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The metronome is an invaluable ally for mastering the rhythm of a piece and developing your sense of timing. It was invented in 1812 by the German clockmaker Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel. Indeed, before this period, teaching oneself to keep time while learning to play was done by other means and was not always a simple matter.
The metronome has many uses. It enables you to hone your technical skills by working on rhythmic control, as in scale exercises, at a precise tempo. It can also help you perfect the execution of a melody or piece. Some of you may even use it to work on your sense of improvisation.
However, before using a metronome, it's important to develop your own inner pulse. The metronome should not be a crutch on which you rely to maintain your tempo correctly. It should be regarded as a witness to the regularity of tempo and placement.
Using a metronome may seem rigid to some. It is therefore advisable to alternate training phases with and without a metronome, in order to develop autonomous rhythmic mastery. So it may be useful to draw on your music teacher’s advice and experience to guide you through this learning process.
When starting out with a metronome, begin at a slow tempo. This will allow you to become familiar with the rhythm and build a solid foundation. Once you feel comfortable, gradually increase the tempo.
Divide the rhythm into sub-units
For more complex rhythms, divide them into smaller sub-units. Play these sub-units slowly with the metronome until you have mastered them. Then group them together to play the complete rhythm with precision.
Concentrate on alignment
Make sure you play in perfect synchronization with the metronome click. To develop rhythmic precision, concentrate on the precise alignment of your notes and rests with the click.
Experiment with different subdivisions of time. Play using eighth notes, sixteenth notes, triplets, and so on. This will help you strengthen your sense of rhythm and play complex rhythmic patterns with ease.
Work on expressiveness
Playing with a metronome doesn't mean that everything has to be rigid. Use the metronome as a rhythmic guide, while allowing a certain flexibility and expressiveness in your playing.
By practicing regularly with a metronome, you'll develop a solid rhythmic foundation, enabling you to play with greater confidence and precision in solo and group performances. The metronome is an invaluable tool for perfecting your musical playing and becoming a more accomplished musician.
Thierry Maison, clarinet teacher and artistic advisor at Steuer, explains how the metronome can help you progress:
"Using a metronome improves your digital regularity (finger dexterity), ensures rhythmic precision in the sequence of notes, and helps you maintain a constant tempo throughout the piece. You'll be able to acquire more precise musical mastery while developing your own internal rhythm."
When it comes to choosing a metronome, electronic models are nowadays preferred, thanks to their reliability. Many smartphone and computer applications also offer metronome functions with attractive additional options.
Bear in mind, however, that metronome use is not for ever. The aim is to get you used to keeping a tempo, so that you can then manage on your own, by ear or by observing the conductor.
Thierry Maison raises a frequent practice to be avoided during concerts: Although you can use your feet to beat time during lessons or when practicing alone at home, be careful about foot-stomping during concerts. This won't give greater precision, because your own tempo isn't necessarily the tempo of the orchestra!" »