7 Reasons You Need to Learn to Love Your Metronome

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Metronome gives a consistent beatWhether you love it or hate it, the metronome is an essential tool for every musician. That’s right – I said “essential,” as in, MUST have one and MUST use it.

If you’re a metronome fan, you already know the benefits of working with the metronome.  If you’re one of those who would rather visit the dentist than try to play with the click, read on to find out exactly what the metronome can do for you, and why it’s easier than you think to use it. (Hint: you’ve probably been using it incorrectly.)

Whether your metronome has a swinging arm, flashing lights or just a click, it has one purpose: to give you a steady beat.

It’s all about the beat

Without a steady beat, a predictable rhythmic pulse, music loses much of its power. Our reaction to the beat is instinctive; we tap our toes, clap our hands, nod our heads.  We move to the groove. When we fail to keep the beat steady as we play, we don’t allow the listener to connect on that visceral level with our music. In short, we fail to communicate, and communicating through our music is the whole point.

No matter how good our personal sense of rhythm, the technical challenges we encounter in the music we play can cause us to warp the beat. We slow down when the going gets tough. We speed up when we are excited or nervous. Whether we slow down or speed up, the effect is the same: an unconvincing or sloppy performance of the music.

Working with the metronome will fix that.

How can the metronome help me?

Given that the metronome’s function is to provide a steady beat, there are numerous benefits to training with that steady beat . Here are seven of the most important:

1. Develop an even technique. The metronome will help you ensure that all your fingers are even and accurate.
2. Smooth out the rough spots. A metronome is ideal for helping you iron out difficulties.
3. Play more musically. (You didn’t expect that, did you?) Working slowly with the metronome can give you time to add in the expressive details.
4. Create a feeling of calm and confidence when you play. A steady tempo not only sounds right but it feels right too.
5. Train your “inner metronome.” It will help you learn to keep the pulse steady on your own.
6. Improve your sightreading.  Your sightreading will become more fluent when your subdivisions are even and  you can keep the pulse steady.
7. Speed up your technique. If you want to be able to play faster, the metronome will help you get there.

But I can’t stay with it!

Perhaps the most common complaint of students who don’t use the metronome is that it just doesn’t work for them. Of course it doesn’t, not at first.  You will need to practice using it, not just practice your music while using it, but spend a little time just getting used to playing to the click.

Be patient. Learning to listen and meet the click is actually helping you become a better ensemble player. You are learning to listen to what is happening around you and to match it. You will train yourself to be a musically “responsible” ensemble member.

Remember that the metronome is not a substitute for counting. The metronome only tells you when the next happens; it doesn’t tell you which beat it is. Counting will help you keep your place in the music and create a musical performance.

Still thinking you can manage without using a metronome? Here’s how I answered that question for myself many years ago. World-class musicians in all genres of music use a metronome regularly. Why wouldn’t I?

Why wouldn’t you?

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  • Val Brady

    Thanks to you, I’ve been using the metronome and actually like it. I have no sense of timing and this keeps me right on. Also, and the best reason I found, is it helps me identify (and then I can work on) trouble spots. I do tend to play fast and the ‘nome keeps me slower (like using the cruise control to keep down to a certain speed) and steadier in my playing.

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  • Marlene

    That is a great post! I actually bought recently a new metronome because I left mine in another country and I was feeling stuck in improving the pieces I am working on. I felt like I needed it and it helps me now quite a bit. This is particularly funny because I used to hate it when I was still a student. It also prove to be particularly efficient to work on orchestra parts (like this overture of “the flying Dutchman”).

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    • Anne

      The Flying Dutchman is definitely something to practice with a metronome, as is any orchestra part. I used to hate the metronome too. I think I just didn’t like knowing it was always right!

      Reply

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