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How to Use a Metronome

At first, most musicians despise the metronome. That's normal because this mechanical device makes it impossible to ignore flaws in your playing. At the same time, this is precisely why you should learn how to use a metronome.

In this article, I will address a few common arguments against practicing with the metronome. Also, I'll give some practice tips which will help you learn to see how the metronome makes practicing easier and more relaxing, once you get over the initial hurdles. Finally, I will give some advice on how to find the best metronome for piano practice.


Argument 1: The metronome only has one purpose.

The metronome has many purposes. It can help you solve a variety of problems, and is useful in a variety of circumstances.

For example, it can be used to:

Thus, I am tempted to say that if you don’t use a metronome regularly in your practicing You’re Doing it Wrong, but I’m sure that would be unfair. The purpose of a metronome is to help you keep one foot in the "real world." So, don't ignore how much benefit you can get from it!

Practice tips:

If you aren't accustomed to practicing with a metronome, or if you only pull it out once in a while, try practicing with it more frequently. Have it running the whole time, while you practice for 20 minutes (set a timer). Notice what it does for you. What does it make easier? What does it make harder?

Argument 2: The metronome is only for beginners who can’t keep time.

No one has a problem “keeping time.”

The same beginners who struggle mightily to count to the number 4 in a piano lesson have no problems performing complex dance moves with their friends or singing along to their favorite songs on the radio. Additionally, they have no problems walking, talking, playing video games, or any of the other thousands of tasks that call for highly trained and coordinated senses of rhythm and timing.

The reason they seem to lose all of this in a piano lesson is only that they are distracted. That is, they are trying to do many things at once (play the right notes, read the symbols on the page, please the teacher, prevent themselves from screaming in frustration) and they are caring very much whether they are doing them well. Yes, that messes up your sense of time. So, the purpose of the metronome is to bring you back into the present.

Finally, it is not only beginners who get distracted. However, maybe you’ve learned to hide it. That is, you’ve learned to play reasonably in tempo, despite your distractions, your anxieties, your fears, and your insecurities. However, are you paying any price for that?

Practice tips:

If you find that you have a problem keeping time, experiment with letting go of this. Instead of trying harder to play in tempo, rely on the metronome guide you. Trust it to keep the tempo, and focus your energy on playing comfortably. Let it be your teacher.

Argument 3: The metronome is too stressful.

If you think the metronome is stressful, you are probably taking it way too seriously. In reality, the metronome can be a calming, soothing force.

Practice tips:

Don’t try to follow the metronome. That is where the stress comes from. Instead, let it click in the background. Sometimes you’re with it, sometimes you’re not. Does it matter? Is it going to yell at you if you deviate from its tempo?

If you feel rushed by the metronome, can you let it go?

Argument 4: The metronome leads to mechanical playing.

On the contrary, I believe that it can be an incredibly useful tool for developing musicality. That's because the purpose of the metronome is not to learn musicality per se, but rather to learn control and poise. Once you have control, you can express the music however you see fit.

It is musicians who cannot play with a metronome, and instead base all of their movements on escaping their internal anxieties, who end up playing inflexibly and mechanically.

Practice tips:

Use the metronome to help you get to a point where you can play mechanically. Once you are at this point, notice what freedom this gives you in being able to play expressively.

Don't rely only on your feelings while practicing to tell you whether this is working. Instead, record yourself. Does your "expressive" playing sound expressive? Does your "mechanical" playing sound mechanical? Use your ears to guide you, not just your thoughts about how you "should" be practicing.

Argument 5: I don't have a metronome.

If you don't have a metronome, you should get one. Luckily, this isn't a hard problem to solve. There are many types, at all different price points, including free apps for your phone.

You don't need anything fancy, but here are some factors you should consider when shopping around:

  • Price
  • Volume level: Make sure it gets loud enough!
  • Ease of use: It should be easy to change the tempo quickly. I prefer the kind with dials as opposed to up/down arrows. I don't like digital displays, because it just takes too long to read them. 
  • Portability: If you travel with it, it should be something that you can easily throw into a bag (both in terms of size and durability).

Best Metronomes for Piano Practice

Digital

This is my personal favorite. This is the only metronome loud enough to hear and melodious enough to make me enjoy listening to its click.

App

Simple Metronome

I have been using Simple Metronome on my Android phone for a few years. Many mobile metronome apps are cumbersome to use or have too many ads. I find that Simple Metronome lives up to its name. I still prefer the real thing with a dial, but this is the second best.

Your turn

Now that you've read these tips, take out your metronome and practice. Don't be satisfied doing things the same way you've always done them. Try a new way of using the metronome!

And, leave a comment below and let me know how it goes for you. I'd love to hear how this article is helping you with your practicing.

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About the author 

Michael Korman

Angry meditation teacher | I'm in the business of destroying souls | Anti-culture | Pro-human

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