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How to Use a Metronome

The metronome is an essential tool for any musicians of all levels. It’s not just a piece of music equipment with which you to try to play as fast as possible. There are many ways that we can use a metronome to improve our skills.

Listen Carefully

One advantage of using a metronome that many people take for granted is that it forces you to listen more carefully, and it also demands that you listen to something other than yourself, thus increasing your awareness of music. First, be sure that your metronome is loud enough so that you can hear it clearly. You can test that by turning on the metronome at a moderately slow tempo and playing some simple rhythms. If you have trouble hearing the clicking metronome clearly, try using a talking metronome, or consider getting a louder speaker.

Select an Appropriate Tempo

Whether you are working on an isolated section of music or an entire piece, it is essential that you select a tempo that will help you learn the music accurately. Most students err on the side of trying to play too fast. As a result, they often skip over sections that are difficult and never really learn the music they are trying to play.

Begin with a tempo at which you can play your music effortlessly and accurately. It might seem like the tempo is much too slow at first, but by playing the music accurately and staying relaxed while doing so, you are developing and reinforcing good habits.

Sometimes composers will include a metronome marking or number that indicates the beats per minute. For example, the piece might say “quarter note = 100.” When you see a marking with a specific number, it does not mean that you should begin practicing the piece at that tempo. Make that tempo your goal, but start your practice at a slower pace.

Composers might also indicate tempos with Italian terms like adagio, andante, moderato, or allegro. Some metronomes include these terms along with the Beats Per Minute (BPM) numbers. However, those tempo ranges are not entirely accurate and can be misleading. If the music you are working on is marked “Allegro” and your metronome says that allegro is 120 BPM, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to play the piece at 120.

Gradually Increase the Tempo and Isolate

If the music you are practicing is marked at 112 BPM and you can only play it accurately at 84 BPM, be patient and speed up the tempo gradually, moving up one notch at a time. If there is one section of the piece that is much more difficult than the rest of it, isolate that section and slow it down to a comfortable tempo. Practice it more frequently than the easier sections of the music and gradually increase the tempo until it matches that of the rest of the piece. Besides the error of trying to play too fast, one of the biggest mistakes that students make is to ignore the difficult sections in a piece of music. Listen carefully to yourself and to the metronome, and make sure that you are playing accurately.

Record Yourself

A great way to listen more carefully is to record yourself practicing with a metronome. It allows you to listen to what you are playing without having to focus on the technical demands of your instrument. By doing so, you can hear your performance more clearly and evaluate it more accurately.

Visit my music education blog pedagogyofmusic.blogspot.com to learn more about how to use a metronome effectively:
Improve your sense of beat
Have fun practicing with a metronome
Expand your musical awareness with a metronome
How to select a tempo for your metronome

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