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Metronome Advantages and Disadvantages

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Intro

The metronome is undoubtedly an extremely useful tool for musicians. Yet it's also much criticised with many composers and musicians speaking strongly against over use of a metronome. For many quotes both ways see the Wikiquotes page on the metronome

It's just a tool, and like any tool can be used well or badly.

If you use Bounce Metronome Pro well and wisely, you can benefit from the many advantages of metronome practice, and avoid all the disadvantages. It will then become a truly useful tool and a musician's friend.

Some of the things a metronome can help you with when it becomes your friend:

  • Learn to play a steady tempo and develop your inner sense of rhythm
  • Refine your sense of timing, keep better in time with other musicians
  • Stay exactly on the beat, or play ahead or behind the beat by as much as you like whenever you want to.
  • Improve sensitivity to beat variations within the bar
  • Respond to tempo changes quickly, and change tempo gradually over a number of bars in a smooth professional way,
  • Swing the beat cleanly
  • Improve coordination with other players and play difficult passages cleanly and confidently

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages
Disadvantages
Way to counteract in Bounce Metronome Pro
Play a steady tempo Tempo can be too rigid and metronomic, with no variation, with exactly the same timing for each bar. Practice with gradual tempo changes, and with the lilt bars feature
Keep in time Beats can be too metronomic For beats within the measure, practice with swing, lilt, or tap out rhythm. Try to play these rhythms with your notes merging with the ticks just as you do with the steady beat. For variations in the timing of the measure itself, try playing with the Lilt measures feature - subtly varies the timing of alternate measures or a series of measures in a cycle - also with gradually changing tempo. Try playing in a rhythmically expressive way along with the metronome, and notice how you drift around sometimes before and sometimes after the click
Improve your inner sense of rhythm Get so that you can only play at a steady tempo when you use a metronome Use the Go Silent Briefly feature to switch the metronome on then off again for a couple of bars at a time. Are you still in time when the metronome tick comes back on?
Stay on the beat May become harder to play ahead or behind the beat when you want to.

Once you have learnt to play to merge your note with the metronome click , try again and this time play always ahead of the metronome beat. Try again, this time always behind it. As an exercise, see how close you can get to the beat and still stay always ahead - or always behind - respectively.

Test how well you can do this with the Rhythm Tap Timing window (Ctrl 237) - this shows the position of your taps visually.

Increase Sensitivity to Tempo Become a slave to tempo markings so that you don't play at the speed that feels natural to you. You may even find you can only play music at a few set tempi. Try the same piece at many different tempi, even if just slightly different - rather than always 60 bpm (say) do it sometimes at 62 sometimes 59, sometimes 60.5 etc. Use the tap with BACKSPACE key to set tempo feature to set the tempo that feels natural to you without looking at the dial first. Try the gradually changing tempo feature set to vary faster and slower, gradually maybe over mimutes, around the normal tempo for the tune.
Improve Coordination with other Players.

Lose rhythmic independence, ability to bend the rhythm and lead with the rhythm..

Practice sometimes with the sound switched off as a silent metronome. Let yourself bend the rhythm from bar to bar. Use the metronome with restraint, continue to do plenty of practice without the metronome.

Practice with the metronome set to tick on every other beat, e.g. 2nd and 4th. Only the 2nd beat of each bar. Only every other bar, and so on.

Practice polyrhythms - play in one rhythm with the metronome set to play another rhythm.

You can do this with any music not just polyrhythmic music, as an exercise.

So for instance with a piece in 4/4 set the metronome to a 4:3 or 4:5 polyrhythm, then play your piece in time with the 4/4 rhythm on the metronome. Now mute one of the rhythms on the metronome so it only plays 3/4 (or 5/4) and see if you can continue to play a steady 4/4 to the same bar.

Practise playing both parts of a polyrhythm simultaneously, if this is something you are able to do (e.g. drummer or keyboard player).

Polyrhythms are great for helping to develop rhythmic independence.

Most musicians have a tendency to slow down at difficult passages. The metronome helps you to make sure you play them at tempo You may miss notes and play badly when you play the difficult passage at speed along with a metronome - and repeating just reinforces that bad way of playing

Take care when practicing difficult passages with a metronome that you don't reinforce your mistakes.

Spend some time focussing on the difficult passage and get it right at speed before you play through the whole piece. It can help to play it many times faster than needed, then once slower. Or to play it slowly and gradually speed it up. You can use either or both approaches. See below. Once you can play it fluently at speed every time, continue to play it slowly as well on occasion or the fast version of the piece may deteriorate and become sloppy.

Short Difficult Passages

Dealing with short difficult passages in a longer piece is particularly tricky, and the metronome can be part of your practice session for these. It is worth thinking about how best to do this as you may well spend a lot of your metronome practice sessions on this sort of thing.

A common way for beginners to practice is to just keep playing the piece all the way through and always stumble at the same place - either with or without a metronome. Every time you do that, it reinforces that mistake.

So - generally this is not a good way to practice it - even with a metronome, this approach may well just reinforce all your mistakes.

To deal with this focus on just the difficult passage in isolation - often only a few notes, and practice it until you can get it right. It is good to include a few notes before and after it - maybe a bar or half a bar or two bars inluding the pattern, so you can easily repeat it over and over - this also makes it easier to include the passage in the rest of the piece when you play it all the way through (otherwise you may well stumble and forget your place e.g. immediately after the difficult passage)..

So - you practice the difficult passage quite a few times, maybe a dozen times or whatever just in isolation with a few notes of context to either side. Then finally play it again in context with the rest of the piece so you don't lose its connection with the whole piece.

There are two main ways to do this.

Slower, speeding up

One way is to play the difficult passage slowly and gradually speed up say by one notch at a time, or using the gradualy changing tempo feature on the metronome. This is quite useful - if you start a fair way below the desired tempo and speed up gradually you can end up faster than you thought you could play.

It also helps you to get the timing right, with even beats.

But it has disadvantages as well since you may well use slightly different muscle coordination often at higher speeds. So all the slow repeats require you to use your muscles in one way and reinforce that way of playing - then as it gets faster it may get harder to play just because it starts to feel unfamiliar under your fingers after all those slow repetitions.

If this happens to you, then to help with this it may help to play the same difficult passage at many speeds and in many ways so your fingers don't get locked into one particular style of playing for the passage.

Also, another approach is the opposite of the speeding up method. Instead play it at speed faster than it needs to be to start with.

Faster, last time slow

If you make the passage short enough, even just a few notes, then you may be able to learn to play it at speed quite quickly. It's probably the length of the passage and the sustained nature of the difficulties that are the problem rather than any individual notes or transitions as such.

So - start with a very short phrase like this- with a few notes before and after to connect it to the rest of the piece. Practice it and memorise it always with the metronome set to a bit faster than the intended speed (this makes the intended speed feel easier because it is a bit slower than the speed you practiced it at).

Each time, after you play the same short passage a number of times quickly, it can help to play it one final time with the metronome set to a slower tempo - somehow, doing it in this order, this helps to fix it in your memory.

So - you can go through all the difficult passages like this. Then to make sure you keep the context of the whole piece, you play the whole piece through as a complete piece - and when you come to the difficult passages don't worry if you stumble over them, keep going and make your aim this time to play all the bars at tempo without losing your place in the rhythm.

See the free on-line Piano Fundamentals book for some interesting sidelights on this, which are relevant for players of all instruments.

It can help to listen to it in your mind's ear first

It can also help to listen to it in your mind's eye (well ear) first each time you play it, the ideal glitch free performance, what you want it to sound like. I.e. play it in your mind's ear first, then play it for real, and repeat like that alternating between the two.

This helps because when you play a piece often with stumbles or with irregular rhythms, you begin to hear it like that too. Before you play a note, you have your memory of all the other times you played it with stumbles or with an irregular rhythm in your mind's ear, It's no wonder it is hard to play it correctly.

If you don't think you can play it in your mind's ear first, just give it a go and see, you may surprise yourself. Play a musical phrase first for real if necessary first. Then immediately, a second or two after you play the phrase, see if you can remember the sound of what you just played. You may find that it plays back in your mind, like an echo, like remembering a word with all its inflections, accents, tone of voice etc immediately after you heard it. If this happens that means you are able to play it in your mind's ear. And if not, well not to worry, just trying to do it also seems to help.

This playback in your minds ear is surprisingly flexible, no need to echo what you have heard. You can learn to play around with it.

For instance - what would the same phrase sound like on another instrument? Try something very different from what you normally play. At another pitch maybe below what you can play or above, maybe even way below or way above the pitch of any tune you normally hear? (How far can you go up or down in pitch?)

Also, at different speeds way beyond what you would play in real life? Much faster? Or much slower? And - exactly how fast and slow can you get?

Can you imagine what it sounds like in some of those ways? If not imagine exactly, just touch on it in your mind, an impression of what it might sound like to hear it played in some of those ways?

So using this flexibility of your imagination which we all have, you can play the phrase back in your mind as you would like it to be.

Then you can try to play it as you just heard it in your mind's ear.

Even if you feel you aren't good at this, and perhaps can imagine the tune only very dimly if at all, not really hear it, just touch on the idea of hearing it, or feel what it might be like to hear it, not to worry. Just the attempt, to try to do this exercise also seems to help with your rhythm.

These are just hints to get you started

This is just a hint of a direction - in case you haven't come across some of these different ways of practicing. It's not meant as a practice plan or anything like that, I'm not the one to advise on that. Just as hints or pointers to something else.

It may help you to get started again if you feel at a loss and not sure what to do next - and to realise maybe that there are more ways of dealing with them than you realised. Then perhaps you can ask around or explore your own practice ideas, and find out more about the different ways of dealing with difficult passages.

Get Bounce Metronome Pro

Download your Free Test Drive of Bounce Metronome Pro Now (with free taster metronome yours to keep)! It's easy to use - just choose a preset rhythm and click on the dial to set the tempo - and has many special features to help with your metronome practice.

I also maintain a list of other software and on-line metronomes, which you can find here:

A big list of some of the other metronomes available for Windows - and Online Metronomes

About the author of these pages

I'm Robert Walker, the inventor and programmer for Bounce Metronome Pro. These Many Ways to Use a Metronome pages arise out of the research I did for the program, and feedback from users of the software.

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