inspiring. 3. Practicing metronome transitions is a very effective way to work. It is often phrase transitions, theme transitions and section transitions that will often cause tempo instability. Practicing the specific transitions can be very effective and targets specific challenges with detail. Look to identify some of these transitions and practice with the metronome accordingly. One of the keys is to notice specifically what tends to happen. Is the tendency to speed up or slow down, or is it generally uneven? Is it in the left hand accompaniment or in the right hand passagework? Learning to listen with this sort of detail will help make the metronome more productive but will also help train the musician to listen for the same specific details when the metronome has been turned off. Learning to apply some of these steps and skills with the metronome will encourage greater engagement and skill and productivity. Learning to use the metronome as a friend and not a foe will hopefully provide variety and practice as well as greater efficiency. Seek to view the metronome as a friendly tool to encourage greater detail and therefore the ability to inspire more imagination.




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