There are many skills you need to learn to master the piano – reading notes, understanding scales, and keeping in tempo, for example. One particular device that is invaluable in your practice and can help you learn to keep a tempo and practice rhythms is a metronome.
The metronome makes sounds at fixed, regular intervals to help players maintain a steady speed. You can use the metronome in multiple ways to perfect your playing. The first and foremost reason to use it is to recognize the differences in tempo. For example, a piece may be marked as allegretto, but what does allegretto actually sound like? Set your metronome to the number of beats per minute indicated on your music and find out. Your metronome will let you hear what that speed sounds like, which gives you an idea of the feel of the piece.
Practicing your piece with a metronome at the intended tempo can also do something else very important: indicate your trouble spots. There’s no sense playing a piece through to completion when certain bars or sections are muddled. One technique to work through these spots is to decrease your metronome’s speed to one where you can play all sections and only increase the speed once you have perfected each one. After all, if you can’t play a section slowly, then you definitely can’t play it quickly – and both you and your audience will know it.
A metronome also comes in handy when you are starting a new piece that has rhythms that are difficult or unusual. Playing the right note at the wrong time essentially means you are playing the wrong note. Once again, slowing down the speed of your metronome will help you figure out how to hear or feel rhythms correctly until you are comfortable with them. Taking your time and practicing slowly is key.
Learning tempo is one thing – maintaining it is another. Many pianists get nervous playing in front of an audience. Though you may start at the correct tempo, it’s very common to speed up as you work your way through a piece. What started as allegretto may gradually become allegro. Practicing with your piano metronome can help you learn how to maintain the correct tempo.
On the other hand, beginning pianists may also need to contend with the issue of playing a piece too slowly – this helps the player avoid mistakes or tricky areas, but an energetic reel played slowly may seem more like a sad ballad instead. With the metronome, you can make sure you keep the correct tempo so that your song selections achieve the right feel.
Finally, you can use your trusty piano metronome to learn how to increase your tempo in general – for songs, scales, arpeggios, and so on. You need to start slowly and master your work before you gradually increase your tempo. Being able to play proficiently at various tempos is important no matter what piece comes your way.
Many beginners long to be able to whip through a piece with speed and accuracy. Unfortunately, speed and accuracy do not automatically go hand-in-hand. To help you marry the two concepts, a piano metronome is very useful. You will learn not only to recognize differences of tempo in general, but also how to learn to play a piece. By starting slowly and gradually increasing speed, your playing will improve until you reach the point where accuracy and speed come naturally. Take your time, be patient, and have fun!
Photo by JRonaldLee