David Hicken ~ Pianist & Composer

Advice For Pianists

Audiences are used to listening to music with solid timing, because almost all modern music uses drums and percussion.  Even classical music enthusiasts are constantly exposed to music with a beat, whether they are in an elevator, the mall, or watching TV commercials at home.

Because your audience knows what a steady beat should sound like, it is essential that you develop good timing.  The only way to check that you are actually in time is through the use of a metronome.

The metronome was patented by Johann Maelzel in 1815, although it was actually invented in the 9th century.  It has unfortunately been seen as a "torture" device by many students, because of the constant effort required to stay with its clicks.  However, mastery of the metronome can transform your playing in ways that you could never have imagined.

If you have difficulty staying with the metronome, then simply slow it down - way down!  Also consider doubling the speed of the metronome so that there are two clicks per beat rather than one.  This will give a "finer resolution", allowing you to tighten things up more easily.  Setting the metronome so that it clicks for all of your sixteenth notes can also be extremely helpful.

The most important thing about using a metronome is that it will make you think and react more quickly.  Your fingers will prepare themselves a fraction of a second sooner that they normally would and will be in place well before the note needs to be played.  This extra preparation of the fingers will allow for more accurate playing.

There are critics of metronome use (which totally baffles me).  They will say that use of a metronome will make you play mechanically.  Well I would counter that a student must completely understand and master mechanical playing in order to to completely understand and play with proper rubato.  If we talk about playing ahead of the beat, or behind the beat, or anywhere in between, we are still talking about a performance that is related to the beat.  Get the beat down first, and then you can do whatever you want.

Students often wonder if piano teachers get tired of hearing wrong notes from their students, but the truth is that the most annoying thing a piano teacher hears is a performance with bad timing.  Same for an audience!  Occasional wrong notes may go unnoticed by an audience, but sloppy timing reveals an unsure pianist.

I've always been a fan of the old-fashioned wind-up metronomes, which are increasingly harder to come by.  However there are now a number of great metronome apps for smart phones  - many of which are free.  Now there are no excuses for not using one.

When you get to the point that you enjoy playing with a metronome (yes that can happen), and you find that you want to use it for all of your pieces, then you no longer actually need to use it.  If you find yourself dreading the thought of using the metronome, and notice that it causes errors in your playing, then you need to use it more.

Master the metronome and don't allow it to master you.  Your playing will be so much better if you do.

Happy practicing!

David Hicken

All of the concepts that I write about here are detailed in my eBook "Secrets To Better Piano Playing" .  Click the image below to find out more.


2016-07-29 11:47:29 - Aaron Algrim
I have found doubling the speed of the metronome has been very helpful in my practice. This is especially true when playing my scales or Hanon exercises. Thanks for the tip!