If I had a dollar for every time I said to a student, “remember to use your 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.
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.
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.