22

So when I was a kid I had this piano teacher who was completely against even owning a metronome.

He was adamant that using a metronome to practice was a bad habit and insisted that pupils always count "internally".

In retrospect, several years later, this seems to me like unorthodox advice.

I recently started playing again, and after playing through a new piece I am even finding it very helpful to practice it at different tempos with a metronome, going from incredibly sloooow to faster to super uber fast, and then sloooow again: I can play with increased confidence and I can iron out all the parts that don't quite work - and afterwards I can concentrate on expression, rallentando, accelerando, crescendo as I please.

So: I'm confused.

Can anybody show me what are the pros and cons of practicing to a metronome and why would a teacher ban it altogether?

20

It sounds to me like you are using the metronome in an effective manner.

Your teacher might have been concerned that you, as a young student, would have seen playing in perfect time as an artistic objective. Of course it is rarely such. The musical artist is expressing emotion and other aesthetic insights. Variety of all kinds should be deployed for that purpose, with the test of effectiveness almost never perfectly consistent rhythm, but rather appropriately expressive rhythm.

However, to do this well, you must establish control over your sense of time, so you deploy it appropriately. The sort of drill you describe sounds great for this purpose.

When it comes to preparing for performance, however, turn the metronome off, set it aside, go forth and express thyself. Be steady when you need to be steady, speed up and slow down as the piece and your process of breathing life into it dictate.

  • Yes, control over your sense of time is a nice expression! Without this you will slow down when it becomes difficult and then speed up again. Makes me cringe every time I hear that, mostly people playing the organ... (they are really not used to playing in a group, but still). – Joe W Oct 18 '18 at 4:53
11

I think I can understand what your teacher was trying to say. He wanted to make you feel the music.

Music needs to breathe. If a computer and a human play the same song, it will sound different; the human version will be more natural; the computer version will be more mathematically correct.

Your teacher might be worried that if you kept practicing with a metronome, you might end up playing the songs mathematically correct, and not naturally.

This is correct up to a point, but I don't believe it is entirely true. It is not that simple to keep the tempo steady all the time; this is something you need to work with a metronome. My point of view is that it is really good to be able to keep the tempo steady.

After you have the ability to keep it steady, you can make it slower or faster at certain passages, according to the feel (of the song or yours).

But, if you cannot keep the tempo steady, it will sound like a cardiogram. Which is good if that is the desired effect, but it is also frowned upon by many people.

7

While it is possible that your metronome banning teacher was just a bad teacher (Such a thing is clearly possible), because as a rule metronomes are good, I often save metronome work for intermediate and advanced students. This is primarily because in the beginning it can be frustrating to achieve music on an instrument. Metronome work can compound that frustration, and delay the gratification of initial success for many students.

Having near perfect rhythm can connect a certain beauty to your playing, and yet as others have mentioned, it is good to be able to break away from the strictest of rhythms in many circumstances. It is rare, however, for a metronome to turn a student into a inhuman robotic player full time. I have never seen it personally.

I will add that not using a metronome is like not using a clock. We won't and shouldn't constantly consult a clock to know what time it is (a watched pot never boils), but if we never look at a clock (use a metronome) it is possible that we will never know what time is (have good rhythm). I myself expect I will never be so good that it wont be worth having a look at a clock once and a while.

3

See this section of a Wikipedia article criticism of metronome use

Here is a brief excerpt:

"[...] using the metronome as a constant guide to ramp up the speed or to keep the rhythm. This is one of the worst abuses of the metronome. [...] If over used, it can lead to loss of your internal rhythm, loss of musicality, and bio-physical difficulties from over-exposure to rigid repetition" —Fundamentals of Piano Practice by Chuan C. Chang

What did they recommend as an alternative? You can go a long way, practicing along to records with great human grooves :)

TBH... metronome practice is about training your reflexes to phrase notes evenly, in time, developing reflexes that display innate musicality, timing and timbre. The metronome lets you hear when a note is sluggish... so, pull it into time... wow, now it's loud DONT HAVE THE S-TR-ENGT...THHHHH

So it's a litmus paper red flag... but like anything else, you can over-rely upon it.

Today, the wide use of click tracks for recording means you have to be comfortable with metronomic time (again, the use of metronomic click tracks is controversial - for the same reasons!)

  • Uhm, I'm not sure how practicing along with records would be helpful. I mean, in 50 years, when I can play Rach concertos, it will be a lot of fun to play along with the recording with the orchestra and all, but in the meanwhile it doesn't seem like a viable alternative to bring a piece up to speed (pun intended). I'm not entirely sure practicing Bach to "human grooves" would help my technique either - could you be more specific? – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 8 '15 at 10:59
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    Does anyone EVER use the term 'groove' to describe classical music? Do you use click tracks? Please check out the wikipedia articles, that discussion cites views from various classical authors. It would certainly be a good start point for someone to research the point further. Quite a body of discussion lies beneath this question... read on! – kenno Mar 8 '15 at 12:37
  • Sorry, kenno, I'm not understanding your advice here - you are suggesting that I record myself playing to a click track? Please keep in mind that English is not my first language, so you have to be patient :) – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 8 '15 at 12:43
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    No, use a metronome. My advice around 'groove' was for jazz, funk, soul, etc. I had no idea you were playing only classical music. Of course, you should use a metronome and ramp up one you have set the muscle memory. Practice with and without. – kenno Mar 8 '15 at 12:47
  • Sorry kenno, my bad - although in all fairness I mentioned "teacher", "piano" and "kid" - and I know of few parents who pay for their 12 year old kid to take funk piano lessons (assuming there is such a thing) :) – Some Dude On The Interwebs Mar 8 '15 at 22:05
1

Actually, I would guess the reason for banning a metronome from piano students to be similar to banning ruler and compass from technical drawing classes of engineering students. And yes, there was a professor at the university who did that here, including and specifically in written exams.

The idea presumably being to avoid a dependency on tools you cannot rely on having in the field. Now an engineer is definitely more likely to be able to avail himself of a ruler and compass in the field (at worst by always carrying one) in order to make on-site changes to plans.

A pianist isn't going to crank out a metronome in concert, and a metronome has a rather coarse scale. Arriving on the beat does not guarantee a smooth journey there. And some music has a life not quite on the beat even discounting an individual leeway at interpretation: a properly executed Viennese Waltz will have its second beat trail the metronome, for example.

1

It sounds fairly strange that a teacher would disallow the use of the metronome for beginners. For the more mature player, one could argue that being too dependent on the metronome is a bad thing. Before we walk, we crawl though, and in order to get a good internal rhythm, one must be familiar with what a steady rhythm is.

It also seems to be a misconception that it's not possible to "swing" with a steady beat. I believe the best drummers are very good at keeping a fixed tempo, but manage to create a flowing and non-mechanical feeling non the less.

When one begins, having a metronome removes the need to keep track of one more thing (the beat), when there's already a lot of stuff to keep track of.

0

It seems to me such a teacher is attempting to have all his students play music in only one way. In my experience I find a metronome can help some students while others seem to learn just fine without one. Why insist on using or not using a metronome? Why should it be a hard enforced rule either way? I personally appreciate more flexibility. I also like having the ability to play to a steady beat, but not having to do so if the music calls for variation. I think a balance of some metronome practice and some without the metronome would be the best answer to the question, from a students perspective.

-3

Since everyone jumped down my throat about my previous answer, I wanted to share this:

http://www.creativitypost.com/psychology/8_things_top_practicers_do_differently

And note how many of these simply do not work with a metronome running.

  1. Practice was with inflection early on; the initial conceptualization of the music was with inflection.

Metronomes prevent inflections in tempo.

  1. Errors were preempted by stopping in anticipation of mistakes.
  2. Errors were addressed immediately when they appeared.

Metronomes insist that you keep going.

  1. Tempo of individual performance trials was varied systematically; logically understandable changes in tempo occurred between trials (e.g. slowed things down to get tricky sections correct).

This is what I was saying in my previous post.

  • 1
    You should add this information to your previous post. This is not an answer. – Meaningful Username Mar 13 '15 at 15:17
  • This relates to top players. At different levels, different players use different tactics.They would,in their experience, have inbuilt metronomes,so wouldn't use a real one -rather like a danceband drummer counts in a dance at correct tempo without a reference.Beginner students would not have an innate sense of timing; this is a different scenario. Slow down for a tricky bit? Just work on it till it's close to speed, THEN play the previous part before it. Concert players stretch and squash slightly (rubato) but the level of playing is so different from the students considered in the question. – Tim Mar 13 '15 at 16:27
-3

A teacher would ban the metronome, if he/she is clever enough to realize that, playing or practicing according to the metronome destroys the music, and turns that player into a brainwashed, boring, run-of-the-mill player... as so many players (esp. classical players) are today.

Not using the metronome displays an intelligent, humanist, anti-mechanical, anti-preconceived, anti-factual stance, that treats the human as what he/she really is: capable of going beyond stupid regurgitation of notes according to preconceived metronome-ticks; way way beyond: to a personal involvement with music, to actually touching the listener and sharing one's soul.

The following is a wonderful way of understanding the concepts better:

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Metronome#Quotes_critical_of_the_metronome

Throw the metronome out of the window, and fight for something worth fighting for: humanity and intuition (and against mechanization and suppression of the human soul, [which are unfortunately being propagated under the guise of academia and professionalism])

;)

  • 1
    I believe that to be able to swing, or to play a classical piece with the suitable subtle tempo changes, you have to have a very keen sense of rhythm. I.e. being able to play like a metronome. The players who already have a great sense of tempo of course does not need it. A lot of us could improve our sense of timing, and then a metronome is one of the tools. Like everything it can be overused. Practice with a metronome when needed, rehearse and perform without. – Meaningful Username Mar 14 '15 at 21:56
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    Isn't this saying that no great player used the metronome, since it's a surefire way to destroy any hope of true musicality? – Meaningful Username Mar 14 '15 at 22:07
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    You can have expression in your playing, but you still need to be able to keep time especially when preforming a piece with a group. There will always be some kind of idea keeping time in music. In a live performance it is never a metronome, but instead divided up the performers to keep time with themselves and others with one keeping the group in check which is typically the conductor or percussionists. Practicing with a constant beat is good when you are learning a piece, but in time you need to be able to do it yourself. – Dom Mar 14 '15 at 22:28
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    I do think there's an overemphasis on fixed tempo these days, but practicing with a metronome isn't the culprit. It's recording with click tracks, quantizing those tracks, and even playing concerts where the drummer is using click tracks. The bulk of my own practice has not involved a metronome. The notions that the metronome can be useful, and that music is made by people are not in opposition. – Meaningful Username Mar 14 '15 at 22:31
  • 2
    If everyone's not keeping time with each other, you wouldn't be seeing them in the first place... – Dom Mar 14 '15 at 22:36

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