Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Play with the Metronome

Useful tips for all musicians

In this video, Robert explains how to set and play along with a metronome.

Released on January 27, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

This is Robert Estrin and you're watching Thanks so much for being here today for a really important subject. I can't tell you how many people have struggled with a metronome and they've come to me, "How do you play with a metronome?" And it could be a really daunting task, particularly if you're not accustomed to playing with a metronome. And the tips I'm going to give you today are not just for those of you who are new to the metronome, but those of you who practice with a metronome incessantly and wonder how do you stay with the metronome?

Well, first of all, I'm going to start with how do you even figure out how to set this thing? I mean where do you figure it? How do you know? Well, first of all, there are some great software out there where you can have apps on your phone where you can just tap the tempo and it finds it for you. And that can be incredibly valuable, but how do you even establish the tempo? Well, I'm going to take Bach's Minuet in G as an example of how you would figure out how to set the metronome. Let's say you're playing Minuet in G of Bach.

And you're wondering, "How do I know how to set the metronome to that?" Well, if you can tap your foot or tap along, or just imagine you just played it. So you have to establish the beat first, then you turn your metronome on and try to match it. Let's see, I've got another one over here. One of these work. And that sounds right, but we try it and see if it seems right. And maybe that feels a little bit too fast. You could always turn it down a little bit and try it again.

So that's basically how to set the metronome, but how the heck do you stay with it? And I've seen people struggle so much with this, and there's a very simple technique that if you remember what I'm about to tell you, it's going to make a world of difference in staying with the metronome. When the metronome speeds up, speed up with it. When the metronome slows down, slow down with it. And I bet when you're playing with the metronome you could swear that it's speeding up and slowing down, although in reality, it's you who are playing not with the metronome. But it feels like it's going slower sometimes, doesn't it? Wouldn't you swear it's slowing down sometimes or speeding up?

So all you have to do is follow whatever it seems to be doing. If it seems to be getting faster, you get faster. If it seems to be getting slower, you get slower. And if as long as you do that, you will stay with the metronome. Now, when you're playing with a metronome, if you're not absolutely precisely with it, and you make these minute adjustments by going a little faster with it, or a little slower with it to get back on, that's okay. If you ever gain or lose a beat, you must stop and figure out if maybe the metronome is set a little too fast for you. Try a slightly slower speed to see if you can stay with it because you can never gain or lose a beat.

However, if you just nuance slightly behind or ahead, you might just finish the phrase then go back and see if you can do it more faithfully on the beat and practice a number of times until that ebb and flow around the beat is minimized and you can stay spot on with the metronome, which is of course the goal. But you don't necessarily have to stop every single time you're slightly off. Instead, get used to adjusting, following whatever the metronome seems to be doing. And that's the answer for staying with the metronome.

First of all, once again to recap, establish the speed by tapping your foot or tapping your hand and then finding that speed on your metronome. Or better off, download an app that you can just tap in the tempo and then it'll find it for you. And from there, you can adjust further to nuance it to exactly the right speed. And as you're playing, if it feels just too fast or it's just way too slow to be able to play with, of course adjust the speed. But once you lock it in, then play and whatever the metronome seems to do, that's what you're going to do and that's how you'll stay with the metronome. I encourage all of you to try this. If you've had problems with the metronome, try these techniques and see how they work for you. Again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is, your online piano resource. We'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tosh Hayashi * VSM MEMBER * on January 30, 2021 @4:38 pm PST
One device that I found more beneficial than a mechanical old school metronome is an electronic metronome with a dial that allows you to set various speeds and which also allows you to insert a headphone that you can use to listen more closely to the beat...especially if both the metronome and the headphone have volume controls that allows one to turn the volume up enough to let you follow the beat more easily while playing an instrument. A problem with the old school mechanical wind up metronome is that it is much harder to listen to while one is playing an instrument. What you say about one's mind departing at times from a strict beat is quite true and using such a metronome allows one to more easily recognize this and thus make immediate adjustments to more closely adhere to correct timing...I've noticed that when I get away from a strict beat it's because I'm shortening or lengthening the pulse in my mind...which is not surprising since we are not machines, and for example, with triplets we might be shorting the 2nd note a tiny fraction and thereby speeding up the performance without realizing it. Practicing with such a metronome is good discipline and actually helps one to achieve better rhythmic accuracy when one is later performing without the device.
Robert - host, on January 31, 2021 @11:29 am PST
Being able to adjust volume so you can hear the metronome is very important. Some metronomes (like metronome apps) allow you to change the sound of the click!
Richard on January 28, 2021 @12:57 pm PST
Love your comment to 'slow down when the Mnome slows, speed up when Mnome does'! It does give me fits, and I always thot I had excellent rhythm. Mayb I do, but i must remember my aversion to steady beats from playing accordion ). Thanks for the tips!!
Robert - host, on January 28, 2021 @2:52 pm PST
So glad it is helpful for you!
cdw * VSM MEMBER * on January 28, 2021 @3:48 am PST
it's a lot of words but no , i can't say i understand it what you said and i need more explanation by showing how exactly it works. So now i am still in trouble :(
Robert - host, on January 28, 2021 @9:41 am PST
Download a metronome application on your phone or iPad such as It offers the ability to tap in a tempo to set it. Try tapping your foot as you play your instrument. Then stop playing and tap the tempo into the metronome app. Then try to play with the metronome. If that proves too difficult, simply get used to clapping your hands along with the metronome. Then try tapping simple rhythms with the metronome like half notes in 4/4 time (2 beats to each note). You will be able to develop your abilities to play with the metronome over time. Naturally, the guidance of a teacher will offer far richer resources for you.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on January 28, 2021 @2:36 pm PST
You can also use our own metronome here on VSM (free) which has similar features:
Elizabeth * VSM MEMBER * on January 27, 2021 @2:49 pm PST
I find I have trouble starting right in to play with the metronome. So I simply count aloud with it for several seconds and then start playing; it works better for me that way.
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