June 28, 2014

About the Author: Stefan Joubert

Stefan Joubert manages the London Piano Institute, a premier destination for adult piano learners seeking individualised instruction and progress towards their musical goals. He believes anyone can learn to play regardless of age or ability!

metronomeIf you follow the advice given in this article, you will definitely see a marked improvement in your piano playing and your timing.”

Let’s face facts.

You are probably playing out of time a lot more than you like.

Your general timing may be good, but if you scrutinise your playing you will realise that your timing may not be as solid as you hope.

Playing a piece from beginning to the end with solid rhythm and timing can require a lot of metronomic study.

World-class pianists and musicians often state that timing (alongside improvisation and interpretation) is the most difficult aspect of music to master.

That may be the reason why a lot of beginner piano students initially dislike the metronome.

I certainly understand why.

However if you understand the reasoning behind using the metronome when you practice the piano, you will be much keener on practising regularly with a metronome.

According to Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.

Therefore by practising consistently with a metronome at a very slow pace, you will eventually play the piano on time to a large degree.

In order to play the piano well, you have to take care of your technique and sound. In addition to this you will need rhythmic command.

A lot of piano students fall short when it comes to timing, and that is exactly why I wrote the article.

Hopefully this article will inspire you to improve your timing and your piano playing!

Here is what I would advise:

Practice with the metronome at 40 bpm

I often use this technique during my piano lessons to ensure that my students develop a solid feel for timing.

A lot of my methods may seem a little arduous at first, but sticking with them will guarantee a major improvement in your piano playing!

In fact, after a number of lessons my students all love practising at 40 beats per minute. (Yes, I must be honest, I do occasionally hear a few grunts…)

By practising at 40 bpm you are basically teaching your internal clock to sync your playing at a super slow speed and that in turn trains you to play in time.

It definitely develops rhythmical discipline and strength in your piano playing.

A vital skill when it comes to taking your musicianship to the next level!

Develop your speed with the aid of a metronome

You can gradually work up passages in order to increase your speed.

Start at 40 bpm and work up to 160 beats per minute or more if you required.

This will help you develop a solid technique and it will increase your speed.

From time to time I do also advise to switch off the metronome and play at speeds far beyond your capabilities. (Make sure you are very relaxed whilst doing this and do take frequent breaks!)

Push the limits and play sloppy for a little while to feel what it is like to play at fast speeds.

After you have done this, get back to the metronome and clean it up!

This extreme speed technique is called “practising at bursts of speed”. It is there to give you the effects and feeling of practising with nervous muscles to play at lightning speeds. (Once again, only practice it for a very short while and take frequent breaks. Stay relaxed at all times. If you feel any fatigue in your muscles or hands definitely rest!)

Don’t tap your foot with the metronome! (at least not initially)

If you find yourself tapping your foot to the metronome, you may have the feeling that your timing is improving, but this may not be the case.

Depending upon the style of music you play, tapping your foot can become a part of the expression. In jazz and popular piano playing, pianists often tap their foot alongside the beat as part of their expression.

However, when you perform a piece of Mozart’s music, tapping your foot may seem nice to you, but it can distract the audience from enjoying the piece.

If you do tap your foot to the metronome, you must remember that you are literally playing a second instrument with the piano.

You can easily have the impression that you play in time, yet your foot is tapping out of time with the metronome. (Try it, you will see what I mean!)

I always advise using your internal clock when playing with the beat. You’ve got an internal rhythm and you do not need to tap your foot with the beat to feel the beat.

If however you are at an advanced stage of playing the piano especially jazz or popular piano, and tapping your foot is part of your expression (and it does not distract you from good timing), feel free to do so!

Alternate between practising with the metronome and without!

Barry Green wrote in “The inner game of music” that one should practise in a strict disciplined manner as well as a more free creative manner.

I could not agree more.

I would recommend practising your chords, scales and arpeggios, as well as piano compositions with and without a metronome.

Your metronome will help you to develop good timing on the piano. However I also believe that it is important to be able to play from time to time without a metronome.

When you perform in front of an audience, you will not always have the luxury of having a metronome there, and you will have to feel the tempo within.

That is one of the reasons why I would definitely recommend practising both with and without a metronome.

That concludes my article on timing and using a metronome.

Please do note that most piano students struggle with timing, so if you can tackle this issue, you will be so much further ahead than the rest of the pack!

Yes, it’s not a competition, but you do want to go forward as fast as possible. So start loving your metronome it will reward richly over and over again!

For the most recommended metronome software for the musical adventurous amongst you, take a look at: http://bouncemetronome.com

You can also find a copy of Barry Green’s excellent book “The Inner Game of Music” below: ( a fantastic read by the way!)

You can get hold of this excellent book on Amazon below:

The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green

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