You move that pile of music and there it is, underneath everything: your metronome. It stares mutely at you, reproachfully. You feel a brief pang of guilt, but you push it aside, telling yourself that the metronome is really too annoying and you’ll use it another time.
But your metronome is calling to you from under that pile of music. And if you would listen, you would hear it telling you everything it could do to help you play music better and more beautifully. It might sound a little like this…
I’ve been an essential training tool for musicians for hundreds of years. Generations of performers have known the value of using me to help them improve their technique, develop their musicianship and practice their repertoire. I could do that for you too, if you’d let me. In fact, here’s my promise to you. Use me daily and I will…
…keep you honest. This is probably the most frequent and the most dreaded use of the metronome. The metronome is rigid task-master, brooking no unauthorized tempo fluctuations. 1,2,3,4…click, click, click, click…
…help you stay in control. “Slow motion” practice should be a regular part of your practicing. It’s a great way to look at details and check your technique. But it is so easy to slip back into a more normal tempo without meaning to. The metronome will help you maintain a slow, careful tempo, giving you the freedom to pay attention to the important details. This is also a great way to isolate the exact problem note or notes in a tricky passage.
…create order. Just as you would want a ruler to help you draw a straight line, you need a metronome to help line things up – hands, beats, fingers. It can help you regulate and remember your tempo. It can help you speed up a piece, as you turn the metronome speed up notch by notch, without creating unevenness. It can help you add in extra time to help you maintain your focus and prevent errors.
…strengthen your inner pulse. Regular metronome use can help you develop a strong sense of pulse. This will help you in solo and ensemble playing, especially orchestra playing. It will help you stay in control in solo performance, and stay with others in an ensemble. in short, it will help you be a better musician.
…teach you to listen outside yourself. Whenever you practice or perform with another musician, it is essential that you are able to listen beyond your own playing and hear what they are playing. You want to be able to match tempo changes like ritards, as well as dynamics and phrasing. You can’t make your ensemble performance sound like a unified effort if you can’t listen and respond to another’s playing. And the metronome is great training for that.
…give your performance stability, security and predictability. When we develop a strong sense of rhythm and can keep a steady beat, we have a foundation that will act as bedrock for any piece we play. We can overlay the notes and expression of the piece on top of the pulse, using that pulse to support our best musical efforts and even our mistakes. Yes, even a wrong note is less jarring if it doesn’t disrupt the beat.
…let you communicate the music to a listener. The pulse or the beat is one of the most primal elements in music and one that people respond to instinctively. When your music has a steady beat, the listener easily engages with it. When the beat is wavering or unsteady, the listener can’t connect to it, and your performance loses its power to move, please or inspire an audience.
So unearth your metronome. Bring it out into the light and let it fulfill its promise. No one could ask for a more trustworthy practice partner.
Click here to watch my favorite metronome video (yes, really!)