Thursday, March 28, 2013

Using a Metronome to Develop Your Sense of Beat

In talking to other teachers and reading websites and blogs, I have heard musicians offer opinions on why students should not use a metronome or why they shouldn’t use it frequently.  One such argument says that you shouldn’t use a metronome often (or at all!) because you will come to rely on it too much and won’t be able to play a steady beat without it.  While this idea poses a valid concern, I think it overlooks one of the most important benefits of practicing with a metronome: using it specifically to develop a good sense of beat and tempo.  It also overlooks the fact that many students do not practice effectively with the metronome.

The metronome is the greatest tool we have to learn how to make music with a steady beat.  It gives us the opportunity to really feel the beat at a steady tempo while practicing.  By working with a metronome regularly in the right way, we will develop a sense of beat and tempo that will stay with us even when the metronome is turned off.

To use the metronome in a way that will help students develop a better sense of beat and rhythm, it is important for them to make this distinction:

Play with the metronome, don’t just follow the metronome.

In other words, listen carefully to the beat and feel its pulse, making sure that you are playing with the beat at all times.

To get a feel for playing with the metronome, start with the following exercise: set the metronome at a comfortable tempo, listen to it carefully, play something easy, and feel the beat while you are playing.  It’s also helpful to lightly tap your foot to the beat.  Students who come to rely on a metronome and can’t play a steady beat without it are not using it correctly in the first place.  It is more likely that the metronome has become a background noise that they pay attention to occasionally.  That type of metronome use is not helpful to the student.

When playing with a metronome it is essential to stay aware of the beat at all times.  One of the problems that students encounter while playing with a metronome is that they will slow down when the music becomes difficult.  In those situations more of their attention is drawn towards just playing their instrument, and at that point they are no longer playing with the metronome -- they are just following it.  That is not the metronome’s fault!  When this problem occurs the student needs to slow down and feel the beat again.

One of the simplest ways to improve your sense of beat is to play slow scales with a metronome.  Don’t view that type of practice as a chore, but realize that it will help improve your rhythm and sense of beat.  Talking metronomes are very helpful for students who have trouble focusing on the beat.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Enjoy Playing with a Metronome

I have written posts on how to use a metronome to help students improve their musical awareness and become more effortless and accurate in their performance.  In keeping with my principles of pedagogy, I will discuss how to use a metronome to enjoy the process of making music.

First of all, if students are using the metronome to improve awareness and play effortlessly and accurately, it will automatically be more enjoyable for them.  The students will grow and develop as musicians, which is a very satisfying feeling.  Initially, they might not realize that the metronome is helping them to enjoy music, but if they are reminded of that fact, they will develop a greater appreciation for it.

Here are some more suggestions on how to use a metronome to enjoy the process of making music:

Use MetronomeBot

I realize that many students are reluctant to use a metronome, so several years ago I set out to create one that is enjoyable for young students.  Developing a fun device whose sole purpose is to provide a steady clicking beat presents a challenge, though.  My solution was MetronomeBot, a happy little robot that talks, clicks, subdivides, and speaks the beat.  Most kids like robots, so I thought that was my best bet.  The result is that young students thoroughly enjoy MetronomeBot and are encouraged to practice more with those metronomes.  I have yet to encounter a child who didn’t like MetronomeBot, but if you don’t like the little robot metronome, you can always poke him in the eye.

Avoid playing too fast, too soon

One of the main reasons that students don’t like to play with a metronome is because they get frustrated with it, and the main reason they get frustrated is because they set the tempo too fast.  Slow down and enjoy the music you are playing at an easy tempo.  When you need to increase the tempo, do it gradually.

Improvise rhythms with the metronome

Set the metronome to an easy tempo and create your own rhythms. If you are a drummer, turn on the metronome and just play.  If you are not a drummer, select two or maybe three pitches and improvise rhythms on those notes.  Playing the drums is fun.  If you are not a drummer, think like one.  Play with the metronome and focus on the beat.  For more rhythm ideas, visit

Improvise melodies with the metronome

Set the metronome to an easy tempo and create your own melodies.  Make them simple and avoid trying to play lots of notes.  Find the sounds you that like, and focus on the beat.

Use the metronome with other musicians

The metronome is not exclusively for individual practice.  Two, three, or four musicians, or an entire orchestra can play along with a metronome.  One fun group activity for the metronome is to play echo games.  A musician can play a short one or two measure rhythmic idea and have the rest of the musicians repeat that rhythm.  The possibilities are endless with this type of game.

Students who learn how to use the metronome in a positive, fun, creative way at the beginning of their studies will benefit greatly from using this essential practice tool.  However, if the metronome is only used as a device to learn how to play faster, it will turn practicing into a chore.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Expand Your Musical Awareness with a Metronome

One of the best ways for beginner students to improve their musical awareness is to practice with a metronome.  Some students get so wrapped up in what they are playing that they are unaware of anything else, including the beat.  Playing with a metronome challenges students to listen more carefully to what they are playing, and also requires that they expand their awareness to listen to something other than themselves.

Many students are resistant to playing with a metronome though, and will make comments like these: my metronome makes me frustrated, my metronome speeds up and slows down, I don’t like playing with the metronome, and I hate the metronome.

Here are some thoughts that address each of those complaints.

My metronome makes me frustrated
If you become frustrated playing with a metronome, chances are very good that you have it set at a tempo that is too fast.  Slow down and see the post on selecting the best tempo.

My metronome speeds up and slows down
If you are using a wind-up metronome and it is not on a level surface, then maybe your metronome is not keeping a steady beat.  Some online metronomes are unreliable, too.  For free online metronomes that keep a steady beat, visit

If it seems like your metronome is changing tempo while you are playing, it is more likely that you are not keeping a steady beat.  If the metronome seems to speed up when you are playing harder sections and slow down when the music is easier, then you should listen more carefully and play with its tempo.  Select a good tempo at which you can play the harder sections.  When the music is easier, don’t rush, but be patient and feel the beat.

I don’t like playing with the metronome
If you don’t like playing with your metronome it’s probably because of one of the reasons mentioned above, but you are essentially saying that you don’t like to play at a steady tempo.  The beat is the foundation of rhythm, and the metronome is the best tool we have to learn how to develop a good sense of beat.  The metronome also keeps us honest, and if we listen carefully to it, we will know when we are speeding up or slowing down.  Developing a good sense of beat will help you play better with other musicians, too.

I hate my metronome!
This comment is a bit extreme, but I have encountered students who say it.  I tried to create metronomes that are more likable than the standard clicking boxes, and I have found that young students really like MetronomeBot.  He talks and offers suggestions, but if you still don’t like him, you can poke him in the eye to vent your frustrations.  He’s a robot and he doesn’t mind.
The talking Metronome

Here are some suggestions for beginners on how to become more accustomed to playing with a metronome:

Clap and count.

Set your metronome to a moderately slow tempo and clap on each beat.  While clapping, count the beats for the time signatures of 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4.  In other words, for 2/4 time, repeatedly count “one-two” while clapping on the beat.  For 3/4 time, repeatedly count “one-two-three.”  Do this at several tempos to feel the beat.

Create your own melodies.

After clapping and counting, play along with the metronome at an easy tempo.  You can play anything that you like -- just stay with the beat of the metronome.

Visit for great rhythm practice patterns.

Play an easy piece that you know very well.

It’s even better if you have memorized it.  Listen closely to the click of the metronome and make sure that you are in sync with it.

When learning new music, avoid playing too fast, too soon.  See the post on how to determine what tempo to set your metronome.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How to Select the Best Metronome Tempo

If I had a dollar for every time I said to a student, “remember to use your metronome” . . .
Many teachers know this feeling.  When a student changes tempos from measure to measure without realizing it, the first words out my mouth are usually, “did you use your metronome?”  Sometimes we take it for granted that students know how to use the metronome, though. Beginners usually need clear instructions, but more advanced players can benefit from some reminders, too.  Here are some suggestions on how to select a tempo and effectively use a metronome:

Make sure you can hear the metronome clearly.

Set it at a slow tempo and play several quarter notes with the metronome to test whether or not it is loud enough.  If you are using a computer metronome, try MetronomeBot.  He’s loud and clear, and if you get frustrated you can poke him in the eye.

Start slowly!

Music is not a race in which the person who plays the fastest wins.  What tempo should you choose?  Find the tempo at which you can play the piece or exercise accurately, and then slow it down several notches.  For example, if you are able to play your piece at quarter note = 100, slow it down to quarter note = 76 or less.  Select a tempo at which your playing is not just accurate, but effortless and accurate.

Record yourself and listen.

It’s often difficult for beginner students to listen carefully to themselves and the metronome at the same time.  Use your computer. cell phone, or recording device to record yourself playing with the metronome.  You might hear mistakes that you didn’t know you were making.  If it’s not effortless and accurate, then slow down a bit more.  Select a tempo at which you can clearly listen to yourself and the beat of the metronome.  If you have trouble focusing on the beat, try MetronomeBot’s talking metronome.

Isolate - Repeat.  Isolate - Repeat.

If there are specific sections which are more challenging or cause mistakes, isolate that section and practice one measure at a time.  One of the biggest practice mistakes that students make is to play long sections or entire pieces without stopping to fix the problem spots.  If you frequently make errors in a specific section, slow down even more, still using the metronome.

Gradually speed up.

If you are playing effortlessly and accurately at quarter note = 72 and your goal is quarter note = 100, move up one notch at a time.  Don’t suddenly jump five notches faster.  Make sure that you are playing the music accurately before speeding up.

Be patient.

Making music is a great, enjoyable experience, but it takes time and dedication.  You might not be able to play a piece of music at the desired tempo today, but if you practice intelligently and are patient with yourself, you will get there eventually.

Remember: if a piece is marked that it should be played at quarter note = 120, that does not mean that you should begin practicing it at that tempo.  If the piece is technically challenging, slow down and follow the steps written above.

These tips are based on my three Principles of Pedagogy.  The main points here are making it effortless and accurate and expanding musical awareness.  How do you make practicing with a metronome enjoyable?  More on that later, but you can start by going to