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When I was a child my piano teacher wanted me to practice with a metronome. As a fan of the 1967 Disney film, The Gnome Mobile, I naturally imagined a tiny gnome inside of the wooden box, pulling the pendulum back and forth. It seemed to me that the metro gnome capriciously sped up and slowed down while I was playing! But of course it was me not quite keeping a steady beat.

There is some controversy in music education circles about when metronomes are useful and effective. My feeling is that metronomes can be greatly beneficial to use while playing exercises, playing pieces that don’t have tempo (time) and dynamic (volume) fluctuations, or to even out groups of quarter or eighth notes in a phrase.

For beginning students, being able to listen to a metronome while playing can be an impossible task. They can start using a metronome by setting it at a slow speed such as 70 bpm (beats per minute) and clapping or tapping their foot to the beat, as if they were playing quarter notes. Next the beginner might try doubling the speed of their clapping as if they were playing eighth notes to the beat. They can also set the metronome to 60-80 bpm and play the EXERCISES #1-#4 in Upper Hands Piano, BOOK 1.

For the intermediate student, a metronome can be useful for scale practice, or for passages in a piece (such as a Bach prelude) that don’t involve a lot of changes in tempo or dynamics. If the piece has eighth notes, set your metronome to a tempo at which you can keep the eighth notes steady, allowing 1 beat per eighth note, and two beats per quarter note, etc. Just use the metronome for a 1-3 measures at a time, to get your eighth notes even, and to make sure you’re holding your quarter notes twice as long as the eighths.

More advanced students can play an entire piece to a metronome if they need help keeping the beat steady, or keeping their sixteenths, eighths and quarters aligned.  However, for pieces that require an emotional performance, it’s best to use a metronome just for isolated phrases. Playing exercises and scales to a metronome is the best way to practice keeping a steady beat. It’s fun to keep speeding it up incrementally to challenge yourself to play your scale or exercise more quickly while keeping it even.

Metronomes come in several styles. There are the large plastic or the beautiful old-fashioned wooden box metronomes, the German Mini Taktells, the small rectangular black boxes with dials, the digital Dr. Beats, or you can download a free metronome app on your iphone or ipad.

If you hear the beat speeding up or slowing down as you play, blame it on the METRO GNOME!

Happy playing! With love and music, Gaili

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