Make Friends with your Metronome

Most music students seem to have a love-hate relationship with their metronomes. What about you? Do you have a metronome? Do you use your metronome? It’s time for you to make friends with your metronome!

What is a Metronome?

A metronome is a small device that produces a steady beat. Originally metronomes were similar to small pendulums with a way to adjust the speed of the pendulum. Today you can still purchase mechanical metronomes, but more likely, musicians will use digital metronomes or even metronome apps on their phones.

Metronomes have been around for centuries! I guess that means that musicians have had issues with tempo and rhythm for centuries as well! (You aren’t the only one!) Historical records exist for a device similar to a metronome as far back as the 800s. The first successful musical metronome appeared in 1696. By the early 1800s, metronomes similar to what we use today were developed and patented. Beethoven was probably the first famous composer to write metronome markings in his music.

Why Should I Use a Metronome?

Use a metronome to practice keeping a steady tempo throughout a piece.

Too often, it seems, students tend to play the easy parts of a piece of music at one speed but then slow down during the hard parts of the music. Are you one of those students? Do you even know if you tend to do that? A metronome will provide unbiased proof of whether you slow down the hard parts or speed up during the easy parts. It is important to keep a steady tempo throughout both the easy and more difficult passages of your music.

Use a metronome to play at the correct tempo.

What does it mean when your music’s tempo marking is adagio? Or allegretto? Or largo? What if your music says mm = 120? What does that mean? MM=120 written in your music means you are supposed to play 120 beats of music in one minute. Your quarter note (usually designated by a written quarter note with the mm marking) should beat 120 times a minute. That is equal to two beats per second. If your metronome marking is 60, that means one beat per second, so a marking of 120 equals two beats per second. A marking of 90 means to play 1-1/2 beats per second. Confusing? It’s all about the math! Set your metronome to the marking listed in your music, and you will know exactly how fast or slow you should play.

And if the markings use words instead of numbers, your metronome has you covered there as well. Most metronomes provide ranges of beats for each tempo word. Largo means about 45-50 beats per minute (BPM). Moderato is 86-97 BPM, and Presto is considered 168-177 BPM. I remember seeing a piece marked “As fast as you can play.” Metronome markings can go up to 208 BPM.

Use a metronome to practice hard passages with lots of notes.

One effective way to use a metronome is when practicing a passage of music with lots of notes – 16th notes, 32nd notes, etc. The tendency for students is to slow down to play all the notes. Another tendency is to “cheat” your way through the passage – play all the notes but unevenly, or play the notes that come out and skip the rest. However, a good musician will work until he can play every note evenly and up to tempo.

Use your metronome to help you accomplish this. Start slowly, setting your metronome to beat for every 16th note. Then, when you can play the passage well slowly, little by little, increase the tempo. Then set your metronome to beat 8th notes. Again, little by little, increase the tempo. Set your metronome to beat quarter notes, and again, gradually increase your tempo with your metronome settings. You will “soon” (or eventually) master the passage and be able to play it well and up to tempo – without any “cheating!”

Use a metronome to challenge yourself to practice some things faster.

Some things = scales and arpeggios, for starters. I hope you have figured out that much of your music comes from different scales and arpeggios. So, if you routinely practice those, when you come across them in your music, your fingers will know what to do! Playing scales and arpeggios should become almost automatic for you. Your director says to play a D Major scale – your brain and fingers should know exactly what to do without much thinking at all.

Use your metronome to help you get better and faster at playing scales and arpeggios. First, be sure you can play a scale correctly and evenly at a slow tempo, like a quarter note = mm 90. Then increase the tempo to 120. After mastering that, go back to a setting of 90 and practice your scale in 8th notes, then triplets, then 16th notes. Then increase the tempo settings again and go through the process once more. You get the idea. Gradually increase your tempo until you can play the scale well at increasing speed. Sound boring? Maybe so, but it will pay off in the long run. The better you can play all your scales and arpeggios, the better you will play your music.

But what if I want to play rubato, or take some liberties with the rhythm?

Remember this – Your metronome is a tool, not a master. Use this tool to practice steady rhythm, conquer tricky rhythm, to master even playing. And then, set your metronome aside and play with musicality and feeling, with musicianship. Your metronome is a training tool to master the rhythm technique. Remember when you learned to ride a bicycle? You probably started with training wheels on your bike. After you mastered riding with training wheels, someone took them off, and you learned to ride your bike on your own. Think of your metronome as like training wheels. You can remove the training tool and rely on the skills you already learned at a certain point.  

Where Do I Find a Metronome?

You can find metronomes at most music stores, or you can easily order them online. Pendulum-type metronomes can be cool to have sitting on your piano or in the room where you practice. Small digital metronomes are much easier to carry with you, however. Or you can skip the physical metronomes and get a digital one as an app on your phone. Which kind of metronome you have doesn’t matter much. What matters is that you use one!

So, make friends with your metronome. Your band or orchestra directors will thank you; your fellow musicians will be eternally grateful, and your accompanist will eternally bless you. Even your music teacher will be thrilled with your new rhythm capabilities. And your overall musicianship will improve, which should make even you happy!

Looking for more suggestions about practicing? Check out the following articles:

Practice Like a Pro

I Don’t Know What to Practice

Great Gift Ideas for your Music Student

Wondering what to get your favorite music student for Christmas this year? I have some great gift ideas for you. A few on the practical side, and then some ideas just for fun.

Practical Gift Ideas


Metronomes are great “tools” for musicians to have.They help us learn to keep a steady beat while practicing. I know you can get an app on your phone for that, but if your phone needs charging it’s good to have a backup plan.


String instruments require regular tuning – to themselves.All the open strings need to be in tune to each other. Eventually, a student should learn to hear the right pitch relations between strings, but while they are learning a tuner can help the process. Any ensemble of musicians must tune before playing together. Again, a tuner can speed the process. A tuner should never replace the human ear, but it can certainly assist the ear.

Music Stand

With the exception of pianists and organists,other musicians need a dependable music stand. Meaning a stand that will stay upright, will stay at the proper height, will hold a quantity of music at onetime, will not regularly collapse! While metal folding stands are cheaper and more easily stored, they are not terribly reliable. Get a good quality one-piece sturdy music stand. Your student will thank you, your floors and furniture will thank you.

Instrument Cleaning/Maintenance Supplies

Every instrument needs to be cleaned! Does your child have what he/she needs to take care of their instrument? It might be a soft cleaning rag, oil, slide grease, silver polishing rag, a swab for the inside of the instrument. If you aren’t sure what your child needs, ask the music teacher or someone at your music store. Or Google it!


Is there some music your child would just love to play (within their ability!)? Do you know that their teacher will be recommending some new music soon? How about a book of hymn arrangements with accompaniment for use in church? Or a book of songs from their favorite musical? Please, though, look for something close to the same degree of difficulty as the other music they are playing.

Music Bag

Does your student go to music lessons with music and papers falling all over the place? Is he constantly losing music? Get him a great music bag to keep all that music in one place! It could be as simple as a plain messenger bag, or something with music-themed decorations on the bag.Your child will thank you. The music teachers will thank you!

Padded, Protective Instrument Carrying Case

If your student will be doing a lot of traveling with her instrument, this might be a good gift option. A padded instrument case is a case made to go over the regular instrument case to give extra protection. When I was in college choir, I had to take my flute with us on choir tours. Instruments went in the storage area of the bus – underneath! I wanted some extra protection for my flute!

And the Fun Stuff

Music-themed clothing -socks, shirts, hoodies, etc.

What’s more fun than showing off your love of music, or your instrument, with a great shirt? There are so many options to choose from! I have seen everything from keyboard scarves and shoelaces to music-themed hats and gloves, shirts, hoodies, socks,ties, suspenders.

Music mugs/water bottles, etc. –

And don’t forget the water bottles, mugs, and travel mugs. Let them proclaim their love of music every time they take a sip of water.

Wall Art/Posters related to music

So many options here!Everything from quotations about music to pictures of their instrument. You could even frame a copy of their favorite piece of music. They might even like charts of guitar chords on their wall.

Premium subscription to their favorite online music service(Pandora, Spotify, etc.)

What service does your child use to listen to their music? ITunes? Pandora? Spotify? Something else? Get them a premium subscription so they can listen all day and not have to put up with commercials. (Hmm…I should have put that on my list!)

Tickets to a concert

What would your child love to see?Opera? Symphony? Chamber music? Musical? The Piano Guys? Whatever it is, check schedules and buy some tickets! Plan to make it a memorable event.

Eraseable Highlighter Pens/Markers

I didn’t even know these existed until a few weeks ago. What a brilliant idea! All musicians need ways to mark their music. Whether it is highlighting difficult passages for extra attention, or marking key changes, or marking changes in time signatures,highlighter pens would be perfect. What’s more fun than color-coding your music?!Being able to erase the markings is a bonus! My niece uses these as incentives in her piano studio. I should have put these on my list as well.

Now you have some great ideas – Go Shopping! Check out your local music store; see what they have to offer. If all else fails, there is always (And still time to get those deliveries before Christmas! Guess what I need to do later today?)

Need ideas for your music teacher?  

Great Gifts for your Music Student
Great Gifts for your Music Student