Metronomes are tedious. I can’t be the only pianist who has wanted to chuck one out into traffic just to watch the tires silence it. The truth is, I’ve never owned one of those old fashioned triangular machines. The one I had growing up was digital & had a red light that flashed on the beat & arrow buttons to make it go faster or slower. What got to me about that one was that if you were properly in tempo, you couldn’t hear the clicking. In hindsight, that sounds like a blessing, but as a teenager navigating through classical material, it drove me crazy to hear the beat for a moment & then stop hearing it, only to start hearing it again when my mind played tricks on me, telling me I’d lost the beat. I still have that old metronome, it still works, but it needs a fresh pair of AA batteries, which seems silly to me. Let’s also set aside the absurdity of an electronic device that can ONLY keep a basic beat. It can’t also communicate in various ways, or browse the Internet, or take pictures of my cat. So, today’s metronome comes in the form of a picture of an old fashioned one on the screen of my smartphone, with an ad for some sort of gambling game underneath it. It’s free & it does the job! Hallelujah for always having a metronome in my pocket, even if I don’t have a piano at hand!
The truth is, over the years, I’ve come to adore my buddy the metronome, & if you are hoping to gain any real speed or accuracy on any instrument, you’d better learn to love it, too. The metronome doesn’t lie. Either you’re in tempo, or you’re not. Either your thirty-second note runs are proportional to your sixteenth note arpeggios, or they aren’t. It’s neither bad nor good, it just is, & it’s up to you to use the information given by your metronome to improve your playing. The best part about using a metronome is the data you can gather about your playing from day to day. I recently had to take on a keyboard part that wasn’t overly complex, but it was fast & required some octave stretching & articulating within that octave stretch. Without the metronome, not only did I have no consistent record of how slowly or quickly I was playing, I kept getting bogged down by the muscle fatigue of stretching & articulating with the same hand. I was playing far below the minimum speed, which was actually contributing to my sore hand by making me stretch for a longer period of time. This slowed my progress & increased my frustration. I found that as soon as I turned on that basic beat, I knew right where I stood. I was able to play the passage at just under half-speed. Over the course of three days, I increased the speed of the beat & then decreased it again in increments of five to ten beats per minute. Through that gentle perseverance, & knowing when to take breaks for rest, it took almost no time for me to master that pattern at minimum speed. I could quantify my progress, which helped me realize my goal, even when I wasn’t nailing it every time. Yes, my hand still ached a little, but not in any dangerous way, & now I’m a stronger player than I was a week ago.
I tried for years, but there is no denying it: the metronome is your best friend. Let it guide the way to stronger musicianship. You will thank yourself later. & for heaven’s sake, do not throw your metronome, or your smartphone, out into traffic.
I’ll be playing a few shows in the near future with a couple of great bands here in Victoria! Come check us out:
Sunday, May 17 at the Crofton Hotel & Pub with Soul Source
Wednesday, May 20 at Hermann’s Jazz Club with Soul Source
Monday, May 25 at Hermann’s Jazz Club with Groovin’ Hard
Sunday, May 31 at My Bar & Grill with Soul Source