Perhaps you’re one of the musicians who consider the metronome to be a tyrant, an expression-killing dictator, a relentless critic. You probably turn on your metronome only when you absolutely must, using it to help you correct an uneven rhythm or speed up sluggish fingers.
If those are the only ways you have used your metronome in your practice, then you haven’t explored what I consider the real magic of the metronome. The metronome can create time.
The predictable and perfectly steady beat of a metronome can actually allow you the time you need to be able to incorporate all the diverse elements of musical excellence. Imagine how much easier it would be to focus on your technique as you play a piece if you had a little more time. Or how if by slowing everything down, you could create an expressive, well-regulated crescendo or maintain a beautiful tone.
Students often feel that when they are practicing a piece up to tempo, they aren’t able to watch their technique or stay relaxed or focus on the expressive details. Yet a thoughtful, musical performance requires much more than playing the right notes at the right tempo. Using the metronome for some slower practice alongside your regular “at tempo” work is the most efficient way to practice including technical and expressive refinements in any piece of music.
Certainly, the metronome can be used to help you speed up or compress time. However, it can help you slow down or expand time as well. Because the metronome beat is regular, you don’t have to worry about distorting your sense of the pulse or practicing a wrong rhythm. You can use a longer, slower beat to instill good habits for your technique, sharpen your focus and increase accuracy in any piece you are practicing.
A slow, steady beat is also useful as you practice technical exercises or drills to ensure that your mechanics are correct and precise. You can check that you are closing your fingers, or placing accurately or replacing without buzzing. You can concentrate on your tone or on releasing tension as you play. Practicing these things with intention at a slow tempo will help them become habits that will serve you well at a faster tempo too.
You may be surprised at the increase in your confidence after practicing this way. You won’t be struggling to remember to add the dynamics or trying to think about your technique as you play. You will have practiced all of those things in a calm, focused way that allows them to become part of the piece in a deeper, more organic way, and you will be free to focus simply on playing the music.
Here are some suggestions for using the “time creation” magic of your metronome.
Create Time for Technique
Create Time for Focus
Create Time for Accuracy