Accurate musical timing is having a feel for the beat and playing it consistently from count to count and from measure to measure. Developing this kind of rhythmic consistency is difficult whether we are soloing or playing with others. It's difficult when we practice alone because we have a tendency to slow down for notes or chords we find difficult. It's also difficult when we play with others because they may not be consistent, or they may slow down or speed up to follow us.
The metronome is a practice tool that improves consistency, the ability to listen, and the ability to play music, not just alone, but with others as well. A metronome can help you improve your performance, no matter what kind of music you like or what instrument you play.
Before you start working with your metronome, mentally review the music you're trying to learn, so that you have a good idea of what it should sound like, how it's shaped and where you want to change dynamics for expressiveness.
Since movement helps keep timing accurate, when practicing with your metronome, try keeping some part of your body moving in time with it. Feel the pulse physically, rather than sitting still and you'll also become more adept at syncing to the metronome's beat while playing your instrument. Once you're playing on the beat, you may not hear the metronome.
Focus on chords, notes or measures that present problems. When you are working on a challenging musical passage, slow the metronome's tempo until you can play all of the troubling passages without mistakes.
When you've completed a challenging passage in a slower tempo, raise the metronome's speed a bit and attempt the same musical passage at a slightly higher speed. Each time you can complete the passage several times error-free, move the metronome's speed up. You can run through this exercise as many times as you need to in order to reach the speed at which you want to play the piece—and you'll be playing flawlessly by the time you're done.
If a musical piece is particularly difficult for you, this process may extend over several days. Having the metronome as your practice companion means you can gauge your progress precisely by the number of beats per minute you increase each day, or the number of beats you are able to reach by the end of each practice session.
During this process of raising the metronome's tempo, the strictly accurate beat count will help you to identify problem areas. Without an objective beat counter, you run the risk of unknowingly slowing down and then speeding up as your perception of difficulty changes. With your metronome clicking along relentlessly, passages that are tricky for you become glaringly obvious. You will improve your technique as you overcome these musical obstacles and master them.
Practice idea: though you'll be spending a lot of practice time at tempos below your goal, from time to time set the metronome at the musical piece's correct time. This allows you to get a feel for what the music will sound like at full speed and helps you to anticipate your goal.
Another practice Idea: Imagine that the metronome is another musician who is playing along with you. Experiment with the beat-per-minute settings for different kinds of music. For classical pieces, set the beat on 1 and 3. Set the beat on 2 and 4 for a swing style. If your music contains triplets—3/4, 6/8, or 12/8 time signatures—set the metronome's beat to eighth notes. For fun, try a Latin, funk or rock style with a beat for each quarter note.
Metronome practice is also good for groups and ensembles. Playing as part of a group is fun, so much fun that you may get excited and rush the beat. Individual band members may rush through the easy passages and play too quickly to perform more difficult parts well. This leads to a jerky rhythm or music that speeds up and then slows down to accommodate some of the players. A metronome acts as an impartial ensemble member that keeps the music's tempo without bruising anyone's ego.
By now you're convinced that you need a metronome. So how do you select one? Some musicians like drum machines which give you a variety of sounds and can play almost any rhythm pattern you can think of. If simplicity is more your style, there are plenty of compact handheld metronomes. If you think your needs call for volume and the ability to select sounds, be sure your metronome can do that. If you can practice near your computer, look for an online metronome.
You can even get a metronome with a built-in tuner. The available versions of these metronome tuner combos range from the amazingly compact to rack-mounted versions.
The Woodwind & Brasswind has a large selection of metronomes to meet any musician's needs. All are backed by The Woodwind & Brasswind's 110% Price Guarantee, assuring that you won't find your metronome at a lower price anywhere else.