Jennie Khan

Freelance Cellist and Teacher

Jennie Khan is an Auckland based cellist and cello teacher. She has a variety of experience performing both here and in Europe and has been teaching students of all ages for many years.

5 Things to do with a Metronome

For some, the metronome is the bane of their existence, something to be groaned at. But not me, for me it's one of the most useful tools I have for a good practice session. And particularly after attending a series of masterclasses at Waikato University where Richard Aaron from Juilliard was one of the visiting professors, he really reignited my creativity when it came to getting the best use out of that little ticking box.

Here is my top 5 ways to make the most out of your metronome.

5. A classic method of use, it's an oldie but a goodie. Setting the beat to a specific tempo that is required, so you know you are playing the piece at the right speed. In the case that the correct tempo cannot yet be achieved - set a slower tempo and gradually working it up. Gets the job done, simple as that.

4. Set the metronome to click on the smallest denomination. For most things semi-quavers should do the trick - but if the piece has demi-semi quavers for example you'd want to set it for that. This method forces you to subdivide accurately. It really helps suss out tricky rhythms, and to place notes well, for example with dotted rhythms, and even when there are a lot of longer notes , it's easy to get complacent and a bit elastic when it comes to changing notes - the metronome won't let you get away with it.
Having an internal pulse is super important and especially in orchestral playing, this is a great way to practice so it sets you up with solid subdivisions when it comes to following the conductor and keeping the section tight.
It's worth mentioning that this way of practice can be a little off putting at first, especiallly at quicker tempos (the metronome can turn into some sort of machine gun sound effect) but when you work up to it gradually, the subdivisions become more of a 'feeling' than hearing each and every click.

3. The metronome beats only on the first beat of the phrase. This will mean usually 4 bars, but depending on the music you could get away with 2, 3 or more. This is sort of an extension on number 4. It really tests your internal pulse and rhythm of the piece. Obviously the longer the phrases are the harder it is to land at the same time as the metronome. It helps identify phrases that might be dragging, or rushing. It also allows for some more musical shaping than the previous method, while still keeping a steady pulse. But be warned it sounds a lot easier than it is.

2. Set the metronome to alternative rhythms. I've been experimenting with this method since learning about finding and playing different jazz rhythmic feels. The main idea is to set some sort of irregular click going, something different to the main pulse and even sub-divisions, for example off beat quavers, a swung (tripletised) rhythm, a dotted rhythm or even something as simple as beat 2 and 4. In the first instance setting any alternative click to a piece will help solidify the rhythm, if for no other reason than it messes a bit with your head and you have to really concentrate on placing notes correctly.
More interesting though, is if you look really closely at the piece, where do the phrases lie, what is the rhythmic shape, what is the style and feel of the piece. Then choose a setting that fits into one of those elements.
I'll explain; for example if a piece makes a feature of triplets, setting a swung click will feed into those triplets and everything else will have to be carefully placed and fit into that same feel, unifying the whole theme, rather than the triplets sticking out.
Another example; a piece has a straight rhythm nothing unusual, but there are several semiquaver runs that start on the second half of the beat, stick on an off beat click, the runs will then start on a click, and everything else will move along with that same sort of syncopated feel. 
Now these are just examples, and not everything will really work, but try some different things and you might find that some alternative rhythmic feel might inject a spark into the piece which is just what it needed.

1. Set the metronome clicks really really far apart. This one is taken directly from Richard Aaron's masterclass, and quite frankly it's genius, ever since, I have been using it often with many of my young students, his advice: to practice this regularly from an early age and it will develop a stellar internal pulse.
So the idea is to space out the clicks far apart, maybe 4 bars or more apart, then you listen to a couple, try and work out some subdivisions that work so you can clap on the next click - for most people, this is really hard. The trick is to keep a quick and steady internal pulse going in between each click keeping track of how many 'beats' or bars are in between. - Give it a go!
The students I've been doing this with haven't got it spot on yet, but they have improved dramatically at keeping a steady rhythm and following the beat in orchestra.

Remember - the metronome is your FRIEND. My advice would be to get a metronome that has many different functions, so you can set different rhythms, subdivisions and turn on and off beats and has the biggest range of speeds available.
A great app I use is Pro Metronome, has heaps of functions I need for free, and a heap more for purchase - the best thing, that you only purchase the bits you want, and not the ones you don't. Its available on the iTunes store and on Android
And if you have any other nifty tricks you like to use , let me know in the comments section, I always love to learn new ways to make the most of my metronome!

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