Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Thoughts on Metronome Practice (This Week's QotW)

At the beginning of the week, I posed this question:

How important do you feel the metronome is for daily practice in your studio? Do you make it a requirement or just a suggestion? Can it be overused?

And, wouldn't you know it, I had the perfect illustration of the usefulness of metronome practice this week! I had a student working on memorizing a piece who came back to me this week super excited about the work he'd put into memorization. And then he started playing...

The rhythm was TOTALLY wrong! I sat there and listened to him perform, cringing through the entire performance as his rhythm errors continued throughout the piece. At the end, I handed him back the music, discussed a few of the pertinent areas, and then we tried it again- this time with the metronome. And guess what- the counting problems magically fixed themselves!

I had asked him to practice with the metronome while memorizing the piece, but since I could tell it hadn't happened (hence the rhythm errors!) I stressed again that he MUST ALWAYS practice this week with the metronome.

It's amazing to me how students can really not seem to hear their rhythm mistakes, even when they are counting out loud. Sometimes, just relying on a students' own ability to count just isn't enough. Enter the metronome.

As my studio continues to grow, I've become increasingly convinced as to the indispensability of the metronome in daily practice. Not only does it force the student to slow down, it also ensures the students feels and maintains a steady pulse.

I don't often use a metronome with my younger students, except maybe as a fun exploratory exercise, but for those who are at a late elementary level and beyond, I think it's too valuable of an asset to overlook.

Whether you make metronome practice a suggestion or a requirement depends largely on the individual. Some students take every suggestion to heart and follow through, others won't and need more specific directions (ie orders!). If you know your students well, you should be able to tell which method is needed.

Finally, can the metronome be overused? I think so. While some practice is essential to help a student in developing pulse and learning the benefit of slow practice, too much metronome work can result in a lack of musical expression and a rubato feel. Students need to understand the value of pulse, but also the fact that a good sense of pulse is relative to the larger construct of the piece as a whole, and that each piece will require a different emphasis.

So there you have it, my rather wordy answer to the QotW! Hope this gave you some food for thought. Stay tuned for next week's question.

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