The Metronome is My Friend, The Metronome is My Friend

August 24, 2010

After nine months of cello playing I am finally staring to use the metronome on a daily basis. Like (apparently) many students I found the relentless beep...beep...beep intimidating. Besides, I can play notes the same length, easy, just move the bow the same distance each time. Right? Riiiight.

Several months ago my nemesis was The Happy Farmer. It introduced hooked bowing. With a poor grasp of rhythm, no metronome as a safety net, and a false belief in my innate ability to keep in time with myself, I fumbled my way through the piece with some fairly horrid rhythmic mistakes. Ones that were cemented in my muscle memory; ones that took weeks of hard work to undo and repair.

After a few nights of frustration with my current pieces, I decided it was time to start using all the tools available to me. Including the dreaded metronome. Especially the metronome. Emily Wright in her latest posting, a cello newsletter, says (and I am paraphrasing) people who resist using a metronome are likely the ones who need it the most. What I need is metronome users anonymous.

"Hi, I'm Mark. I am not a metronome user."

"Hi Mark."

For the past several nights I have been religious about using the metronome. David has me working on some finger pattern exercises, with each pattern repeated for whole, half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes. Only with the metronome am I now able to play this reasonably well.

Working in the Lee Etude book I managed to knock out the second etude in just a couple of sessions, and at a setting of 76 (so far).

Working in Suzuki volume 2, on the Moon over a Ruined Castle (the Bb tonalization exercise) I am almost up to the suggested 76 beats per minute setting after just a couple of days.

And, after just a couple nights' practice on Theme from "Witches' Dance" I am through the first three lines at a setting of 60. Witches' Dance is filled with hooked bowing. And I am now playing it.

Certainly the weeks of practice since The Happy Farmer have helped, but having the metronome banging out the time for me, and having taken the time before pickup my cello and bow to think about the rhythm, to hear it in my head, made all the difference. What gets me is how long you have to play some notes, and how long some of the rests are. Without the metronome it is all too easy to rush ahead to the next note - with the metronome you can relax and play the notes where they belong.

I have a long ways to go before I can play all rhythms at all speeds, but this week has changed my tune regarding the metronome. I shall be including it heavily in all my practice from here on out.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.