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How does a Metronome Help Your Piano Practice?

Updated on February 13, 2013

The Benefits of Using a Metronome During Piano Practice

Your music teacher may have suggested that you purchase a metronome, or you may have heard of it, but never used one, and are simply wondering whether or not it would be a helpful addition to your piano practice.

A very simple way to describe a metronome is to say that it is a device that provides timing by counting out a certain number of beats per minute. If you've never used a metronome before or don't own one, simply think of how the second hand of a watch counts out 60 seconds in a minute. Unlike the watch, however, which is limited to counting only 60 seconds per minute, a metronome, particularly the digital variety, is able to segment a minute into any number of beats that you want to establish for it.

For example, when the top of your music sheet includes the instruction "quarter note=72," you are being directed to set your metronome to 72 and count the quarter notes at that rate. As a result of this ability, many composers use the metronome to inform musicians of the tempo at which his or her music should be played.

Some problems with interpreting Metronome Markings in Musical Scores

Despite these advantages, using the metronome can also be problematic. For example, the mechanical, unvarying beat that the metronome produces does not often allow for the kind of fluid flexibility that a musician wants to attain when performing a piece of music. In other words, you do not want to sound like an automaton or robot when playing the piano. For this reason, Beethoven instructed his musicians to apply the metronome marks that he included in some of his works to the first measure of the piece only.

Another problem with metronome markings is that many that are included in published scores are hardly ever followed. There are a number of reasons for this. An editor may have inserted the metronome markings at some point during the publication process. One would certainly feel okay ignoring markings that weren't made by the music's composer. On the other hand, a composer's metronome markings are often ignored as well. Sometimes, composers have added metronome markings to satisfy a publisher's directive. Also, when the metronome was first invented, it wasn't as accurate as it is today, and metronome markings that resulted from a faulty metronome have probably found their way onto some music sheets. 

Concluding Remarks

One can conclude from all of this that it isn't a good idea to be a slave to the metronome. Metronome markings should serve as a useful guide only. If you are a beginning piano player and have a hard time maintaining a tempo while you are playing, then a metronome can help you more easily keep the pulse.

Try this method for using the metronome effectively during your piano practice. Review the different parts of a particular piece and decide on a range of beats that you can use to set the tempo of your music, such that you will appear to be playing at the same pulse, despite this slight variation. Following the above example, establish a range of 66 to 76 for a metronome setting of 72 for quarter-notes. Use the metronome beats occasionally to check from time to time whether or not you are continuing to follow the beat. Attending to its every click and clack over long sections of music is going to hurt your performance more than help it.

Metronome Techniques

Online Publication by Frederick Franz & Jon Truelson;
Franz Manufacturing Company

Prelude ~ The Musician
& the Metronome
Chapter 1 ~ Uses of the Metronome as a Tempo Standard
Chapter 2 ~ Uses of the Metronome for Acquiring Skill
Chapter 3 ~ Potpourri (Quotes about use of the metronome.)
A Brief History of the Metronome
How to Check a Metronome for Accuracy

How has the metronome helped you?

Do you find the metronome useful or not? Perhaps you have some great tips on how to use the metronome in your piano practice? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

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      marc porrot 

      7 years ago

      At the beginning of my practice (7 seven years ago), i decided that this bloody thing was not for me cause I could not stay in tempo...My teacher (Chinese and polite said that i was very creative !)...after 4 years of wild practice, I met someone who decided to be honest with me and told me that my playing was totally out of tempo and i'd go nowhere if i wanted to play jazz one day !..more listening of masters convinced me that I should submit myself to the usage of this time keeper... It was a real pain during 1 year and now...I'm never playing a new piece without it. I'm very demanding to myself now and I get to absorb the right tempo much more rapidly than before. I do encourage any new student to start with this instrument as soon as they begin ! Don't do like me !

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