metronome, Seth Thomas modelImage via Wikipedia

Many thanks to Dan Inglis for this great blog idea!

How is your relationship w/your metronome? Helpful, or could it use some improvement?

Something is wrong if you feel tied to it, if you can’t depart from its beat. Or you may feel that it’s telling you you’re wrong or late. (Or bad? Bad musician? Bad person?)

Maybe your metronome is too loud! Try setting it on a soft surface, placing it farther away, or adjusting the volume.

Of course you won’t want/need to use a metronome at all times. But ignoring the tempo in order to impose yourself on the music is most likely against the composer’s wishes, & is not an option. Music, after all, has structure.

Another “no no” is throwing in a ritard to avoid a technical problem. Remember when you were a kid & slowed down when it got too hard? You’re not a kid any more.

I have found that having a metronome marking at the beginning of a movement helps during performance. That gives you something you can concentrate on besides how nervous you are, or that ugly shirt in the front row.

The metronome used as a tool can inform you of the beat. It can also let you know where you’re playing unevenly, or adding an unwanted rit. or accel.

Whether it’s a tool or a tyrant? Well, “it’s all in how you look at things.” (That’s from a kids’ song about the ugly duckling!) You can let your metronome help you w/o allowing it to inhabit your musicality in a stifling way.

When you’re learning something new, particularly if there’s a short window of time in which to learn it, using the metronome can help you reach the tempo sooner. (See “Increasing the tempo.”)  Try starting slowly, then as soon as you can handle that comfortably, increase the tempo by a couple of notches. You’ll be surprised at the results a few days later!

You can practice with the metronome, then go w/o it for a few days, after which you can return to it to see how you’re doing. Informational, not tyrannical.

It is also valuable to change the tempo to something slower for practice purposes, using the metronome for the relative change you’re looking for. More reliable than guessing.

And you can use rubato with the metronome on! The basic beat is there, & you’re working around it.

So, in the “tool” category, the metronome is a reference point, a guide.

BTW, if I were shopping for a metronome, I would look for the type w/a dial. When you’re doing music w/tempo changes, metronome markings included in the score, the dial is much faster than the digital type. I have digital now, & have to run through all the numbers along the way.

And now the story for the day: Following an open rehearsal @ Aspen w/the Juilliard Quartet, there were Q & A sessions. A student said, “A member of my chamber group keeps changing tempo, & we don’t know what to do.” The response, from Sam Rhodes, the violist, was, “Get a metronome, & set it on a tin can!” There was laughter all around, but he meant what he said. You get the point…

OK, Dan, does this answer your question? : )

Today I practiced 2 Bach preludes & fugues, 2 Messiaen preludes, & read 12 Preludes by Charles Turner, a former classmate. Nice pieces! Total time: 2 hrs.

Happy practicing! I’ll use my metronome tomorrow if you will!

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