On Practice: Using the Metronome!
By Daniel Roest
"No indeed, it is not unmusicianly to play in perfect time. It is an art that is all too rare."
Ruth L. F. Barnette, Etude, October 1924
"To be an artist one must be able to play in perfect time slow, fast or anywhere between. Then one must be able to leave the time at will. This is not the same as having the time leave the player, and that is the effect if one is not able to play with the metronome."
M. L. Carr, Violin World, March 1896
These two quotes are from a little prize I have in my studio, a rare little
book, called Metronome Techniques by Frederick Franz,
You're in luck, however, as the book has been essentially reproduced for the web here.
This Mini-Lesson provides a look at a really difficult subject: how to get friendly with the dreaded metronome. Many guitarists avoid the thing like the plague. But there must be a way to utilize the venerable tool used by virtually all serious musicians without feeling the urge to pitch it out the window.
The first step is to just remind yourself of the importance of rhythm it's one the three main components of music, along with melody and harmony. And as stated above, gaining mastery of rhythm even a cold, absolutely robotic rhythm leads to much more expressive, "human" playing.
The next step is to realize that there are a number of different ways of using the metronome, and the more sophisticated your use of it, the less boring and/or frustrating it will be. Following are a few suggestions of new ways to benefit from this essential tool.
Start by trying variations on the one-beat-per quarter note style. If the music has a mix of quarters, eighths and sixteenths, set the metronome for eighths or sixteenths, adjusting the setting at double or quadruple the quarter note speed. Set the speed at 60-92 beats per minute (bpm) to start with for sixteenths (one note per second and faster). Work up into higher tempos as your muscle memory takes over, not rushing the process.
With a piece like Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, with its triplets, eighths, quarters and halves, it's difficult to use the metronome all the way through for anything but quarter notes. But you can do sections beating three clicks per quarter note with great benefit in matching triplets to quarter notes. For a tremolo piece, one click per note is a great way to develop your tremolo. At 240 bpm (beats per minute), though, you reach the upper limit of settings, so now you need to go back to 120 and progress from there. Tremolo pieces sound best at 65-80 bpm for quarter notes if tremolo notes are thirty-second notes, or eight notes per beat (pamipami). Study tremelo technique at much slower speeds, working up from one note per click to eight notes per click. A good technique to know for Recuerdos de la Alhambra is to play two notes per click. That way, when the triplet ornament happens, it is spread evenly over one beat.
Finally, a metronome with the "downbeat" feature is essential for keeping track of the downbeat or first beat of each measure. It produces a different sound for the downbeat than for the other beats in the measure and can be set to sound the downbeat every 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 beats. If your metronome has this feature, then if you get off from the beat because you are speeding, you will arrive at the beginning of each measure before the metronome sounds the downbeat. If you are slow, the reverse will happen. Without this feature, you can get off from the beat and not know if it's because you're fast or slow. It also helps keep you focused in long scale passages like that found near the end of Villa-Lobos' Etude No. 1.
Let your teacher know if you need some coaching in the use of the metronome. You will find that the metronome is actually like having your teacher counting along with you each time you practice.