Once you are used to playing something with a metronome you can start studying pieces with it. I would advise you to start with a piece that you have been studying for a while (in other words; with which you have no technique difficulties), but that isn’t finished enough to be ready to play in a concert.
Look for a tempo marking at the beginning of the piece. Many times you will find it above the first measure. Tempo can be indicated in two ways:
– by a word, for instance lento or addantino
– by a metronome number
If you encounter a tempo marking as a word you can convert it to a metronome number.
The top number tell you have many beats are in a measure, the bottom number which note is one beat. You will usually find one of the following numbers at the bottom: 2= half note, 4 = quarter note, 8= eighth note, 16= sixteenth note.
When setting the metronome on the right number you will usually set it so that one click = 1 beat. So if I have a piece in 4/4 on tempo 100, then every click of the metronome is a quarter note.
Say your piece has a lot of eight notes? An eight note is twice as fast as a quarter note, which means you can do one of two things:
– you can play two notes per click of the metronome, or
– you can set the tempo on your metronome twice as fast (so 200) to get it to give you one click per eight note.
If the composer places a metronome number on the piece, the first step to converting the tempo marking to a number has already been made for you. You can then see clearly which note is one click of the metronome; the only thing you will have to do is make sure the notes in your playing are in sync with the beats of the metronome.
Once you know which tempo the composer had in mind you can start studying. You can start out by seeing if you can play the desired tempo already; if that doesn’t work yet try to find out whether you play too fast or too slow. Make a recording of yourself and listen back to it, to give you a clear idea of what is going wrong.
If you are playing too slowly it is a good idea to set the metronome to a lower tempo, one which you are able to play well. Play the piece through at this tempo and decide where the problems occur: which parts can you play faster, which parts are too slow to play with metronome, which parts give technique difficulties?
Make notes in your study diary (also see “half an hour each day”) of the parts which give problems and how you can solve them.
Are you playing too fast? Try setting the metronome to an extra slow pace to challenge yourself to stick to it. Are you unsure of which notes to play? Study the notes first (including the fingering) and only continue studying with metronome once you know what to play.
Keep in mind that studying with a metronome is not a goal on itself, but a way to reach a goal: sticking to a tempo or achieving a tempo. Once you’ve studied a piece with metronome for a while, it’s always good to go back to studying without metronome. You want to feel a certain tempo when you play, but still be able to play it musically.
Nowadays metronomes come in all shapes and sizes: from mechanical to electrical. You can buy a separate metronome, which you can leave in your practise space (for instance a mechanical metronome as used by the mythbusters in this video).
An electronic metronome has the advantage of giving a light signal as well as a beep or click.
There are also apps (free and paid) which can make it possible to study with your phone. Disadvantage of these is that it can be very tempting to play on your phone and you forget to study, or someone will call you just as you were getting that one passage up to the perfect speed…
I use this app, but there are many more out there.
The nice thing about an electronic metronome or an app is that you can usually change the beats for it to give a different sound at the first count of each bar, or give two beats for every quarter note (so you don’t have to calculate the speed of the eight notes).
Whichever you decide to use, I recommend trying studying with a metronome every once in a while. If nothing else, it will keep you on your toes.