Thursday, July 13, 2006

Should I Use a Metronome?

I was reading throught the various responses to the entry on how to solve the left hand/right hand independence problem, and was pleased to read so many good ideas. Also it's refreshing to know (in a way) that this is a universal problem. OK, it's not just me who has this problem

So here go some more thoughts on the topic.

Basic hypothesis: almost any song can be played successfully with two hands if you play it slow enough. But how do you know what is slow enough? And then how do you improve (increase velocity)?

Someone responded to the blog by suggesting the use of a metronome. I heartily agree, if you use it correctly. I don't ususally suggest metronomes to my basic classes, because they are hard to get used to, and can actually distract from the music itself.

But I assume our blog readers are beyond that and are serious about improving. So here is what to do. Set your metronome to a very slow speed. Then tap your foot to the beat and try to play your song with two hands. Can't do it? Then set the speed even slower. There will be a speed at which you can play the song. It may be ridiculously slow, but it's there.

If not: That means the song is too difficult for you right now, or you need some more familiarity with the two hand separately. So get to work on the parts or change songs.

So you can now play the song very slowly. So do it. If you can play the song THREE TIMES without making a mistake of any kind, then you know have that speed mastered.

Time to raise the bar. Go no more than two bpm (beats per minute) faster. Now try to play it again three times without mistakes. If you can. Raise the bar again.

If you can't, then practice at that speed until you can. Remember, three times perfectly. No cheating.

Repeat this process until you have the song at the speed you want.

Things to remember:

1) Playing very slow can be quite painful, but force yourself not to stray from the metronome. Don't cheat. Don't rush through the "easy" parts.

2) Sometimes, you will have to go backwards temporarily. You lower the bar before you can raise it again.

3) Keep a journal of your progress. Sometimes just penciling in the margins of the sheet music is enough.

4) Play with the metronome at least a little bit every day.

5) Remember we all have limits. There are some people who can play Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" at 230 bpm. I never will. But that's OK. I'll be happy to crack 180 some day.

6) Music is supposed to be fun. The metronome is a useful tool, but it's not too musical. But you'll have to let it go someday too.


  1. Robert,
    After wiping the dust off my metronome I followed your tips in the new blog. They work. I spent quite a bit of time with it set on 50 bpm and felt I've already discovered some things I hadn't noticed before. I've had a metronome for some time, but haven't used it that much. Now I intend to use it.

    I also think there will be an additional benefit I hadn't thought of till reading the blog today. In practicing/playing it is pretty much subjective as to whether or not one is improving. With your system of increasing the velocity only after successfully playing through a piece 3 times without a mistake, a person will have an objective measurement of improvement.
    Bill Little

  2. Very true. One makes progress in music very slowly, thus imperceivably. With the metronome you can see it happen. And by logging it you can measure great progress over a long period of time.