The metronome. Players of many instruments dread it. But the truth is that there’s no better way to develop your internal sense of rhythms and tempos. But if you’re a beginner, it can be hard to start using this important tool. Here’s what you need to know about using a piano metronome.
How to Use a Piano Metronome
1. What’s a Metronome?
If you take piano lessons, your instructor has almost certainly encouraged you to play with a metronome! But even if you’re self-taught, this device can be a great way to get more out of your piano practice.
A metronome is a device that clicks to the beat of the music you’re playing. You set the beats per minute, and the metronome clicks to that beat. Some models let you choose a beat per measure to accent.
For most musicians, practicing with a metronome greatly increases the quality of your playing. Even the best metronomes are fairly affordable, and the modern pianist has many options: you can choose a mechanical, electronic, or app option! If you’re curious about how a metronome works, this video will give you a good idea.
2. Why Should You Practice With One?
The point of piano practice is to improve the way you play. And one of the most crucial elements of playing is a good sense of timing and rhythm. For beginners, it’s good to develop your sense of timing early, as it can be harder to learn timing later on.
Practicing with a metronome is important regardless of the type of music you play. Whether you play country, classical, or rock, having a sense of rhythm will make you sound better. And if you play with others, learning to play with a beat is especially important. After all, if everyone isn’t on the same page in terms of tempo, performing together can become a disaster!
Playing with a metronome will also help you play with greater speed. Many players end up trying to speed up too fast. As a result, the quality of their playing suffers. With a metronome, you can speed up by as little as one beat per minute. The metronome also can give you a sense of progress, as you’ll be able to measure how fast you play.
If you record music or intend to, playing with a metronome will also enable you to play with a click track. In many recording situations, different instruments are recorded separately. To make sure everyone plays in time, each is recorded to a click track.
If you want to get started with a metronome but aren’t sure how, this video will show you how to properly play with one. And later on, we will go through some exercises to do in order to play well using a metronome.
3. Choosing a Metronome
Before you start practicing with one, you’ll need to search for the best metronome for you. The good news is that a quality metronome often can be found for a relatively inexpensive price. There are a few different types, each with different features:
The mechanical metronome is the old-school, triangular metronome with a pendulum and a clicking sound. It needs to be used on a level surface and does not require electricity. You can adjust the beats per minute by adjusting a marker on the pendulum.
While some pianists prefer playing with a mechanical metronome, they do have the disadvantage of larger adjustment increments. On most, you can’t adjust by 1 bpm at a time: you need to adjust by increments of 2-8 bpm. Mechanical ones only have one type of click, and some beginners may find it annoying.
If you want something more accurate than a mechanical metronome and want some extra features, you might prefer an electronic or digital metronome. A digital metronome is a stand-alone device that uses a clicking sound. However, many metronomes include a few different sounds to choose from. You can also choose to accent certain beats, which can be helpful. Some even include a headphone output if you don’t want others hearing it! Many include tuning features as well, though these are more useful for guitarists.
The quartz metronome is an especially accurate type. It’s called a “quartz metronome” because it includes the same type of quartz crystals found in many watches.
The metronome app is a great modern option, and many of these apps are also free!
Some include the unique feature of multiple drum beats to choose from in case you dislike the usual click sound of a regular metronome. Depending on the app, there may be more sound settings available.
Like digital metronomes, these apps often also include tuning features. Some metronome apps also include a vibrating feature that even works with a smartwatch or makes your phone vibrate.
If you find the loud sound of many metronomes annoying, you might like this option. A wearable metronome looks like a watch and vibrates each beat. Some are designed to work with an app, while others work on their own.
For a detailed breakdown of the different types of individual metronomes, check out this helpful video!
4. Exercise One: Types of Notes
Before you start playing songs on a metronome, it’s wise to master playing with one. A great metronome exercise for beginners is simply learning to play different types of notes. The idea is to develop control while playing different note types.
Especially if you’re new to the instrument, start with a simple quarter note beat. You can find example measures to play on piano sites like this one. Or if you want your metronome practice to double as scale practice, you can always play a scale of your choice in quarter notes.
Set your metronome to a reasonably slow tempo. You can even start at 60 bpm. As you play each measure, make sure that each note lines up with a metronome click. As your sense of timing develops, you can bump up the tempo a bit.
Once you can play a quarter note exercise confidently, try eighth notes, whole notes, sixteenth notes, etc. As you practice, make sure you can play fluidly; you don’t want to make your playing sound as disjointed as the clicking of a metronome!
It’s totally fine to stay on this step for a bit. Playing notes at a steady rhythm and tempo is essential for all piano players. You don’t have to get bored playing the same thing over and over, either, as there are plenty of example exercises to be found in piano books or on the internet.
If you prefer to practice with a video lesson, there are also videos to take you through the various types of note exercises. This one is perfect for new piano players and will take you through playing quarter notes with a metronome.
5. Exercise Two: Time Signatures
Most pianists start practicing with a 4/4 time signature. But to really develop a sense of timing, it’s wise for any pianist (or any musician) to practice in other time signatures, too.
If you’ve heard songs in both 4/4 and 3/4, you know that 3/4 and 4/4 timing sound very different. Playing in each time signature feels a good bit different.
Set up your mechanical or electronic metronome to a slow tempo to start. Once you’re comfortable, practice switching between each time signature. You can practice other time signatures too!
It can be helpful to hear each time signature on its own before you start. This video shows a drummer demonstrating different time signatures.
6. Practice Tip: Work With Tempo
Understanding and keeping up with tempo is one of the most important skills for any musician. Tempo is measured in beats per minute (bpm). As you play a given song, you’ll need to be aware of the tempo and maintain it.
Playing with a metronome can help you avoid the common mistake of periodically speeding up and slowing down while playing. If you’re learning a difficult piece of music, work on playing at a slower tempo. Gradually increase the speed of the metronome until you reach the desired tempo for the song. As you learn to play a given piece of music, you’ll also improve your sense of timing! If you want some more tips for developing rhythm and timing with a metronome, check out this video.
7. Practice Tip: Don’t Look at the Metronome!
Many beginner piano players want to watch the metronome as they play. But doing this will also get in the way of your sense of timing. Looking at the metronome is a way to predict when the next beat will come. But in order to be a better musician, you need to be able to internally feel the beat rather than watch for it. So when you practice, hide your metronome (or at least don’t look at it).
If you’re new to piano and looking for more practice tips, take a look at this helpful video!
When it comes to using a piano metronome, many pianists are hesitant. Some find the sound annoying, and others may find that reading sheet music while trying to pay attention to the metronome’s beat can distract from the music itself. But playing this way as you practice will help you develop important skills and ultimately make you a much better player.
What do you think? Do you play with a metronome? Do you have any exercises to suggest? Let us know in the comments, and please like and share if you learned something!