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Rhythm training with the metronome

Posted by WayneConrad on Friday, November 23, 2018

After many weeks of not wanting to practice, I took the banjo out to the garage (my "woodshed") and did some methodical scale practice with the metronome.  In drop-C tuning I can do different scale patterns on the third/second/first string at something over 220 bpm now, but not so fast or well on the fourth/third/second string.  So I put the metronome down to 120 bpm and set to work.  Playing with the metronome is harder than playing without it, even if I can play perfectly well without it.  I can take a scale pattern I know and play well at a speed, then start the metronome to that speed, and now it's harder.  But that's not bad: It adds to the value of metronome practice.

Listening and syncing with the metronome occupies part of my brain and makes the scale harder to play.  In order to play along with the metronome, my playing has to be more automatic, less conscious.  So if I can do the scale with the metronome running, I am more likely to be able to use that scale in performance without goofing it up.  That's because in performance, my whole mind isn't on just playing the notes: It's on dynamics and variations, it's on reminding myself where I am in the song, it's on paying attention to other musicians, it's on interacting with the audience.  If I've got to use my whole mind just to play the notes, there's nothing left for the performance and either the performance will suffer, or I'll goof up the notes.  Practicing with the metronome is a substitute for having half my mind occupied with all the other aspects of performing, forcing me to practice until playing the notes is done sort of unconsciously.

That's all fine, and I already knew this, but this morning I stumbled on a useful way to make metronome practice harder in the just the right amount.  I have a bad habit of speeding up during a performance, and in order to work on that I put my metronome program (Pro Metronome) into "Rhythm Trainer" mode.  In this mode, it is programmed to cut out periodically.  I set it to give me four beats ticking, then four of silence, then four beats ticking, etc.  The idea is that during the silence I'm still playing and hopefully keeping the beat accurately.  When the metronome starts ticking again, I should still be on the beat.

I started practicing my scales with the metronome in rhythm trainer mode, and I was surprised to learn that the scales were now harder to play.  That's seems true even if my rhythm is spot on.  Something about the metronome cutting in and out made playing harder than it was when the metronome was ticking steadily.  This is similar to how playing with a steady beat is harder than playing without a metronome at all.  Very curious, and I don't know why.  It doesn't feel too much more difficult--it feels like the right amount of difficulty to help solidify the scales I'm practicing.  And, of course, I hope that the rhythm training will help me to play with a steadier rhythm.


5 comments on “Rhythm training with the metronome”

Deleteme Says:
Friday, November 23, 2018 @6:10:46 AM

That sounds like a good practice session. This is something I too will start doing soon I think.

WayneConrad Says:
Friday, November 23, 2018 @9:07:32 AM

Northl - It'd be fun to hear whether it works for you or not. Everyone's different so I don't expect it to have the same effect upon everyone. But if it does work the same way for you that would be interesting.

AndyW Says:
Sunday, November 25, 2018 @1:58:01 PM

The Pro metronome app is also now my metronome of choice having outstripped my mechanical metronome's 208bpm and simple metronome app's 230bpm.

WayneConrad Says:
Sunday, November 25, 2018 @3:03:33 PM

@AndyW - That's pretty fast (at least for me). Nice!

AndyW Says:
Wednesday, November 28, 2018 @8:44:52 AM

Bear in mind the fact I am playing fiddle tunes all the time means speeds are important to play anything except solo.

I expect any advancement with my playing in syncopation and overall technique is suffering due to playing at speed constantly.

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