I have a student who was recently struggling to practice with the metronome. She was showing marked improvement though from the previous lesson so I asked her about it. The conversation went something like this….
Student: “Well…it’s [metronome] difficult to use so sometimes I shut it off.”
Me: “What do you mean difficult?”
Student: “Like… it’s difficult, it’s just hard to play with the metronome.”
Me: “Yes it can be hard to play with the metronome. Can you say anything else about it?"
Student: “Um… well… my bow doesn’t want to move correctly. Whenever I go to move my bow with the metronome it just doesn’t want to go and it’s hard to move it at the same time as the metronome. So then I cut it off and play without it.”
Me: “Well… that’s kind of the deal. It can be difficult to play along with the metronome, at first. But, you keep at it and you get better. You keep working with it, listening to it, anticipating the beat, correcting your mistakes and eventually you are playing along with it easily. All these things happen pretty quickly all at once actually. Did you know you were doing all these things to get better at playing with the metronome?”
Student: Not Really
Me: “Well that is learning to play the cello, that is the deal, that is what we do. Something is hard, we struggle with it and then eventually we get better.”
Student: “Oh, ok.”
For musicians it is especially easy to take our experiences and the musical experiences of others for granted. Most of us started long ago having played for most of our lives. We have had too many experiences in learning and music making to remember even half of them. Then we go to teach students and gloss over something like practicing with a metronome. Something that for us at this point is such a fundamental aspect of our own practice, that we have lost the notion that practicing with the metronome has it’s own set of fundamentals and it’s own reasons as to why. Getting better, learning, the deal, continues to evolve for us as we grow up and grow as musicians. So the next time you are introducing something new to your students or taking on a new piece, ask yourself, “What’s the deal here?”