Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Metronome is my Friend

Betsy and I have a gig this Sunday. Most of my practice in the past couple of weeks has involved reacquainting myself with our play list. Consequently, I have been reminded of all those pesky "difficult" spots. Time to break out the metronome!

The metronome is a great practice tool. Its benefits are many:

  • Improves sense of beat and tempo
  • Facilitates correct play of rhythms and note values
  • Aids in ear training and musical skills 
  • Exposes technical difficulties
  • Makes practice time more efficient

Many of my students are reluctant to use the metronome. The unconverted do not realize the positive impact a metronome can have on practice and play. It just seems so darn tedious! Some may be intimidated by the unforgiving nature of the metronome. Some simply don't understand how to use it.

Here are some guidelines for using the metronome in your practice:
  • Isolate the passage you wish to practice.
  • Work it out. Familiarize yourself with the notes, chords, patterns, etc without regard to rigid time.
  • Now, turn on the metronome. Set it at a comfortable, moderately slow pace, i.e. the speed at which you can play the passage with ease.
  • Play the passage correctly and accurately a number of times. (You decide how many.)
  • Gradually increase the speed.
Now, this is important. As speed increases, difficult spots will become obvious. Stop! Isolate the problem area. Identify the issue. Sloppy technique? Difficult reach? Challenging hammer pattern? Unusual rhythm? Don't really know what note you're heading to? Slow it down and fix it. Then practice out from the middle .... adding a couple of notes prior to the tricky spot and a couple of notes after. Always start at a speed that allows successful play of the passage, gradually increasing tempo. Don't worry. Speed will evolve.

Still not convinced? Think about this: Repetition is what helps us master a piece of music. Playing fast with lots of mistakes is counterproductive. On the other hand, repeating correct motions ... albeit slowly ... gets us where we want to be.

PS  While the majority of practice time should be spent playing under a controlled tempo, occasionally it's fun and instructive to crank it up to full speed. This gives you a little insight into what lies ahead, how it will feel, how motions may be different, and how some techniques may need to be adjusted.

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