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Till now, I've learned to play songs in a different way. That is, I listen to the piece/song that I want to play over and over till I get it ingrained in my brain. And when I start learning it, I don't use the metronome. (It is beneficial too, I can quickly identify the note(s) that I'm playing incorrectly)

And to my surprise, when I played the songs with the metronome, it was perfect. (Yes, every single part!)

Although, I'll admit that I'm an Intermediate Pianist (and self-taught). So, I've not learned a lot of pieces by now.

But is this a good practice?

Also, please answer considering these two situations when learning a piece.

  1. To play for myself, family, or friends.
  2. For public performance (not competition).

P.S. Please acknowledge that I've only used this method till now, so I am fine at it.

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    I'm not sure the two things you suggest are particularly related (i.e. why is it an either/or choice?)
    – DavidW
    Dec 30 '20 at 16:27
  • @DavidW I meant that if the piece I want to play is ingrained in my memory (by listening to it while doing some other tasks like exercising) then perhaps I can save time by not using the metronome (excluding the harder sections). These were my thoughts when asking the question. After thinking for a bit, I agree with you.
    – Anshul Raj
    Dec 30 '20 at 17:01
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One wouldn't particularly use a metronome a lot when learning a piece. It doesn't help learning the notes or dynamics, all it does is keep a very strict time (which often isn't appropriate!) for you to keep to that tempo on parts that you may wander with.

Listening to something a lot - or even hearing it subliminally - is a good way to 'get into' a piece. Apparently it can even work whilst one is asleep. A couple of my students used that excuse in class, but it didn't wash... But seriously, that's fine until there are different versions of the same piece. What happens then? I guess one decides which version and only listens to that. Similar to what a parrot may do? Not convinced it produces a musical rendition, and as far as understanding what's going on, maybe a non-starter. But - it appears it works for you, so please continue.

A concern I have is that when you perform along to the (presumably) recording, and keep in time, you consider that's it. Timing is exactly the same as that recording. I hate to say it, but so what? Where is the performance that's come from you, the player? You will have put nothing of that into the piece yourself, save playing all the right notes in the right order. Part of any performance should be putting your own stamp on it.

Don't get me wrong. It's a laudable feat to be able to listen enough then be able to play, but there is a lot more to performing that that. I'm trying to point that out!

So, don't worry about the metronome, for you, it's not needed, and shouldn't be used as a crutch or a big part of anybody's practice regime anyhow. Carry on with what appears to be successful, but consider moving past the 'that's got it note for note, so it's finished' syndrome.

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  • To be honest, I was really moved by your answer. I really disliked playing note for note (that's why I didn't like using the metronome). But I never played along with the recording, I set-up the metronome and played while keeping my eyes on the score. It matched rightly so I considered my playing to be correct. But is this not the same as the note for note thing? Also, is getting a bit off from the measure is okay right? I heard that all the professional players never follow the score perfectly. P.S. Please don't consider it rude, but I don't have enough reputation to upvote your answer.
    – Anshul Raj
    Dec 30 '20 at 18:28
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Listening to a piece of music multiple times and using a metronome for a piece of music you are learning serve very different purposes.

I don't really see how you can play something really well unless you have the music in your mind and to achieve that most people will find it necessary to listen to the music many times particularly if their music reading skills are weak. (I acknowledge that some people can read the music and "hear" the music but probably not most beginners through to intermediates).

The metronome fulfils very different functions. It helps you fix problems unrelated to following the melody and if you don't have any of those problems then you don't need the fix.

Typically you use the metronome to fix speed and timing issues with small sections of a piece. You may naturally play one portion either too fast or too slowly or you may find yourself speeding up, slowing down or just varying the rhythm in variance with what is written. In those cases your answer is get out your metronome.

There is a saying "If you can play it slowly then you can play it fast" which is sort of true. You may first need to master playing the piece or section slowly, then get out the metronome starting at the speed you can play and gradually increase the metronome speed until you can play it at the required speed.

These timing issues are much less important to fix when playing completely solo. Variance can be put down to improvisation. However if you are playing with a group or orchestra it can only work if everybody is playing correctly (in time) off the same score.

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  • I used to think that one will need to practice every part of the music by using the metronome. But the metronome is just for correcting any issues with playing. I understand the use of the metronome more precisely now. Anyway, thanks a lot for your answer. One more thing, I don't understand what you mean by 'Variance can be put down to improvisation.' Can you please explain that?
    – Anshul Raj
    Dec 30 '20 at 17:12
  • @AnshulRaj If you are playing solo then you can vary the tempo from what is written and nobody else is affected. Going further, you might want to do that as improvisation. Dec 30 '20 at 18:16
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The risk of listening to a recording multiple times, especially if it's only a single recording, is that the particular interpretation gets stuck in your head. Then when playing you will try to recreate that particular interpretation, rather than trying to understand the composition on your own.

Trying to recreate an interpretation of a good musician is a great exercise, but I wouldn't say it's a good general approach to learning every single piece.

Practicing with metronome is another great way of exercising, as it helps you to identify and fix your issues with technique and timing. But is the particular composition even meant to be played with "perfect" metronomic time? Often it is not. Overpracticing with metronome can kill your timing expression.

To summarize, both discussed methods are good for exercising, but you need to balance them with search for your own expression.

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