How to use a metronome is an interesting subject, and a very important one at that. When we flute players graduate from blowing our lips off to get those first few tones, using a metronome is probably very far from our minds.
Learning how to use a metronome in the earlier stages of flute playing will really help our chances of becoming a well-versed musician. So, the sooner you can get one in your hands the better.
The metronome is a perfect tool for helping keep beat.
In my many years of teaching music, I’ve noticed that there seem to be two types of people; the ones who were born with a sense of rhythm, and those who were not.
I hope anyone reading this right now will realize that it’s not that big of a deal if they are part of the latter group who don’t seem to have a natural knack for feeling the beat. It can be learned. I promise. 100%.
The metronome is a perfect tool for helping keep beat, so let’s talk about how to use it.
First of all a metronome has a dial on it that allows the clicks/beeps/pops to happen at different paces. These clicks/beeps/pops are measured in what is called; “beats per minute”. It’s kind of easy to understand when you compare a metronome to a clock. If the metronome is set on the number 60, it will be clicking at one beat per second just like a clock. There are 60 beats per minute of measured time. Easy?
Next, we notice that the number dial can be changed so that the clicks happen faster or slower. This is often referred to as the ‘tempo’ or the ‘beat’. For example; if we see a piece of music that says the tempo is 100, then we know there are 100 beats per minute. And in our minds we realize that it is a slightly faster pace than the clock ticks. Still with me?
When we are first learning music, it’s imperative that we learn how to use the downbeat and understand where the upbeat is. This can be easily explained by thinking of a tapping foot. Up Down Up Down Up Down. For demonstration/example purposes today we’ll say that the exact moment your foot touches ‘down’ (when tapping up and down) is the ‘downbeat’. I know this seems super simple when I say it like this, but let’s be sure your body can feel what I’m talking about.
The moment your foot is at it’s highest point would be the spot in the time spectrum that is called the ‘upbeat’. Simple? Practice for a second with your foot so you are sure you’ve got it.
Now, in order to practice learning how to play with the metronome, you will want to start by blowing your flute notes in a quarter note rhythm. This just means that you will blow one tone for each click – starting on the click and ending before the next ‘beat’ sounds (because then you need to play another tone on the next click).
It’s most important that you learn how to make your tone at the precise moment of the downbeat click.
For the purposes of this article, the next idea inline with learning how to play with the metronome is to identify the absolute exact moment of the upbeat. This should be half way between two downbeats.
Now, you can slow down your metronome and practice finding that halfway point.
Of course, it’s not really possible to become an expert from reading one article, but with time, practice, and more learning you will be able to feel that beat. Without this skill, it is virtually impossible to become a higher level musician.
Music is science, and internalizing the ‘feel’ of the beat is worth studying because without this sense of rhythm, music becomes disorganized and uncoordinated-feeling. So, click click away. You can do it.