What do you say? Does this statement apply to you?
When it comes to practicing with a metronome, there seem to be two fundamental tendencies among my pupils and students: while one group hates practicing with a metronome, the members of the other group can’t do without that periodically beeping sound. The “haters” feel stressed by the unrelenting regularity of their metronome and restricted in their expression. The “junkies”, on the other hand, admit they would be lost without the pulse.
In this JUPITER report, I shall suggest a few ideas that may help you keep practice with a metronome interesting. And lest I forget: on second thought, these exercises are far from easy peasy! The first challenge you need to accept is that you will have to reconfigure your body and way of listening so as to almost ignore the clicks. My pupils and students usually start by telling me that these exercises are “impossible”. Granted, standing in front of the metronome and counting out loud while trying to ignore the device’s pulses on the beat is far from easy. But once it works and if I am able to play one of my pieces with one of these variants, I feel a sense of lightness and self-assurance: the metronome no longer drags me from one beat to the next. Try it out for yourself!
I often notice how players stare at the pendulum or moving LED and try to estimate when the next beat will occur, in order to play their part in time with the next click. It should be the other way around: the click should only be a reference or - better still - a confirmation.
In an ideal situation, I play at my own tempo and I hear a click in “all the right places”. Only then will I be able to generate and maintain my own pulse. Here are a few suggestions that may help you come to grips with this concept.
Set the metronome to bigger time units.
To play a piece in 4/4, for instance, set the metronome pulse to half notes. It might be helpful at first to walk round at a quarter-note speed to get a feel for the pulse. Depending on the basic tempo, it may also be worthwhile to use whole notes as your metronome subdivision.
Have the metronome click on the after beats.
Again start with half notes that sound on the second and fourth beat of a piece in 4/4 time. For this suggestion it might be useful to count out loud to the clicks to “reprogram” your feeling and sense of attention. Start on an accentuated “2” and “4” and then keep counting. After a while, shift the accents to “1” and “3”—and you will notice how the metronome moves to the background.
This suggestion only makes sense for mid-tempo pieces. This time, the clicks occur on the quarter notes (if that is the underlying time signature). The exercise here is to shift the clicks to the eighth notes in between the beats. Again, start by talking to the metronome: say “and” on each beat and the beat number on the following eighth note. Keep talking and once again shift the accents until the metronome in the background seems to beep on the weak notes.
Shifter the meter.
Set the metronome to large units that seem to fall outside the meter. In the case of 3/4 time, for instance, select half notes.
If you feel like going one better, select dotted half notes for 4/4 time. This forces you to sense three units in between metronome clicks (do this again by talking to the metronome). Next, try counting four steps—once you master that, your sense of timing should be in excellent shape!
Sandra Engelhardt made her public flute education debut in 2015, with the publication of her teaching concept "Wir flöten QUER!" (Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden).
A certified instrumental teacher and flautist, she teaches at the music academy of Langenhagen (Germany). She is also a professor at the University of Music, Drama and Media Hanover where she teaches the flute as major and minor courses and heads the "Didactics of Flute Lessons" seminar. As a professor of the further-training curriculum, she is also active on several instrumental teaching levels.