Metronome Mistakes You Might Be Making

Just like most people know they should be staying hydrated, sleeping more than 6 hours every night, and not subsisting on an abundance of caffeinated beverages, most musicians know that they should probably be using a metronome when they practice.

My students already know that I’m a bit of a metronome fanatic. Not only does regular metronome use help you to develop stable rhythm, but this rhythmic stability in turns creates more precise technique. (imperfect rhythm leads to imperfect technique)

If you’ve already embraced the power of the metronome (good for you!), make sure you aren’t making any of these mistakes which could diminish your progress.

Metronome mistakes you might be making

  • Not using it. Ok, ok, I know you said you’re using the metronome…but are you really? Many musicians claim to use a metronome every time they practice, but in reality it might be more like once every blue moon.
  • Not using it enough. If you are using a metronome every time you practice, what percentage of the time is it on? There is no magic formula for how much of your practice routine should be spent doing metronome work, but if you only use it 10-20%, there is probably room for improvement.
  • Turning it off when the going gets tough. When music gets complicated, many students turn off the metronome to see if they can play a passage correctly. This is fine every once and a while, but a better solution is to adjust the metronome by slowing down the tempo or adding subdivisions to learn a passage more precisely.
  • Not being able to play something slowly. If I had a reed for every time a student told me “But I can play it fast!” when I have them try a passage slowly, I could build a bonfire. If you can’t play a passage slowly with a metronome, you probably aren’t playing it very accurately at a faster tempo (and if you are, you don’t have the rhythmic understanding to play the same passage slower).
  • Attempting passages faster than your current technical abilities allow. There is no shame in slow! Never play a passage faster than you can with absolutely pristine technique.
  • Not using subdivisions. Imagine this – what if I asked you to locate the halfway point of a large field with no markings? You’d probably be able to approximate it, but it wouldn’t be very precise. Now imagine I asked you to do the same thing, but this time there were markings to divide the field (why do you think we use yard lines in American football?). It would be much easier to locate specific parts of the field. Metronome subdivisions work the same way – it’s much easier to place each part of the beat exactly where it needs to be when you’re using the “yard lines” (aka subdivisions).
  • Not moving gradually. One of the biggest practice mistakes I see in students is jumping tempos. Many students will play a passage cleanly at a slower tempo, then jump 40+ metronome clicks and try to play it faster. That’s like going to the gym and starting with an easy setting….then jumping straight to difficult.
  • Not listening and adjusting. Just having a metronome clicking away doesn’t mean that you’re getting its full benefits. Make sure you are actively listening and adjusting so that you can line back up with the metronome if you fall out of time.

Metronome bonus level: If you’re feeling pretty good with your metronome work, why not try a metronome app that skips random beats? This is a great way to test your rhythmic skills and prepare for performance. You can also check out these other ways you can continue improving your rhythm.

Tick tock, your metronome is waiting!

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