Whether you’re a beginner or you’ve been playing for years, remember it is the quality of your practice and not necessarily the quantity that can really make the difference and improve your skills. The metronome is a key component to any practice session. Amateurs and professionals alike need the metronome to keep themselves in check not only for rhythmic issues, but several other skills such as scales, intonation, breathing exercises, and vibrato.
These suggestions are best used for fast, technical passages that trip up your fingers. With these techniques you will see improvement within even one practice session. You can choose one or two of these ideas per session.
Slow it down, then slow it down some more
Set your metronome to a very slow tempo. Play in a very relaxed yet accurate manner. If the first tempo is attainable, then move the metronome up by five. (Start at 50, then 55, then 60…) Mark the number you’ve started with in the margin of your music, and each additional number that you can play without mistakes. Then you’ll have a record of your tempi for the next practice. When you return the next day to practice again, start again with the slowest number and build up in the same way. It should become easier each time.
Take away the rhythm
This might sound a little odd when you may think of metronome practice as all about the rhythm! If part of your problem is intonation, this is an important technique to use. Set your metronome to a very slow tempo. Play each note carefully and without the actual rhythm written. Play each note as a quarter note or half note, for example. Listen and focus on the intonation. Speed up the metronome as needed.
Jazz it up
Here is an example of how to “jazz it up.” This technique is best for fast, technical passages. Play the notes in a different rhythm to train the fingers in a different way. For a group of 4, play 4 different ways. First, hold the first note longer and the other three faster. Then the second note longer, then the third, and finally, the fourth. After this, then play with a dotted rhythm as shown in the example below.
Speed in small sections
Once you’ve done some of the slower practices, it’s time to step it up and get to the desired tempo. Set your metronome at just a little bit under the actual tempo. Play in bursts then add a gap. For example, 8 notes, stop, 8 notes, stop. (A stop is one click of the metronome.) If you can do this for only a few measures, then go back to a slow practice or the jazzy rhythms and come back to this one again after.
Hopefully these tips can help to take your brilliant technical playing to the next level. Remember, focused, regular practice is key to improvement.
Tempi Senior Content Producer and International Musician