Time To Talk About Timing
What Is A Metronome?
I know what you're thinking, but no, it's not a gnome who hangs around at a train station (sorry, Gerome.)
A metronome is a tool musicians use to help improve their timing and playing of rhythms. It provides a pulse (beat) at regular intervals that can be set to different beats per minute (BPM.)
Did you know that a clock is a metronome? It ticks 60 times a minute, therefore it provides a pulse of 60 BPM.
Time for an activity!
Find a clock or a watch and focus on the seconds. Can you tap along to the pulse? Do you notice yourself getting faster or slower?
Tap along for a minute without stopping and try to lock in with the pulse!
A traditional metronome looks like this:
These days however, an electronic metronome is the choice for most musicians. Here is one you can use now!
Click here to open in a new window You can also find plenty of free and simple metronomes in the app store so that you can always have one to hand on a phone or tablet!
Why Practice With A Metronome?
Practicing with a metronome is essential for becoming a good musician. It will vastly improve your rhythmic playing and it will also help you develop your own internal metronome. This means that when you turn the metronome off and are performing either alone or in a group, you will still have a clear sense of pulse and won't speed up or slow down. Here's an example of musicians with incredible timing, notice how every single note that they play is exactly in time with the others.
Think of it like building a house. First you focus on the foundations, bricks, roof and windows; these are your notes, rhythms, and timing. Once these are secure, you can focus on decoration - things like painting, furniture, and pictures. These are your dynamics, articulations, phrasing etc. If we don't focus on all these elements and make sure everything is secure then we are in danger of playing out of time while the roof blows off the house!
How To Practice With A Metronome
Crotchets are the most common way of using a metronome. First of all, you decide on a tempo you want to practice at and then set the metronome to that tempo. For example, if you are practicing a piece that has this tempo marking in the top left corner of the music, you would set your BPM to 110.
When you are first learning a piece it is a good idea to start at a slower tempo than directed to ensure that you are playing it correctly. If you are learning a piece that is 120 BPM and struggling to keep up with it, set your metronome to a slower tempo (maybe 90BPM) and practice until you are comfortable playing it. Once you are happy that your notes and rhythms are correct, increase the tempo by 5 BPM, repeating this process until you are able to play the piece at the correct tempo. This is an excellent way of improving your musicality.
Here is an example of practicing a C major scale to a metronome. Try playing along with this recording or setting your own metronome to 60 BPM and practice on your own.
Notice that there is a 4 beat count in before the playing begins. This is another important element of practicing with a metronome - listening to the pulse before you start playing. This will help you lock in with the tempo so that when you start playing, your timing will be much better.
Another way to use your metronome is to set it to play quavers. There are two ways to do this, depending on the metronome that you are using. If using the metronome above, simply click on the quaver symbol and it will play quavers!
Another way to do this is to decide on the tempo of the piece you are practicing and double it. For example, look again at the tempo marking of this music:
The tempo is crotchet = 110. There are two quavers for every crotchet so doubling the BPM will give you the correct quaver pulse.
Now try playing along with this example. Here, the metronome is playing quavers. We are still playing at 60 BPM.
You can also set your metronome to play semiquavers. If using the metronome above, simply click on the semiquaver symbol.
Now try playing along with this example. Here, the metronome is playing semiquavers. We are still playing at 60 BPM.
Setting The Right Time Signature
This is another useful element of using a metronome - it will always tell you where beat one is! The first beat of the bar is either accented or is a different pitch. If you are using the metronome above, simply follow these two steps:
A = Click 'Stress First Beat.'
B = Set time signature. (If in 4/4 set it to 4, if in 3/4 set it to 3 etc.)
Using a combination of all four of these metronome settings will mean that each and every note that you play will be rhythmically precise. Now try this with a piece of music that you have been working on and see if you can stay in time with your metronome!
Written by Mike Cooper