Updated: Aug 30, 2019
The Metronome, part 2. By Bold City Music Co. instructor Kate DePalma
Using the metronome to develop technical and performance skills
Now that you have learned how to use a metronome and you feel comfortable working with one (see part 1), let’s talk about practice tips and tricks to help you hone your craft. These three practice routines, when used regularly, will help sharpen technique and improve overall performance.
I use these tricks when a student has trouble playing through a difficult piece or executing a challenging technique. These tricks should be practiced with a metronome to achieve the best possible results. Musicians of all styles and skill levels can give these a try.
Start slow, speed it up
This approach demands a lot of patience, but it really pays off. Begin by setting your metronome to the slowest tempo you can manage. Choose the material you plan to go over, and play it through using the metronome. Repeat the material until you are able to play it with very few or no errors, and then increase the metronome tempo by 4 BPM. Repeat this process as many times as necessary until you are able to play it at or slightly above your final performance or goal tempo.
This is a long-term practice routine and it requires patience! Completion may take hours or weeks depending on your goals and how often you choose to practice. Committing to your goals and your practice routine will ensure successful completion of this routine.
Break your music down into small sections at a time
This trick may be used in conjunction with the routine above or used on its own. When a passage is too long or difficult to learn comfortably, I advise my students to break it up into smaller and much more manageable sections. This could mean repeating as little as only a few notes at a time until they are mastered, and then adding on a few more notes at a time . This method can take otherwise unapproachable passages and turn them into much more manageable sections.
When used in conjunction with the first routine provided above, a student would select one small excerpt of a larger passage, set their metronome to the slowest tempo they can manage, and play the excerpt over and over until it is mastered. Once mastered, additional excerpts can be added until the entire passage can be played at well below performance tempo. Students can then increase their tempo by 4 BPM and try the entire passage again. If necessary, the passage can be broken into the same smaller excerpts and practiced until mastered, and then added back together again. This process can be repeated until the entire passage is mastered at full performance tempo or above performance tempo.
Endurance: repeat runs, drills, etc over and over and over and over
Repetition is the key to learning any difficult passage! After the two above tricks are worked through, students are encouraged to repeat the worked-over passages over and over (with a metronome, of course) to help develop muscle memory and control. After repeating the passage many times over, I encourage my students to put down their instruments and allow their muscles to fully relax before resuming their practice routines. The best way to learn and retain memory of a passage is to reinforce the routine over and over in your muscles.
As always, using a metronome will make any practice routine much more effective. These three tricks seem to be the most effective pieces of advice I give to my students of all ages and skill levels. Happy playing!