How to practice with a metronome (+ free online metronome)
Tips for effective practicing with a metronome, so you can get fast progress on the music you play
Learn about speed, subdivisions and difficult rhythms:
“Practice with a metronome!”
If you are a violinist at ANY stage of learning, I can almost guarantee this is something that you’ve heard many times before. Using a metronome is a great practice technique if used in the correct way. If used improperly, it’s just a frustrating clicky sound that will haunt your dreams. Kidding! Kind of.
In this article, I will explain how to best practice with a metronome to improve your rhythm skills and get fast progress on the piece you are practicing.
What is a metronome?
A metronome is a device (either mechanical, electronic, or online) that produces a steady pulse, using both aural and visual cues. The pulse is measured in BPM (Beats per Minute). For example, 60 BPM is essentially one beat per second, while 120 BPM is two beats per second.
I recommend using my free online metronome with subdivisions you can find right here.
How to practice with a metronome
How you use the metronome in practice will depend on your skill level
Beginning players need to first get comfortable playing simple rhythms with the metronome. If you’ve never used the metronome before (or are struggling to get started) here are some steps to follow.
- Place your metronome on at 60 BPM.
- Practice clapping with the metronome on various simple rhythms. Start with quarter notes (one clap per click), then half notes (one clap per two clicks), and then eighth notes (two claps per click).
- Practice playing these simple rhythms on open strings.
- Practice scales in these simple rhythms.
Playing with the metronome is going to take a lot of brainpower at first, and that’s okay!
I always recommend for beginners only focus on staying with the metronome when learning how to use it. If you’re trying to stay with the metronome, plus working on your intonation, trying to make sure your bow is straight, and trying to keep your fingers close to the string, there are way too many things to think about and something is bound to fall by the wayside! These things are obviously important but should be addressed away from the metronome.
If you’re faced with challenging rhythms that you can’t quite decipher, the best practice technique is going to be subdividing.
Subdividing is essentially dividing up each note into the smallest common denominator, thus making it easier to keep track of and count. Follow these steps to practice subdividing.
- Identify the smallest common denominator of the passage (ie the smallest note value).
- Change the setting on your metronome to correspond with that note value.
- Determine how many of each of those note values go into larger note values. For example, if you determine that your smallest common denominator is 16th notes, figure out how many 16th notes go into each of the larger note values (this also includes ties).
- Play the written rhythm while the metronome is clicking the subdivisions. It should be much easier to count.
If you’re looking to increase your general speed of a piece, here are the steps you need to follow to gradually work it up with the metronome.
- Pick a section of the piece (not the whole thing!)
- Identify a tempo where you can play it comfortably, no matter how slow. All notes, rhythms, and dynamics should be accurate.
- Play that section at least 3 times with the metronome with no mistakes.
- Move the metronome up slightly, by no more than 5 clicks, and repeat.
- Aim to increase the speed by 5-15 clicks per day.
But I just can’t play any faster! What do I do?
First, recognize that gradually increasing your speed takes time. Depending on the difficulty of the piece, give it at least a few months before declaring that you’ve reached a plateau.
If you really can’t go any faster, increase the speed by 10-20 BPM. I know it sounds crazy, but stay with me for a second. Play the section a few times at this new faster speed. It doesn’t have to be perfect but aim to get through it. Then increase the speed again and repeat the process. Now, go back to the original, desired speed. It should seem much slower and more manageable.
The best way to increase your speed in runs is to practice rhythmical variations. The aim of this practice technique is to practice just a few notes at a time, but at a very quick speed, which will increase the overall speed at which you’re able to play the run. Here are the steps to follow to practice in rhythmical variations:
- Play two notes as fast as possible. Take out all bowings and play each note separately.
- Stop for as long as necessary to mentally prepare for the next two notes.
- Repeat for the remaining length of the run.
- Now, practice in opposite pairs. To do this, start out with a single note, and then resume playing in pairs. You should be playing different pairs than before.
- Repeat the process with groups of three, four, six, and eight.
Using a metronome to practice violin vibrato
Did you know that you can use a metronome to practice vibrato!? Yes, it’s possible and extremely effective! Practicing vibrato with the metronome is a great way to practice the vibrato motion and make sure your vibrato is even. Follow these steps to practice vibrato with the metronome.
- Place your metronome on 60 BPM.
- Practice your vibrato in quarter notes (one movement per click. I also call this “pizza”).
- Practice your vibrato in eighth notes (two movements per click. I call this “pepperoni”).
- Practice your vibrato in sixteenth notes (four movements per click. I call this “I would like a slice of pizza.”
- Gradually increase the speed of the metronome as you feel comfortable.
Difficult rhythms to practice with a metronome
Dotted rhythms (dotted quarters, dotted eighths followed by sixteenths, etc)
These rhythms are challenging because you have to play off of the beat (meaning that you are not going to be playing right with the click of the metronome.) However, when practicing along with this online metronome, you can simply choose these rhythms in the bottom right-hand corner and play exactly with the beats.
Triplets (especially when in combinations of eighths and quarters)
The most common tendency when practicing triplets is to rush. I like to call triplets “the lazy rhythm” to help remind students to evenly spread the three notes out over the beat. When faced with triplets in combinations of eighths and quarters, I recommend subdividing the triplet in your head.
Syncopations are difficult because you have to play off of the beat of the metronome (similar to dotted rhythms). Along with subdividing and using the built-in syncopation rhythms in this online metronome, I recommend listening to the piece as much as possible to internalize the rhythm.
Hi! I'm Zlata
Classical violinist helping you overcome technical struggles and play with feeling by improving your bow technique.
Why is practicing with a metronome so difficult?!
In short, it is one more thing to add to the long list of things to worry about during practice. A metronome shows no mercy, which can make it an incredibly difficult practice partner. Overall, the metronome is a practice tool that should enhance your practice, not leave you miserable. If you can get through the initial challenges of learning how to most effectively use it, then the metronome truly can become a great tool to add to your practice toolkit.
How do you practice with the metronome?
Share it in the comments below!