Metronomes are often one of the more overlooked piano accessories. Typically associated with only being used by piano teachers to encourage counting skills, the humble metronome can in fact be a source for great inspiration and can lend itself a wealth of value in your piano practice.
Today we will be exploring some of the tips and tricks that you can use to get more from your metronome, or even how you can begin successfully using one to improve your practice and take your piano playing to the next level.
Looking for your next metronome? Explore our selection of metronomes here.
Tip 1) Use a physical metronome
For most modern piano players, many use metronome apps on their smart phones or devices as their main source of a clicking metronome. Whilst these apps are incredibly convenient, they are not ideal for your piano practice for a number of reasons. The most prevalent of these reasons is the fact that phones create opportunities for distraction.
We have covered this in our guide to making piano practice more effective, but be it receiving a message or perhaps a social media notification, phones are literally designed to take your attention from one thing and put it into screen time. For this reason, not only do we recommend either muting or turning off your phone entirely during your piano practice, but specifically, we also recommend getting an external or physical metronome. Whilst some digital pianos do have metronomes built in which are better than phones, this too can be a distraction as the device needs to be easy to control and should be easily adapted to your playing.
Tip 2) Understand WHY You are using the metronome
Metronomes are a fantastic tool, but they are a tool designed for a specific purpose and can’t (and shouldn’t) be used all the time. Instead, think of your metronome as a tool to help you solve specific problems for your playing. For example if you are trying to play a specific piece faster, work on your timing, or are trying to break down a specific passage into something more manageable, then a metronome is a great tool for helping you deep dive into specific parts of a piece.
The humble metronome is very much like a hammer, a hammer is fantastic at helping you put nails into things, but they are not particularly helpful when it comes to changing the oil in your car. The metronome is the same, it is fantastic for certain jobs, but cannot directly help with things like your fingering technique or your sight reading.
As you are playing, ask yourself: what problem am I actually trying to solve by using the metronome?
Tip 3) Incorporate The Metronome Into Your Musicality
One of the biggest reasons people use when arguing against using a metronome is because they feel it ‘ruins their musicality’. But much like the tool analogy, this is like saying you don’t want to use the hammer because you might bang your thumb. Sure, metronomes do place certain restrictions and rules on musicality, but only if you don’t know how to use it correctly.
Almost all aspects of your playing, from dynamics to articulation can be explored in great detail through the use of a metronome. One analogy we do like to use is to think of the metronome as a magnifying glass. By slowing pieces down, you are able to explore in much greater detail aspects of your playing, for example ‘how hard to I need to hit that specific note’ or ‘how can I make that particular note feel different’ or ‘my hands keep stumbling here, if I slow it down, maybe I can spot why.’
For those who do struggle to practise alongside a metronome, chances are, your brain is overstimulated. If this is the case, go back further, try playing using just one hand at a time with the metronome on and break down which aspects of your playing you are struggling with.
Tip 4) Know Your Goal Tempo
When starting using a metronome, it is not uncommon to see many people try to go from 10% speed to 100% speed in the same afternoon. Which let us tell you first hand, unless you have a wealth of experience and knowledge behind the piano keys, is near impossible on more complex pieces.
Instead, we would highly recommend setting yourself smaller, more manageable goals, for example. Starting at 25% speed and aim to get to 50% or maybe even 75% at a push. Setting goals for your ideal tempo gives you a clear, achievable benchmark to try to work towards each day.
Working up to tempo is similar to knitting a jumper, it is extremely difficult to knit a whole one in an evening, but you might be able to do one sleeve in an evening, the top half of the torso the evening after and the other arm the evening after that. Either way, you have an end goal in mind and a) know what goal you are setting each evening and b) you know what the finished product should look like. Once you have made the jumper, there’s no need to keep knitting!
Tip 5) Use The Metronome To Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.
Now that you know how to set yourself some achievable goals using the metronome, use it to try to push your playing to the next level. We have written a number of guides on this, but what is more important is to be smart with your goals and not to punish yourself. If a goal is feeling like more of a punishment than it is enjoyable or satisfying, then tone it back and take the pressure off of yourself. Slow your playing down to a tempo that feels solid and leave it for the day.
Overall, whenever you are thinking about using the metronome, it is important to remember that it is not just a passive noise in the background that you are trying to ‘stay along with’. Instead, it is an active listening tool that you need to pay attention to and adjust your playing to. Think of the metronome almost like playing live alongside a singer or other musician. If you are both playing the music at different paces, it simply won’t work. By lining up your playing beat by beat and by actively listening, you will in turn improve your listening skills and playing technique. If it helps, why not give your metronome a name - give it a personality and treat it like another musician!
So there you have it, we hope you find these tips useful, actionable and that they help improve your playing potential. For more helpful tips and tricks, explore our blog or if you are looking to improve your playing, why not invest in a new metronome today!