We all know it's important,
but how much do we use it every day?
Many of the benefits of practice with a metronome are quite obvious. When practicing a
piece of music, the use of a metronome helps maintain a steady tempo throughout. A
metronome is necessary for checking a composer's tempo marking. Also, we have all used the
practice technique of learning a new technical passage first at a slow tempo, then
gradually and methodically increasing the metronome speed as we master the passage at each
successive metronome mark.
Ask yourself, however, what proportion of your total practice time is actually done with a metronome each and every day?
The performance of music has a very critical relationship within time, and it is a very exacting relationship at that. In really fast passages your fingers and tongue must be coordinated on notes that occurring faster than 600 notes per minute. Think for just a moment about how many muscles are involved in controlling the embouchure, the tongue, the fingers, and the breathing process. These many, many muscles must all be totally coordinated. All of these physical actions must be precisely synchronized in a single point in time for a truly clean performance, to within perhaps hundredths of a second!
In addition to practicing new technical passages with a metronome, I offer the suggestion that you should try to do almost all of your "daily routine - fundamentals" practice with a metronome. Practice your lip slurs with a metronome. Practice your long tones with a metronome. Practice your tonguing exercises with a metronome. Practice your scales and Clarke's Technical Studies with a metronome. The more total time you spend with your metronome, the more this tenacity for steady tempo and coordination will be driven into the subconscious. In other words, everything you play which has a steady tempo should be played with a metronome.
I didn't have an opportunity to study with Carmine Caruso, but I remember an interesting conversation I once had with a sax player who studied with him. Apparently, when you arrived for your lesson (just go in - no need to knock) you would find both teacher and student foot-tapping together. Carmine would continue his ceaseless foot-tapping as the student packed up his instrument and you would get out your horn and join in the tapping. That foot-tapping would continue through the entire lesson!
I can only guess at Caruso's rationale, but knowing how he always strove to "eliminate the variable factors", I speculate that he was establishing an incessant rhythmic pulse with his students in order to perfectly coordinate all of the physical elements of playing within a precise point in time.
I believe that truly fine players are those who have developed a very keen sense of precise rhythm and an instinctive habit of coordination of their music within time. Increasing the total proportion of our daily practice which is coordinated with a metronomic beat will aid in developing this habit of strict temporal coordination. In addition to the traditional uses for your metronome, get in the practice of also using it during the routine parts of your daily practice - your warm-up, tone studies, etc. Remember: use it every day!
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