How to Use a Metronome to Help You Time Music

A metronome is a device that clicks in steady rhythm to help you practice your rhythm and time-keeping. Older versions were a vertical wooden case with a metal wand that swung back and forth. You had to wind them up to go. How quaint!

Nowadays, you can buy electric/electronic metronomes, or even metronome apps, that have lots of advanced features. Actually, you likely have a metronome already built into your keyboard. It may be labeled clearly, or it may simply be a click function that’s part of your onboard MIDI recorder.

For many musicians, a metronome is a way of checking what tempo or speed a piece of music is supposed to be played at. The beginning of the music is marked in some fashion. You set that number on the metronome, and then the device clicks away at that speed to give you a reference.

It’s recommend that, as a student, you use a metronome to provide you with a steady pulse to play against. The tempo can be very slow; you’re using it to help you practice steady counting.

Here’s a sample experiment for practicing with a metronome:

  1. Set a slow tempo on the metronome to represent the quarter note anddo a counting exercise.

  2. Stop the metronome and try counting for yourself.

    The idea is to develop a steady internal clock for keeping time so that you don’t use the metronome as a crutch.

  3. Set the metronome twice as fast and think of the click as the eighth note rather than the quarter.

    You’ll play the same, but it takes some getting used to not to be sped up by the extra clicks.

  4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3, moving the tempo to various settings and getting a feel for how they sound largely the same, only faster or slower.

As you get more confident with the preceding exercise, set the metronome to a slow tempo and let that represent the half note, so it only clicks twice per measure.

As it first clicks, say “1, 3, 1, 3 . . . ,” one word with each click. Then fill in between the clicks with the 2 and the 4 until you can comfortably count all four beats against the two clicks.

Listen to this metronome counting exercise.

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