When you play an instrument, there is something that, sooner or later, you will find yourself getting acquainted with: the metronome.
The metronome as we know it now was developed in 1815 in England, by Johann Maelzel, who continued on the work of Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel, who invented the mechanical musical chronometer (see also Metronome).
Inventor Abbas Ibn Firnas (810 – 887) wrote about it, and so did Galileo Gallilei, who experimented with the pendulum in the late 16th century, which shows the idea is ages old…
Some revile it, others revel in studying with it, but why?
When I first started out studying with the metronome as a child, I hated the thing. My teacher thought it very important to use for specific things, so we ended up using it in lessons. But when I studied at home I would rarely use it, because I found it very difficult to play along with and it frustrated me beyond belief. Only at the conservatory did I start taking studying with a metronome seriously. I would study scales with it and difficult passages from sheet music to try and get them faster. Afterwards I discovered that the metronome can also be a very good tool to help you stay in a slow tempo, which meant I would constantly study with the metronome. I got obsessed with practising with it and forgot to practise phrases and musicality, which was of course not what I wanted either! At which point I had to find a way to practise without its familiar mind-numbing beep again, to trust my own rhythm and expand my ways of studying.
This example of my own life is meant to illustrate the pros and cons for studying with a metronome. A good thing is that you can learn how to keep a rhythm, play to a beat and measure how agile your fingers are by how fast you are playing. But it would be bad if the constant beat leads to frustration and you end up not playing musically anymore.
As a musician/teacher I am for studying with a metronome; I still use it to this day, but only in moderation! Use it to develop your sense of tempo, or to look for weak spots in a piece that might need some extra practise.
In the coming two weeks I will give some explanation about how to study with a metronome.
Just to get you in the mood, check out this amazing video of “Poème Symphonique For 100 Metronomes” by György Ligeti.