Music teachers often admonish their students to “always practice with a metronome.” I can recall one master class in which the professor tried to drive the point home by stressing “Always! Always! Always!” Me, being the good little boy scout that I am, have tried to live up to that standard.
A stable sense of rhythm and tempo is undoubtedly one mark of an excellent musician. One of my favorite jazz albums is Michael Brecker’s “Time is of the Essence,” which of course has a dual meaning for musicians. However, it has occurred to me that while practicing, it may often be necessary to temporarily eliminate the element of tempo in order to focus on other elements.
Yesterday while teaching a private lesson, I stumbled on the phrase, “Try that again at your own pace.” I turned off the metronome and allowed the student to work out the technical difficulties of the notes without worrying about tempo. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I think I invented a revolutionary new system for practicing or anything. But it was one of those moments when you come across a teaching technique or phrase that has application elsewhere.
Playing long tones is another example of a time when turning off the metronome can be beneficial. Sure, you could keep it clicking to keep track of the beat, but wouldn’t turning it off help you focus on your sound? Isn’t the point of long tones to improve tone? Does it really matter if you cut off the long note precisely on the beat?
Many modern method books come with play along CDs. Isn’t practicing along with these CDs comparable to playing with a metronome?
So I challenge the idea that you should “always” practice with a metronome. What do you think? If you teach private music lessons, how much do you have your students play with a metronome? Do you even use one at all? In your own practice time, how much do you use it?