Metronomes are pulsating devises that aid in the development of time and rhythm. A metronome is a compact, plastic box that creates an electronic beeping sound. This beep or click is sometimes accompanied by a flashing light. The beeps and the lights are designed to help you maintain a steady beat. When used properly, metronomes help you develop a keen internal clock.
There are many brands of metronomes on the market and prices range from a few bucks to well over a hundred dollars. Some of these companies include Seiko, Wittner, Korg, Qwik Time, Yamaha, Franz, Exacto, and Boss. You can now also download click tracks from the Internet. Additionally, drum machines can serve as fancy metronomes. For example, you might enjoy playing along with a drum groove rather than a click.
The best metronomes on the market are ones that can really be turned up and ones that come with an earphone jack. Pocket metronomes have little use for the piano since they are not loud enough. The classic Dr. Beat DB-66 metronome (by Boss) and its newer counterpart the Dr. Beat DB-90 metronomes are the best on the market.
Whatever metronome you use, stay far away from manual, windup, or pendulum metronomes. These are obsolete, and their timekeeping is dubious. Questionable time on a metronome defeats the purpose of even using one. In fact, it may actually hurt your playing. Stick with Quartz metronomes since they have perfect time even as the battery fades.
The Dr. Beat DB-66 metronome offers many features, including a dual light. One light is designated for beat one only; the second light pulsates on the remaining beats in the measure. In 4/4, beat one blinks on the left side of the metronome while beats two, three, and four blink on the right side of the metronome. The Dr. Beat can also play multiple rhythms. In other words, you can add eighth notes, sixteenth notes, or triplets to the mix simply by turning up the volume on the individual sliders. Furthermore, the Dr. Beat offers a wide range of tempo and meter choices, and it features a tap function. The tap function allows you to set the tempo by tapping the speed you desire. A digital readout will tell you what tempo you are tapping. You can then set the metronome accordingly. To save on the cost of batteries, the Dr. Beat also comes with an AC adapter.
Setting the Metronome
There are many ways to set a metronome. If you're in 4/4, for example, you may want to set the metronome to represent all four downbeats. However, as the tempo increases, you may find it helpful to set the metronome to represent half notes. If you're having trouble playing with the metronome, set it so that it represents eighth notes or even sixteenth notes. Note divisions and subdivisions will help you play with greater rhythmical accuracy. Also, don't forget to set the metronome so that the clicks and lights fit the meter or time signature you're playing in. The loudest click should always represent beat one.
If you set the metronome to sixty, there will be sixty clicks played per minute. In other words, the metronome will be clicking seconds. Obviously, higher numbers mean more clicks per minute, while lower numbers mean fewer clicks per minute.
Sometimes students set the metronome and then ignore it as they play. Don't fall into this trap! The metronome must click in sync with your rhythms. Otherwise, it's serving no purpose. If you have a difficult time playing in sync with the metronome, don't stress. You'll get it. That's what practice is for. However, don't just ignore it. FIGURE 17-1 shows you a series of rhythms in 4/4 with metronome pulses indicated above the staff. In this time signature, the metronome is usually set to play quarter notes. Notice how the quarter notes line up with the downbeats of each rhythm.
Tap the rhythms to FIGURE 17-1 slowly on your lap. You may also clap them if the tempo is not too fast. Also, make sure you count the rhythms out loud as you tap. You will tap more accurately when you count aloud. Syncing up with a metronome requires patience and perseverance. However, if you keep at it, you will learn how to play at a steady, even pace.
FIGURE 17-1: Playing with a Metronome
Gauging Your Progress
When practicing a piece of music, start by setting the metronome at a moderate speed. If the piece still feels fast, decrease the tempo even more. If it's too slow, increase the speed in gradual increments until you find a comfortable start tempo or home base. You will perform best at moderately slow speeds. If you're playing too fast, you will not be able to meet the technical challenges of the piece. If you're playing too slow, you will find that you rush through all of the rhythms. Stick with “middle-of-the-road” tempos at first.
Once you find a relaxed, moderate start tempo, practice at this speed until you feel ready to move on. When you're ready to move on, increase the tempo one or two clicks; then try playing the piece again. If that feels good, try increasing the speed again until you reach the desired tempo. As you do this, you may want to keep a written log of the tempo increases you've made.
This log will be used to evaluate your progress. Over the course of many days, you will start to see a pattern emerge. If you're making improvement, you will notice that your tempos increase at a slow but steady rate. If you're attempting to play speeds that are beyond your ability, or if you haven't found a comfortable start tempo, this will be reflected in your metronome log. In this case, you will notice that your log shows erratic tempo shifts.
Each day, you may find that you have to back up from the previous day's top speed and then build from there. This is natural and it probably means that you just aren't warmed up yet. Also, sooner or later you will come up against a wall, and you will not be able to play any faster. This wall will represent your top speed on any given day. Finding your wall is a good thing. It allows you to set realistic and definite goals.
The goal is not always to play fast. Pianists must also be able to play slow, beautiful ballads. See how slowly you can play an exercise or a piece of music. You'll find that the slower you go, the harder it is to play accurate rhythms. This is because the slower you play, the more space there is between notes.
Practicing with a metronome can be frustrating, so you might be tempted to turn it off during your daily workout. Don't fall into this lazy trap. Also, some students mistrust metronomes, complaining that they keep bad time. Usually, the complaint is that the metronome is dragging. Do not buy into this myth. If you have a good metronome, it is always right. Developing the ability to play effortlessly with a metronome is a sign of skillful musicianship, so make this one of your priorities.