How do I Practice with a Metronome?
Well….maybe the first question should be “Why would I want to practice with a metronome?”.
Here are the main reasons:
- Playing with a metronome calibrates the accuracy of your “inner clock”.
We all have an inner sense of rhythm. When we dance, we realize that we need to dance the same way and speed of our partner. Playing rhythms while syncing ourselves up to a metronome helps sharpen up the accuracy of our sense of time.
- It strengthens your ability to focus on what you play while you also listen and sync with an external beat.
In other words, this means you are learning the social skill of listening to others while you adapt your part of the conversation to them. People will want to play with you if you play in the same tempo as they do!
- This fine tunes your critical judgement to perceive very small units of time.
You increase the accuracy of your ability to sense whether you play on the beat, slightly before, or after.
In this post, I will not talk about:
- The history of the metronome
- Time signatures
- 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and
Those things are for another time.
However, I will teach you how to use a metronome to recalibrate and fine tune your sense of rhythm.
This comes first!
Accuracy and coordination: How well can you “keep time”?
- You need to listen to the metronome. (I know – duh…, but hang with me.)
- Then see if you can dance to the metronome. (Any kind of made up dance will do.)
- You need to “split up” your brain’s attention.
Of course I’ll explain! Your goal will be to peripherally use 50% of your attention upon synchronizing with the tempo of the metronome (and stay sync’d) WHILE you use the other 50% upon your playing as you strive to play “in rhythm” with it. Drummers will like you much more when you can play the same exact tempo they are laying down for you.
This is a social skill.
The ability to balance listening to others while you also formulate your own thoughts is important! If you wish to play, sing, and dance with others, this requires the ability to listen to (and move with) other people’s rhythms. If you go on a walk with a friend, the conversation is much more stimulating if you both walk the same speed!
Now you know why you really do want to practice with a metronome!
How to listen to a metronome and match it’s tempo.
How do we improve our ability to listen while we also try to play in tempo with what we hear?
The desired state of mind is 50% listening and 50% adjusting our tempo to what we hear. The challenge is keep in balance. If we get too involved with our own thoughts, we lose track of what we are listening to. However, if we get too involved in listening, we may lose track of how we are performing. 50/50 is our goal!
How do we practice getting better at maintaining 50/50 attention?
Starting point: Can you accurately tap with each beat of a metronome?
There is nothing to be ashamed of if you cannot yet. This is why I didn’t address time signatures and counting beats, etc. Yes – that should come eventually. But first things first. We first need to understand how to listen while we play. 50/50. That’s the goal for now.
- Set your metronome to 80 beats per minute (bpm).
- Turn it on and just listen – don’t “do” anything yet. Just listen.
- See if you can dance or sway to it. Make your goal to feel it as if it were coming from inside you.
- THEN you can start clapping with each beat.
- LISTEN to hear if your claps are in sync with each beat. Are they slightly before? After? Listen to both signals equally – your claps AND the metronome.
- ADJUST your clapping to be as accurate as possible.
- Keep it up for a minute or two.
Hopefully, you’ve noticed that part of your attention (50%?) was “dancing” to the beat while the other part (50%?)was listening (helping you adjust) to the metronome. Do this daily until it becomes more natural for you to sync up.
Next: Switch between quarter notes (1 tap per beat) and half notes (1 tap every 2 metronome beats)?
- Start your metronome at 80bpm.
- CLAP quarter notes (think in groups of 4, the first beat clapped loudest – ONE two three four)
- Once you’re “in sync”, you can try half notes (think in groups of two, as you will now be clapping once for every two metronome beats)
- Give your “body” a chance to get used to it.
- Switch back to quarter notes (one clap per beat)
- Switch back and forth eventually.
Continue: Try 8th notes (2 claps per metronome beat)
Depending upon your level of musicianship, try 8th notes, dotted half notes, or perhaps some musical excerpts. Focus only upon the rhythm. So if there are treble and bass note parts, tap your right hand on your right knee for the treble clef. Use you left hand and knee for the bass parts. Tap them separately, or if you feel comfortable – together.
Whatever you try, make it a small increment harder in difficulty. Do this UNTIL you can no longer keep up the 50/50 balance. Stop! You have now discovered your present (temporary!) limitations. Now back off on how much, or how hard. You can slow down the metronome, tap with only one hand, or only quarter and half notes, etc. Now try to regain your 50/50 balance of attention. This should only take a few minutes.
Remember the first principle we follow is that we learn best through frequent, but brief exposure to the knowledge we wish to acquire.
Remember your initial goal, which is to be able to achieve and maintain 50/50 consciousness between listening to the external source (metronome, drummer, etc.) and your own internal thoughts (adjusting your playing to match the metronome).
At this point, your goal is not about speed or doing fancy things. I’d much rather play with a simple drummer who can really keep a beat over some fancy player that can’t.
There are so many facets to learning music, it’s really quite amazing. But the main thing to remember as you learn is that you can only “chew” a small “bite” of whatever you are working on. If you find you get tense – or in this case, lose the 50/50 attention – you are taking too big of a bite!
If you work on a more complex pattern, break it up into sections and slow down!
If you are trying to count while you play, it will likely throw you off UNTIL you get used to it. Trust me, it’s worth learning – but at first it will seem to make things more difficult. Always take a smaller bite when adding a level of difficulty. Smaller sections, slower, one hand at a time are just a few things that can help you make your bites smaller and more “digestible”. I will address how to play and count in another post!