Five Ways to Learn to Love Your Metronome
Ah the metronome! That annoying clicking, pingy or too quiety thingy that all teachers insist you must have yet everyone avoids practising with.
A lot of my students have been learning to love the metronome this year and have really found it a great practise aid (but I’ll be honest they’ve also found it really difficult too!). But why should it make it harder I hear you say? Well – the simple answer is that we’re not robots. When we play there’s always a bit of an ebb and flow to our sense of timing (even though we try desperately for it to stay ‘in time’). Best example of this was when I started a big band rehearsal with the band at one speed, with a sneaky metronome silenced in the back ground, then turning it on and up half way through a song – it really shocked them to see how much they’d dropped collectively!
But it doesn’t have to be all heart-ache and misery! Metronomes are really useful – and practise with them can be great fun too!
1. Start with the basics – do some rhythm games with it to help your body internalise the beat. If you ‘feel’ the difference between crotchets and quavers you will naturally play them better. So start the metronome and play crotchets alongside – then suddenly swap to quavers (or have someone shout the rhythm changes out!) or minims etc and see if you can keep up and keep changing.
2. Scales practise – to get used to playing ‘in time’ choose some nice easy scales to run up and down in time with the beat. Again – you could play crotchets or quavers, or swung quavers… or dotted quavers….
3. Use it to help with long tone practise – put a really slow count on and if you have the old fashioned metronomes you can see how close time wise you are to holding a note for an extra beat longer. It also means you cant cheat by speeding up your count!
4. Headphones – now this might seem odd, but bear with me. As a teacher of tenor and baritone saxes and all those loud based instruments – just hearing the metronome can be a pain. So – best advice for the battery operated ones is to put some headphones in. Even if you can hear it – sometimes having the sound that little bit closer helps. (But obviously if you’re like me and always forget to change the batteries and rely on an old fashioned wind up one then this won’t help you!)
5. Dexterity – often students find that there’s always a piece of music that has one or two nigglingly bars that the fingers won’t get around in time. This is where you should learn to love your metronome. Isolate the difficult bars and practise them at a really slow speed. Then a tiny bit quicker. Then a bit quicker still. Then at the speed you need it. Then…. Go for it. Way above the speed you need and see what happens. It’ll probably be a car crash *but* when you go back to the speed you wanted in the first place – you’ll probably find that the brain relaxes over it and suddenly it’s easier.