How to Practice With a Metronome to Improve Rhythm, Timing & Accuracy

A lot of people turn their noses up and using a metronome as it reminds them of music lessons they reluctantly went to when they were younger, or they simply think it’s boring. 

But here’s the thing. Learning how to practice with a metronome is one of the best things you can do to improve your rhythm, timing, and accuracy – regardless of which instrument you play.

In this article, we’re going to show you how, and if you’re still on the fence whether to learn, we’ll show you the reasons why you should.

Benefits of Metronome Practice

Why learn to use a metronome? Let’s take a quick look.

Gaining Control

Timing is the most important thing when performing any musical piece. A metronome is an ideal tool to help you to improve your timing, by using a set interval.

All metronomes are versatile, so you can change the time required for intervals.

Does your sheet music state adagio? Perfect, set your metronome for 60 beats a minute. Need presto? Set it to 150 beats per minute.

Here’s a few more…

Presto = Very Fast, 168 – 208 bpm

Allegro = Fast, 120 – 168 bpm

Moderato = Moderate Speed, 108 – 120 bpm

Andante = Walking Speed, 76 – 108 bpm

Adagio = Slow, 66 – 76 bpm

Largo = Slow and Solemn, 40 – 66 bpm

Knowing the correct tempo for a piece of music is essential when learning a piece. Metronomes can keep you in control of how a piece should be played

Developing Accuracy

When beginning to practice a piece of music, check to see if any musical term is stated in terms of how quickly the notes should be played.

These Italian terms can be anything from largo to prestissimo. In a lot of modern pieces, they actually have the number of beats per minute written down by the title.

Knowing and ‘feeling’ the beat can get lost when any musical piece has a slower or quicker pace. Using a metronome will allow you not to get ‘carried away’ and lose the rhythm.

It can be hard to remain consistent when you’re practicing a new piece, especially for beginner players. The metronome, with its accurate intervals, can give you an accurate portrayal of the beat needed. It’s like having your own personal conductor.

Setting The Pace

One of the most obvious uses of a metronome is to slow down a tricky passage, gradually increasing the speed at a consistent pace. Take a piece of music you want to learn, and identify the shortest note value (eighth, sixteenth, etc). Then set your metronome to 60 bpm and practice the passage with the shortest note value equal to 60 bpm.

So if the shortest note value is a sixteenth note, give those notes one beat, the eighth notes two beats, the quarter notes four beats etc. Once you can do that in time with the metronome, increase the speed by a few clicks and repeat the process.

And hey, presto! You’re playing a piece you thought was impossible. It may take some time, but using a metronome to control your speed of learning will ensure you get it right eventually.

Developing Studio Skills

Metronomes aren’t just for classical musicians who need to play in time in an orchestra. When using a recording studio, it may be a requirement that you record using a click track (which works in the same way as a metronome).

Some believe it creates a consistent sound, while others believe it takes the ‘magic’ out of making music. It certainly makes it easier to edit. To ensure that you have a wider range of options when recording, it is a huge advantage to already be used to playing with a metronome.

How to Practice Using a Metronome

1. Set Your Speed

This is an obvious starting point, but of course, before you start playing along with the ticks, you need to set your tempo.

If you’re not sure what tempo the song you’re playing is, and it’s not written anywhere on the TAB or sheet music, there’s an online tool called Song BPM, where you can find out the BPM for any published song, no matter how obscure it is.

2. Start Slowly

If you really want to play consistently, and build your way up to a perfect performance of the piece you’re learning, you need to start slowly.

Setting a BPM that is lower than the actual song will enable you to get it right, in time, before you are ready to play along with the piece. It’s also enjoyable to play around with the tempo of pieces you’re learning, particularly on classical instruments like the flute.

3. Listen!

An obvious one, but it needs saying. You need to listen to the beat if you want to play in time with it.

Sometimes, people regard the ticking noise as a mere annoyance and completely ignore it. That’s understandable, but not very helpful. If you listen to the ticking before you even start playing, and get into the rhythm, you’ll be more consistent and therefore more musical.

4. Move With The Beat

This one might not suit everyone, but it works for some. If you’re using a mechanical metronome, you can try tapping your foot or even swaying with the pendulum.

This will get you really in time and you’ll find playing with the beats to me much more natural if your body is moving with the music.

Summary

Knowing how to practice with a metronome is an important skill for developing rhythm, timing & accuracy. When you’re learning a piece, its a great tool for gaining control over the speed as well as establishing consistency of rhythm.

If you’re a classical musician, using one is an absolute must-have, as it enables you to easily discover the composer’s intended tempo. If you’re in a band who plans on going to the studio, they’re also super-handy. They give you click-track skills, which can potentially save you a lot of time (and money!) when recording.

However, when playing live, using a metronome might take away from the real, human feel of the music, and can in fact remove rhythmic flexibility. One of the biggest issues with using metronomes is becoming overly reliant on the click. If you’ve used one for every single practice session, it’s going to weird to play without one, so don’t always practice using a metronome.

It can also be detrimental in terms of playing with other musicians. Every musician, no matter which instrument they play, may change the beat while playing a song. If you are a diehard metronome user, you may find it hard to suddenly change pace. Keeping up with other players and anticipating their change in tempo, is essential when working in an ensemble.

As a beginner, learning how to use a metronome can be useful to learn the correct tempo. But for touring artists and anyone wishing to work commercially, using a metronome is something to wean yourself off.

The consistency of the intervals between beats can mean that the tempo becomes too rigid. This can lead to the musician having a lack of fluidity or spontaneity in their playing.

In general, it’s definitely worth learning how to use one, just don’t go overboard or you might start sounding robotic.

Good luck!

Ged Richardson

Ged is editor-in-chief and founder of Zing Instruments. He's a multi-instrumentalist and loves researching, writing, and geeking out about music. He's also got an unhealthy obsession with vintage VW Campervans.

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