The Metronome: My Favorite Tool

Published on 21 April 2024 at 12:08

Every musician is quite familiar with this charming musical accessory—the metronome. I was fascinated by it when I was young and used it occasionally during my practice. When I began practicing more consistently, my older sister gave me a metronome as a present. It looked pretty modern compared to the traditional and mechanical brown woody metronome I was accustomed to seeing, and I cherished that gift very much.

What is a metronome?

The metronome is a device that beats a musician's desired tempo to work out the tempo markings while practicing. It is a practicing aid. The metronome's consistency helps the player make the necessary changes or adjustments as they practice.

I have had many types of metronomes, from mechanical to electronic. I particularly like the electronic metronome. The loud ticking sound helps me to focus.

What are the advantages of using the metronome in the practice room? Why should one use it? What benefits have I personally experienced by using a metronome? How have I used it during my practice hours?

The metronome's purpose is to help the player achieve the right tempo, which means the tempo designated by the composer in a given piece. The metronome comes to the rescue when the player cannot accurately play technically oriented passages.

Sometimes, when there are sections that my daughters struggle with, I always tell them to consult one of their best friends when practicing. The metronome, as it is genuinely as such in those instances because it helps the player not only achieve rhythmic accuracy but also aids with achieving the right tempo.

In the past, I have used the metronome daily, primarily when I was assigned a new cello piece. I would use it for a week, going through the phrases in a slow tempo. I isolated the passages I experienced difficulty playing and played them repetitively three to five times at a slow pace I felt comfortable playing. Then, I moved on to the following passage and played it three to five times until I had gone through the entire piece. I did this for a whole week. At the end of the week, I would play through the music in tempo without the metronome to observe and hear my progress. After that, I would determine if I needed to continue using the metronome.

Practicing with the metronome is a bit like using a bicycle's training wheels. We use them until we have mastered the skill of bicycle riding, and only then are the training wheels removed.

Using the metronome during the beginning phase of learning a new piece is important because when the rhythm and tempo are not well established, expressing the music as it should sound would be challenging. Therefore, we have to be confident in the rhythm and tempo noted by the composer. Using the metronome, we can also work on dynamic markings, such as piano and forte. Naturally, we should consider them when working with a metronome.

When a phrase is not working out in the fast tempo, it is time to start from the slow tempo and pick up speed gradually, slowly bringing it up to the right tempo. The accuracy will be audible in our playing, and we will know and learn about our progress. Consequently, we can move on to a different phase in our practice on a particular piece.

Having said all this, we have to know when to stop using a metronome. We also need to learn when and how we must rely on ourselves.
Sometimes, I practice with the metronome for a short time and then proceed to work on my own. Usually, we will know if we have improved, and we can decide how to proceed.

Some people prefer to avoid working with the metronome, which is fine. There is more than one way to achieve results. However, if we exercise patience and practice with a metronome, we will eventually observe its benefits. We must be willing to do the work diligently to enjoy the rewards. Trying it once or twice and then determining that it does not work would not be a fair way of assessing the benefits of using metronomes.

Using a metronome is invaluable in the initial process of learning a new piece. It will help clear out some issues and bring about good habits. The initial hard work can go far into the future and even help the player save some time later. The passages that needed so much work before will no longer need the metronome work in the future. And this alone can be rewarding for the musician in the long run.

How do you use the metronome in your practice? Share in the comments below.

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