Max's Metronome Course
© 1997 Max Krimmel noncommercial duplication and distribution permitted and encouraged

Why is this necessary? What are the objectives?

1. Sensitivity: When people first learn to play music they tend to use two tempos - medium and faster. As they get better they have three - fast, medium, and slower. For many people this is as much tempo as they care for. Many "good" musicians use only four tempos - slow, medium, fast and really fast. One reason for metronome practice is to sensitize ourselves to many gradations of tempo and be able to play them.

2. Coordination: The metronome forces us to listen to a consistent click and match it. In ensemble playing we must be able to listen to and match other players. To do this we have to feel when the next beat will come, we can't listen for it then play it. To this end it is necessary to play consistently from beat to beat and measure to measure. It is difficult to develop our own consistency when playing with another human because - 1. they are seldom consistent themselves, and 2. people are so accommodating, they will slow down or speed up to match you. Metronome practice improves everyone's consistency, listening, and matching skills.

3. Metronome workouts can also expose idiosyncrasies in an ensemble's or individual's playing. Beginning guitar players will usually slow down on the approach to a difficult chord. This slow down then becomes imbedded in their interpretation of the music. In a solo situation this may not be objectionable, but in ensemble playing it is one more contributor to ragged rhythm.

Remember, these are exercises. Just as doing yoga will contribute to keeping one's body flexible, doing these exercises will contribute to a rhythmic flexibility. But seldom is it necessary to "Salute the Sun" in real life.

The Usual Complaints:

I can't hear it. - Good, the idea is to split your attention into something besides your own playing, in this case the sound of the metronome. You can learn to hear it.

This style of music isn't played rigidly. - The point isn't to make the music rigid, it is to gain control of tempo, learn to play with others and improve one's playing. It is easy to play a loose tempo; you won't forget how when you need to.

I/we can't slow down or speed up as is appropriate for this music. - This is practice - not performance. It is easy for "retards" to ignore the metronome.


The Dreaded Exercises
(this particular set of exercises is designed for the marimba but could be adapted to any instrument)

group one

1. Set the metronome at 120 (that means 120 beats per minute) listen to it and play along, play anything, just be sure you can hear the metronome, you may want to remove the resonators.

2. Now stop playing, then, with one hand and on one note try to play exactly in sync with the metronome. Listen carefully, when you are exactly in sync, the metronome sound disappears, you can't hear it, if you can you're not quite on.

3. When you can play pretty well in sync with one hand, switch hands, then switch back, play 4 beats with the right, 4 beats with the left, 4 beats with the right, 4 beats with the left etc. Vary this to amuse yourself, 4 right, 8 left - 2 right, 2 left - 1 right, 1 left - 5 right, 3 left, 2 right, 5 left - you get the idea.

4. Try playing a song, quite likely not all the notes of the song are supposed to fall on the beat, but for the ones that do - LISTEN, can you hear the click? make it disappear.

Group two

5. Set the metronome one stop faster and go through exercises 1-4, then another stop faster, and another etc. Always listen to the beat before you start to play. Try to come in right with the beat with no adjustment period. Don't proceed to a faster tempo until you are pretty good at the one you are at. Always stay in sync with the metronome, if you can't do this, back off the tempo.

6. After you have found the tempo you can't play keep up with, back the speed down two or three stops at a time until you reach your base tempo. Then proceed, one stop at a time slower, until the beat is too slow for you to play with.

7. Remember, LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN, listen to the beat before you start, and keep listening as you play.

Group three

8. At a comfortable tempo, play exercises 1-7 as loud as you can, then as softly as you can.

9. Develop three distinct volumes, loud (forte - f ) medium (mezzo - m ) and soft (piano - p )

10. Further refine your dynamics to ff (double forte), mf (mezzo forte), m (mezzo), mp (mezzo piano), p (piano), pp (pianissimo).

11. Accent (by playing louder) certain notes in a passage, e.g. the 1st and 3rd notes of every measure. Try different combos, 1st only, 4th only, 1st and 4th in a six beat measure etc. Remember to listen for that click and keep it inaudible.

Group four

12. Practice for about 15 min. then, using the metronome figure out your heart rate, probably somewhere between 60 - 88.

13. To start your practice - set the metronome to 72 but don't turn it on, try to beat out 72 on your own, OK to use your heartbeat but not a clock. Then, turn on the metronome, how did you do? Were you too fast or too slow? Try it again with a different tempo. Do this at odd times of the day with different tempos.

14. After you can play a song well and with the metronome at e.g. 120, set the metronome to 60, and play at the same tempo, so the metronome clicks every other beat. Can you play a song at 160 with the metronome set at 40?

15. If you are playing a slip time or swing rhythm at e.g. 90, can you set the metronome at 180 and still play at 90 - with the swing ?

16. Play with the light only, sound off, close your eyes for several measures, open them up, are you still with the beat? Continue with longer stretches of "eyes closed" time.


Got a difficult passage you can't play cleanly? Set the metronome to a tempo at which you can play the passage. (Or move it down a stop at a time until you find a tempo at which you can play). Go back up in tempo a notch at a time, don't increase the tempo until you are sure you are playing it consistently and correctly. Make a note of the tempo you started at and the tempo you couldn't go beyond for the next days practice.

Try playing precisely between the beats, letting the metronome play the up beat (or off beat) part. Use the metronome to play polyrhythms, play three notes in two beats and vise-versa. Then try three and four. Sure, go ahead, try eleven against seventeen.

To practice running, start with a simple R L R L R L R L with the beat, on one note, then increase the speed. You will soon top out the metronome. At this point (208) you will need to go back to 104 and play two notes for each beat. Build up the tempo until you get sloppy, back it off some and then start changing notes as you play, four hits to each note then move. When this is good try two hits to each note. Try this moving further and further from each note. Every day start slow and increase the tempo until you get sloppy, then back off until you can play cleanly, practice at that tempo. Remember, stay exactly in sync with the metronome, if you hear the clicks, back off the tempo until you can play cleanly enough not to hear them. When you are playing with more than one note per click, practice sometimes with the right hand on the click, sometimes with the left hand on the click. Practice with three notes per click, this way the right and left hand alternate which one has the click.

When changing or evolving a new sticking pattern use the metronome.

Musicians often talk about playing before the beat, pushing the beat, or anticipating the beat. Unfortunately these terms are used inconsistently. However, it is true that "real" music is frequently and properly played slightly off the beat. Some instruments in an ensemble may also need to push more than others. Obviously, if all the beats are pushed the same amount in the same direction by everyone, its back to even. So, its important to learn to control which beats are rushed or retarded by how much.

After all these exercises to play exactly on the click, we now change the rules. Start by playing well before the click, you should clearly hear your note, then the click. Now, shorten the time between your note and the click, how close can you play and still be sure you are playing before the click? Experiment with getting closer and further from the click. Next, do the same but play after the click. When this is comfortable try to rush every 4th beat keeping the others exactly with the click. Then, rush the 4th and the 2nd, then, rush the 4th, and retard the 2nd, rush the 1st retard the 2nd, etc. until you go crazy. Giving a note more (or less) time is another way of accenting it. Experiment with time accents and volume accents in the same measure.

"Counting off" for a band is another common area of difficulty. The count should indicate when to start and how fast to play. To practice "counting off" for the band; 1. discover a suitable tempo and start the metronome with the light only - 2. Get the tempo in your head - 3. Avert your eyes from the metronome - 4. Count off and start, as soon as you can check in with the boss (Mme. Metronome), are you still on the beat?

Like anything else, practice, practice, practice, make this a part of your daily practice session for awhile. It then becomes a tool for cleaning up new pieces and a good thing to review anytime. It is almost never inappropriate in individual practice to use a metronome.

Ensemble practice:

N.B. - The concept of keeping the sound inaudible only works in individual practice. In ensemble playing if one member is right on the click no one can hear it, even if they are not playing with the click. In these cases a drum box and amp may be appropriate, turn it up enough to be heard.

A good many bands have broken up over ensemble metronome practice. It is a common tendency of individuals to start cruising through the easy parts of a piece. This results in an increased tempo and when a difficult passage comes up the tempo is too fast to play it well. At this point the rhythm either gets ragged or more usually the whole band learns to speed up and slow down to accommodate one individuals playing. Using the metronome forces people to restrain the tempo. Many people don't like to be forced or restrained, and the drummer gets the heat (and sometimes deserves it) for either not keeping a steady beat or not playing with the rest of the group.

1. Start with a well known piece, set the tempo and start playing. If your group has never done this before, the chances of a train wreck are excellent. Try it again. Figure out some section of the piece you can play pretty well and use it to get the volume adjusted and get used to this foreign and inflexible new band member.

2. Now, try to analyze the train wreck, if only some members of the group play does it work? This would suggest a homework assignment for the others.

3. When working out a new arrangement bring in group metronome practice as soon as possible. Use it similarly to individual practice to play cleanly, build tempo and keep those idiosyncrasies out of the arrangement before they creep in.

Be careful, the idea here isn't to figure out who's fault it is, but rather to analyze a problem. Knowing who is playing slower or faster is not an aesthetic or personal judgment.

Your comments are appreciated

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© 2000 Max Krimmel non-commericial duplication and distribution expected and encouraged

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