top of page

Three facts you didn't know about practicing with a metronome.

The metronome, sometimes it's your friend but much more often it can be your enemy. No doubt you've had a music teacher who insisted on practicing with a metronome at some point. Or somewhere on the internet you may have read that practicing with a metronome is important for developing your musical skills. In this blog, I list three facts you probably didn't know about practicing with a metronome. Many scientific articles have been written about using a metronome, also because a metronome is used, for example, in therapy for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson's disease. In this blog, we will stick to three scientific insights that you can take advantage of while practicing to become a better drummer.

Text continues below this picture

1. Your limbs synchronize with each other first, followed by the metronome

It's a commonly heard advice from snaretecs and drum teachers: 'push a little more with your right hand, you'll make sure you're perfectly in tempo'. This advice is backed up with the insights from this scientific paper that Shinya Fujii co-authored with Masaya Hirashima, Kazutoshi Kudo, Tatsuyuki Ohtsuki, Yoshihiko Nakamura and Shingo Oda. They found with an interesting study of professional drummers who had to drum as precisely as possible with a metronome in time that the deviation of an individual limb's metronome is correlated with the deviation of other limbs. In other words, your limbs are more likely to be synchronized with each other than each arm and leg separately with the metronome. So it is true that if you focus on the right hand to drum more in time, then automatically the left hand can go along with it. Your right hand cannot drum more in time at the same time as your left hand.

Your limbs are more likely to be synchronized with each other than each arm and leg separately with the metronome.

Thus it's important to realize that your focus should be on the coordination between your limbs first. Is the interplay between your left and right hand correct? Do you need to play drums while running a show on a field? Then make sure to keep an eye on matching the right notes to the right foot. Are you a drummer? Then synchronize all your limbs first before turning on a metronome.

Key take-away: When rehearsing new music, always focus on coordination between your limbs first, before synchronizing with the tempo.

2. Auditory perception of time is superior to visual perception

If you play in an orchestra or drum corps you have undoubtedly experienced that moment when you have your first rehearsal of the music with the conductor of the ensemble. You've practiced your music incessantly at home with a metronome and you're completely confident that you're comfortable with the timing of the piece. Still, it always takes a while to get used to playing the piece with the conductor and when the metronome is out. Nave-Blogett, Snyder and Hannon did this research on the difference between visual perception of timing and auditory perception of timing. They found out that for our human brain, auditory perception of timing is superior to visual perception. So that means that with an auditory metronome we can hear much better whether we are playing in time or not.

Auditory perception of timing is superior to visual perception.

So it's important to know that if you want to learn to play music well in time, you will not have enough with the joint rehearsals with your ensemble with conductor. You will also have to practice by yourself, individually, but also as a group with a metronome to properly internalize timing. That way you can hear much more precisely whether you're just after the beat or right on it.

Key take-away: Always use an audible metronome to work on your timing, and don't work with a flashlight or merely the conductor's directions.

3. You get genuinely stressed by too high tempos

No doubt you've experienced this before: You think you have mastered a piece of drumming. You've worked on your coordination and it's fine, after all, you practiced that slowly. Then you turn the metronome right on at the intended tempo. And what happens? Your coordination suddenly seems completely lost again and it looks like you can't play this piece anymore. Arthur, Khuu and Blom reported their interesting research findings in this article. Their study shows that when you suddenly have to perform music at a relatively much higher tempo than you are used to, you are unlikely to be able to sustain a good performance. And an even more interesting finding: the smaller the difference between the fastest tempo you can play and the higher tempo on your metronome, the lower your stress level while performing the music.

This seems like a logical finding and an obvious one: if you have to perform a piece at a much higher tempo than you actually can, it produces more stress, of course. Yet so many drummers still go wrong with this. Many drummers practice by incrementally turning up the metronome a few BPM and thus increasing their maximum speed. What they don't realize is that the larger you make these intervals, the more stress it creates during practice: and in doing so, you complicate your own practice process and lower your motivation for next time. With small BPM intervals, you lower your stress level while practicing, keep it up longer and have more fun.

Key take-away: While practicing, increase the BPM of your metronome at small intervals to increase your maximum speed and keep your stress level as low as possible. Even though it may seem faster to work with large intervals, use low intervals of, say, 2 or 4 BPM.

In conclusion, a lot of scientific research has been done on the use of a metronome and you can cleverly convert that to practice even more effectively and become a better drummer. If you want to have practice sessions with impact, be sure to use the key take-aways from this blog. Finally, it's reassuring to know that from this article by Nave-Blodgett, Snyder and Hannon shows that your perception for playing in time has developed from the time you were a child through adulthood and thus, with a lot of experience, this is a trainable skill.


bottom of page