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Make friends with your metronome


When I was first starting to work with a metronome we had one of those old wooden windup metronomes, as everyone did. It was really quite lovely but I was sure, absolutely positive, that it was broken. Surely it must have been broken because it was never on with me when I played with it. It was too slow or too fast! I figured it was old and been played with like a toy for years and the thin metal part that held the weight seemed to be a bit bent.  With those points in mind I approached my Mom with my metronome woes.  My mother proceeded to buy me one of the new fangled electronic metronomes for my birthday (this was some years ago). It ran on a battery and was guaranteed to be correct. I was excited, now I would be have a fully working, totally on time metronome!! It was my omnipotent keeper of time. Much to my chagrin, and utter amazement, the new fangled perfect metronome was as ‘broken’ as the old wind up one!!  In other words my ability to work with the metronome was what was ‘broken’!


Learning to use a metronome effectively is difficult at first, but so necessary to accomplish.  One of the problems can be that one feels that one is playing the piece/passage relatively correctly yet the metronome shows no mercy, even a slight speed up or slowing down will be detected. We get used to the way we play things and it starts to sound right.


Truthfully, people rarely play, even in concert or recital, as perfectly in time as with the metronome. This is because we are not machines, and quite honestly we don’t want to hear a piece played metronomically. The subtle nuances that each performer puts into their music, is what makes the music come alive. Having said that, we must embrace the metronome during practice. We can only mould a piece properly when it can be played in strict time. That gives us a chance to understand the harmonies, the phrasing, the rhythms and all the other goodies that make up every piece of music. One’s goal should be to work with a metronome on a piece until you are able to keep excellent time. 


A performance with timing issues is noticeable and always should be avoided. An amazing accompanist can mask a few problems but should never have to work that hard on something you can, and must, fix yourself.


Start slowly and understand that it takes time to get used to working with the metronome. Remember that it is a helpful tool and needs to be used as such and much of the musical shaping happens after the main work with the metronome is done. 


Ideas to get used to the metronome:


  • Try scales first, one note per metronome beat, try the scales with different Metronome speeds. This gives you a good feel of what the metronome feels like to work with

  • Then try your scales in eight notes, sixteenth notes and triplets. With each set of 2 eighth notes, or 4 sixteenth notes or 1 triplet (3 equal notes) per beat.

  • Try easy pieces, Mary had a Little Lamb, Hot Cross Buns, that sort of familiar and rhythmically easy piece. 

  • Work your way through an easy beginner book or any easy pieces.


  •  Always be aware of which note is on the beat, it may help to put small slash marks on the beat in your music (always with a pencil, never a pen)

  • Work on your study/piece, in sections first, don’t try to play the whole thing at once with the metronome

  • Break sections up to work on individually if need be

  • Once you can play your piece/study well with the metronome, stop relaying on the metronome but do check your piece/study periodically, especially the parts you had the most difficulty with.

  • Trust your metronome, it is your friend!


Buying a metronome:

  • Check to see if there is a volume

  • Some come with an ear piece so you can hear the metronome over noises if that is a feature you might need

  • Stay away from metronomes that have a stronger first beat. This can be confusing and difficult to work with

  • Make sure the metronome is loud enough so you can hear it over your instrument.


Metronome apps:

  • There are several free apps for metronomes, again try to avoid the ones that have the stronger first beat.

  • If the metronome app is not loud enough you can put it through external speakers.










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