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Instrument, bow, stand, music, pencil–that’s all you need when you sit down (or stand) to practice, right? Wrong. One of the most essential and useful tools for the wise, efficient practicer is this marvelous, magical machine: the metronome. The timekeeper. That thing that clicks.
If you don’t have a metronome, now is the time to keep time. Here are a few tips to make the most of your metronome.
1. Most metronomes will list numerical ranges for tempo markings such as largo, moderato, allegro, and presto. These ranges can be handy if you have an orchestra piece marked 'adagio' and you're not sure how fast or slow that is. If you play with a group, you can also share these markings with your ensemble members so every can play together at the same pace.
2. The numbers on a metronome correspond to the minute. For example, a metronome marking of '60' means there is 60 beats per minute (bpm) so each beat is 1 second long. This is an excellent baseline reference to get a feel for basic tempo markings. Since '60' is 1 beat per second, a marking like 120 is twice as fast at 2 beats per second.
3. A metronome can help you see the big picture and hone in on details. See what metronome marking you can play a hard spot cleanly and beautifully, then set a goal tempo to get it up to speed. Or try playing the whole piece at a single pace to see where you rush or slow down if you didn't intend to do an accelerando (gradually speeding up) or ritardando (gradually slowing down).
4. If there is a difficult run of notes in your piece, try using dotted rhythms along with a metronome to get everything even. Play your difficult run with one of these dotted rhythms, and then try the other. You'll be able to identify and correct the notes that are making the run difficult.
5. Your metronome beat doesn't have to just be for a quarter note. A metronome can be fantastic for internalizing subdivisions and larger metrical groupings. Try setting your metronome to the eighth note or half note to be able to better internalize how the beat is subdivided. For example, if you have a tricky passage with triplet eighth notes and rests, set your metronome to the triplet so you can hear the metronome fill in the rests for you.