Cool Metronome Trick #17: Create Time

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metronome trickA metronome trick? Of course!

The metronome is a mystery for many musicians. We know we should use it and that it is “good for us.”  But that doesn’t mean we like it or even know how to use it well.

We know that those persistent ticks, clicks or beeps represent a steady beat and that they reveal how unsteady our own playing pulse can be. And the metronome is our primary resource for speeding things up when we need to get a piece up to a specific tempo. But beyond that, how can it really help?

In this post, I will help you discover a simple metronome trick to actually create time and how that can benefit almost every aspect of your playing. (I call this “Metronome Trick #17;” I haven’t defined the first 16 tricks yet. When I get them all listed, I’ll let you know!)

Metronome Trick #17: Create Time

This is a reversal of our usual perception of the metronome’s purpose. Instead of using the metronome to help us speed up our playing – taking time away from us – we will use it to help us to slow down, to create more time in regular, evenly spaced beats. We will use the metronome as a tool to allow us enough time to play it right, instead of as merely a way to hear what we are doing wrong.

By creating the time to play correctly, we allow everything to come into focus, for the proper coordination to develop, for the gears to mesh.

The process is easy. Simply set your metronome to half of whatever your current tempo is. For simplicity, I keep my metronome on the same beat, and I change my counting from “1, 2, 3” to “1 and, 2 and, 3 and.” If half tempo seems too slow, try three-quarters of your speed. The important thing is that you can play correctly at whatever speed you choose.

What can you work on with this technique? Here are some suggestions:

  • Fixing fingering.
  • Checking your technique.
  • Putting hands together.
  • Mastering the notes in a difficult passage.
  • Staying relaxed while you play.

That extra time you get from the slower metronome beat will help you focus on skills like these without feeling rushed or frantic. Just be sure that you have only ONE of these focus goals for each repetition. Don’t try to focus on your technique AND your fingering AND relaxation at the same time. Take them one by one so you can concentrate on each in turn.

Could you do the same things by just playing slower without using the metronome? Yes, you could.

But the value of the metronome is that it keeps the proportion of the beats even so that all the skills you are trying to master can be evenly coordinated as well.

A TALE OF TWO TEMPI

Imagine for a moment that you could play a piece as slowly as you needed to in order to get everything correct, and then just magically have it sound to everyone else at the right tempo?

An organist friend of mine did that once. In the course of his church duties, he was often called on to play at weddings and was frequently asked by brides to play the Widor “Toccata” as a recessional. He was a good but, by his own admission, not great organist, and the fast and flashy Toccata was really beyond his scope.

He resolved the situation with some computer tech savvy.

The organ at the church had a computerized recorder built in, and he recorded himself playing the Widor at half tempo, which enabled him to play everything correctly. Then he programmed the computer to play it back at the correct tempo. With the push of a button, he “played” the recessional perfectly at every wedding!

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  • Michelle

    This is food for thought, and I think there’s a poem that goes “…time is our choice of how to love and why.” But in all seriousness, there’s no button on the harp, and maybe there in’s the rub…

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  • Bill

    Thanks for the story and blog. The organist was a shrewd fellow! I use a metronome much of the time somewhat begrudgingly and I am eager to learn as m any tricks as possible. To learn a fast (or for me what is fast) v16th note passage I sometimes set it for the eighth note. That helps me imagine that I have things under control.

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  • Carole

    Great story about the Widor!I’ve been working out some fingering today. Played at tempo but wasn’t quite secure. I’ll go back and create some time. Thanks for the tip!

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  • Carole

    In the metronome section, I would also add: Using a slower metronome rate to train your brain to play according to the beat. Usually when I use a metronome in practicing, I put it on or almost on the beat required. When the beat gets away from me, I automatically block out the sound until I’m ready to deal with it again. I need to think of it as a training aide and not a nuisance.

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