Learning to Use a Mechanical Metronome
The purpose of this video is to show you how to get started using a Wittner metronome. I used the same kind as a violin student. I grew up in a home where my folks were musicians. A metronome was a familiar sight. It’s easy for me to forget that some music students do not know anything about a metronome.
Just yesterday, I was talking about this web site with an adult fiddle student. She had no idea what a metronome was. If it’s all new to you, you are the person I’m making this video for.
You have an idea of what the beat is already. You need that to start. You can tap your foot or clap your hands to a steady beat. Just the most basic sense of rhythm is all you need to start using a metronome.
In the above example we are using strong beats alternating with weak beats. The first beat is strong; the second beat is weak.
“Stong, weak, strong weak…..this corresponds to rhythm in music that is called 2-4 time. The most important factor being two beats to a unit of timing which is called a measure or a bar. One-two, one-two. The sound of the Wittner metronome is even. There is no emphasis on one beat or another. The strong beat comes from the nature of the song and the melody.
You’ll notice in the example of Shady Grove, sometime we divide the beat, playing or singing two notes in the beat. That’s called subdividing the beat. The beat stays the same, and it remains steady. The subject of subdividing the beat is very important. It’s a little advanced and we will take it up later.
The goal is to learn the three skills required to use a metronome. Remember, playing music is a complex skill made up of many simple skills. As you learn the simple skills, one by one, you learn how to play music.
The 3 skills needed to use a metronome are:
- Starting at the right time
- Keeping synchronized with the beat
- Changing the metronome setting and matching the new speed
By the time I bring out the metronome for my students, I’ve counted off the start of a tune or piece many times. They are used to beginning after a four count. This is almost universal. “One, two, three, go…one, two, three, and…one, two, three, hit it!” All these can mark the speed and the beginning of a song.
With the metronome, the first thing I do is start the metronome at the desired pace. Let’s say 80 clicks per minute. Then I give a four count and we start playing. The next move is my count off and only the student plays. The third move is, the student mentally counts off and starts. It usually only takes a few times to nail this. After that, the student can do a clean start most of the time. This is a learned skill. Thankfully, it is not hard to learn.
The next skill is not as easy. Now we want to start playing and keep even with the pace of the metronome. For this drill I may play along for a few bars then drop out and observe what happens.
Typically, the student will surge ahead or fall behind. I’ll ask if they observed whether they went ahead of the beat or fell behind the beat.
The ability to notice this is an important skill on the way to learning how to play with the metronome’s beat. When you hear yourself moving ahead of the beat or falling behind, just at the moment it happens, you are on the verge of successfully playing with the unyielding beat of the metronome.
Once you are able to start right and play with the steady beat of the metronome, you are ready for the final step. You are going to change the setting and get into the new groove as quickly as you can. Usually this means going faster.
In the video I have been playing at 80. Now I nudge the weight down the shaft to 84, the next notch. The resulting change of tempo is not really a big difference.
When I ask students to play a tune just a little bit faster, they typically play much faster. The metronome will discipline your wild horses. It only pushes a little bit.
In a practice session, you may play a piece with the metronome, then go one notch faster, then another. At some point you find yourself making flubs. At that point you may back off a little bit and get a more relaxed feel for the tempo you already played at successfully. Then, try moving ahead.
Sometimes, you may choose to set the speed to a slower pace. For example, if you learned a tune by ear, you may be comfortable at the speed you learned. If you wanted to teach the tune to a beginner, you need to slow it down. Again, this is a learned skill. Don’t assume that because you can play a tune up to tempo, you can also play it considerably slower.
Moving the metronome speed control to a slower setting one notch at a time going up the shaft, will help you master this skill. It’s also a good skill for working in variations or ornamentation to your tunes.
That’s about it! Learn these skills one at a time until you are the boss of the metronome.
For some words reviewing the Wittner, click here.