pencil and a digital metro tuner on music sheet

Use your metronome most of the time

Why should you use a metronome when you practice?

  • Music is about organizing sounds in time. Often my students are so focused on playing the “sounds” (pitches) that they forget about the time part. They learn to play the right sounds in the right order, but not precisely in time.
  • The metronome helps reveal problem areas. Without a metronome, it’s easy to conveniently slow down or hesitate over a challenging spot. The metronome annoyingly reminds you that something went wrong.
  • Working with an audible steady pulse helps develop your inner sense of time, so you’ll play more accurately even after you turn the metronome off.

How much should you use a metronome?

  • Probably most of the time. I use a metronome for at least 80% of the time I spend practicing.

But doesn’t playing with a metronome make your playing sound too mechanical?

  • I know very few musicians who have the problem that their tempos are too steady. It’s important to practice the tempo nuances too, but if you can’t play the line in perfect time then you probably can’t do a convincing accelerando/ritardando.

What about when you’re practicing something that doesn’t fit well with a metronome, such as changing time signatures?

  • Smartphone metronome apps have pretty amazing features these days. And music notation or audio editing software can create anything you can imagine. (For examples, see Adam Ballif’s “Ballif Beats” for clarinet repertoire, or James Barger’s classical saxophone accompaniment track videos.) Time invested creating practice tools like these can pay off in a big way. And in many cases you don’t have to create a metronome track for the whole piece, just for the spots that don’t work well with a standard metronome.

What if you’re “not good” at playing with a metronome?

  • Practicing with a metronome is a crucial and mandatory skill for a developing or advancing musician. It’s time to learn.
  • Start slowly, maybe very slowly, and work in small chunks.
  • Learn to use your metronome’s features, including subdivisions and time signatures.
  • Make sure the metronome is loud enough. If feasible, consider using an earphone, an external/Bluetooth speaker, or metronome features like flashing lights or vibrations you can feel.

But what if you heard a big-shot musician say you shouldn’t practice with a metronome?

  • In my experience, there are two kinds of musicians who think they don’t need a metronome. One is the top 1%, who have spent a lifetime developing world-class musical abilities. The other is beginning and intermediate musicians, who haven’t learned the value of metronome work because they haven’t done it enough. Don’t mistake a top-level musician’s musings for good beginner advice.

Fire up the metronome and go practice!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments that take a negative or confrontational tone are subject to email and name verification before being approved. In other words: no anonymous trolls allowed—take responsibility for your words.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.