How to Use a Metronome and Why We Practise with One
Hello fluters! Welcome back to another blog post. Today I'll be explaining the importance of practising with a metronome and how it helps us improve our rhythm. A lot of students know that they should be practising with one, but often they don't actually understand how to use a metronome or what it achieves.
So in a nutshell, here's a very basic explanation of what using a metronome during our practice achieves and how you should be using it.
Let's get started!
Practising with a metronome is one of the most important things you'll do as a music student to develop your rhythmic skills. Developing good rhythmic skills is essential to being a musician, especially if you want to play music together with other people. There are two main aspects to developing good rhythm as a beginner flute student - consistency in speed and evenness in rhythm.
1. Consistency in speed
The first thing part to having good rhythmic skills is your ability to maintain a consistent speed in the music that you are playing. Often when we are playing our musical instruments, it can be quite difficult to keep in time on top of doing all the other things associated with making music. This is where a metronome comes into play - it's designed to help you keep in time. Playing against a metronome pulse will give you the most honest feedback in whether you are speeding up or slowing down unconsciously. This is because when you are keeping track of multiple skills during music-making such as, fingering changes, dynamic changes and different articulations, your sense of time can warp depending on the difficulty of said skills. When you put the metronome on you are using something else to provide a pulse that can keep your speed constant.
If you are playing music in simple time (time signatures such a 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4), it is generally a good idea to start by putting the metronome on crotchet (quarter-note) pulses to see if your speed wavers, then subdivide into smaller beats such as quavers (eighth-notes) or semiquavers (sixteenth-notes) if needed.
2. Evenness in rhythm
The second aspect is practising even rhythms ie. your ability to subdivide smaller beats accurately and evenly within a bigger beat. Generally speaking, there are a number of different rhythms in music and our goal as music students, especially if you're just starting out, is to play them as accurately as possible so that they are distinguishable from each other. When you become a more advanced player, you can then start to experiment with the 'push and pull' of music's speed (tempo) - this technique is called rubato. However in order to execute rubato properly, you need to be aware where the original constant pulse is and the original form of all the rhythms. This is especially important if you're playing with other musicians because if you play rhythms that stray too far from the original form and pace of the music, they may find it very difficult to keep in time with you.
To practise even rhythms using a metronome, your main focus will be to play exactly in time with the metronome's beat pulse represented by the click. You'll be able to change how fast or slow you want the beat pulse to be and on digital metronomes, there is a subdividing feature which allows the metronome to sound out those smaller beats for you. You can then play your subdivisions against the metronome's to see whether you are playing them accurately and evenly.
An example of a mistake that beginner students tend to make when they play rhythms of a smaller subdivision, such as quavers (eighth-notes), is that they always place the second quaver too early within the crotchet beat. This is an example of what a music teacher is trying to point out when they say your rhythm is 'uneven'. Turning on the metronome's quaver subdivisions and playing with the metronome's quaver pulses is what can help a beginner student find where they need to place that second quaver.
Eventually as your ears gain aural memory, you will develop a natural sense of how certain rhythms need to sound. This is when you can move off using the metronome all the time, though it is useful to check in from time to time.
And that is why we need to practise with a metronome and a very basic explanation of how to practise with one.
Below are my favourite metronome app recommendations:
🥁Total Energy Tuner & Metronome
🥁Metronome by Soundbrenner
🥁Tempo with Setlist
Until next time, happy fluting and see you in the next article!