How to Practice with a Metronome as a Beginner Violinist
Do you feel that the metronome is hard to follow or makes your playing mechanic? Here are some practice tips for beginners:
Have you ever had a teacher or peer gently suggest that you should practice with a metronome? Perhaps like me you resisted the idea for a long time. Common responses are “It takes the fun out of practicing!” “It confuses me, I can’t focus!” “I can’t follow the beat so I play even worse!” If you struggle with these, it is totally fine. You can still learn to play with a metronome if you break down the steps and go slowly. In this article, we’ll talk about the types of metronomes, their functions, and how to start using one in a way that won’t drive you crazy.
What is a Metronome?
A metronome is a device that simply gives steady clicks and can be set to any speed, i.e. tempo. Metronomes are primarily used by musicians but can also be helpful for other artists such as dancers and marching band flag-twirlers. There are three main types. First, there are classic mechanical metronomes that must be wound up and have a metal pendulum. There are also electronic metronomes that click or beep and have a blinking light. These days however, more and more people are switching to online metronome apps. This way you’re not carrying an extra piece of equipment around, and most online metronomes are free! Additionally, they often have special features that traditional metronomes do not.
Where to find a Metronome?
Great Zlata, so where do I find a good online metronome? There are so many options! After a lot of experimenting, I’ve developed a free, online metronome available on my website and as an app. In my own practicing I always had difficulty hearing the metronome, so I needed to see the pendulum. Unfortunately, most online metronomes only have a blinking light. My metronome app looks like a mechanical one so you can watch the needle. It has an attractive, easy-to-use design that lets you choose tempo, beats, and rhythms. One nice thing about this metronome is that it can play subdivisions. For example, if you set it to 120 beats per minute, you can also set it to play eighth-notes, triplets, or sixteenths at that tempo. This is especially useful for beginners who are learning to subdivide mentally. The metronome also lets you place an accent on the first beat of each measure depending on the meter. Overall, it is much simpler than many other online options, but still includes everything necessary and is more visually appealing.
Click here to go to my free online metronome.
Why Practice with a Metronome?
Practicing with a metronome is one of the best things you can do for your playing. It helps with rhythm, tempo, precision, ensemble skills, and being able to play all the way through without stopping. In fact, there’s no reason not to practice with a metronome! Yes it can be daunting at first, and students often give up in frustration. It simply takes patience to absorb the rhythmic pulse and make it part of your playing. We’ll go over some tips on the simplest ways to incorporate metronome work into your practice routine so that you’re ready for more complex things later on.
How to Start Playing with a Metronome?
The best way to learn almost every single violin technique is through scales. Pick a scale you’re already very comfortable with. Set the metronome at around 60 bpm, or whatever is comfortable for you. Starting with one click equals a quarter note, play four bows per note going up the scale. Set the metronome a bit faster and do the same thing. Make sure you are changing bows exactly with the clicks. When you are comfortable with quarter notes, start doing eighth notes, two per beat. Then do sixteenth notes. You can also do this for triplets or any other rhythm you want to practice. The goal right now is simply to get used to playing with the click so that you can use it with pieces later on.
If you have a complex rhythm in a passage, a metronome can help you break it down. Start very slow, setting the metronome to subdivisions (i.e. one beat per eighth note instead of one beat per quarter note). You can even draw little dashes in the music where the main beats are. The trick is to always start the metronome slower than you know you can play. That way you will feel comfortable and can gradually build to a faster tempo without developing sloppy habits.
The same principle applies to practicing pieces with a metronome. Make sure you are comfortable with the fingerings and bowings first, otherwise you will not be able to keep a steady pulse. Make sure you are also still doing musical things like dynamics and phrasing. This is totally possible with a metronome, and if you leave these details out when you are practicing you may not do them when performing!
Hi! I'm Zlata
Classical violinist helping you overcome technical struggles and play with feeling by improving your bow technique.
Getting things up to Tempo
Practicing involves a lot of repetition, and metronomes encourage focused repetition. The main reason people practice with a metronome is to help speed up fast tricky passages at consistent tempi. Picking a metronome speed to work towards turns practicing into more of a fun challenge. When you start slow and increase the tempo by only a few clicks each time, it basically tricks your brain into thinking you haven’t sped up at all!
Over time, regular use of a metronome will transform your practicing and performance. And since you have such wonderful free tools at your disposal, why wait? The sooner you begin, the more quickly you will adapt to it. Just remember to start slow, have patience, and let yourself learn over time.
Do you practice with a metronome?
Let me know which metronome you use and your best tips in the comments!