When I was starting my musical journey I’d make the mistake of using the metronome like a speedometer. “Why would I go slower than the posted limit?” I’d ponder while setting my metronome to an impossible number that I’d strain to keep up with.
It didn’t strike me that metronome’s were somewhat conversational. I took them to be a do-or-die authority, not something to negotiate with. The idea that “you can set it wherever you want and that includes slow” was an immensely foreign concept to 20 year old me. (Then again, “go slow” is hard concept for all of us at different times).
Working with the great Tim McAllister while in University was an eye opening experience. I remember the humbling experience of being sat down and told to do all of my technique studies starting at 50 beats per minute (bpm for those in the know!). I had gotten into university with scant use of the Metronome and to have to sit down and make it my master was a tough pill to swallow.
But I did. I shuffled to the practice room and rolled my workhorse DB-88 ALL THE WAY DOWN to 50 bpm. After I got over the initial huff of how achingly slow 50 bpm felt, I realized that I also felt something else…calm.
I’ll spare you all the moments and pitfalls that mark slow growth over a long time. What I will tell you is that in just over a week I could already feel my playing change and in six months I felt like I had upgraded my ears and hands.
The paradigm shift is thus; the metronome isn’t a soccer coach yelling at us to keep pace with the rest of team sprinting ahead of us.
It’s a suppressant. It’s a friend telling us to slow down and smell the roses.
While 50 bpm is a lot of things, it is also just slow enough to think in between each click. Enough time to evaluate tension, and posture, and all of the fundamentals that work together to make us a good player. It’s enough time to get bored and start to examine how much that ringer finger affects the sound or how a light cédez might add some drama to the the section being worked on.
I could go on, and probably will in other posts, but the short version of the long story is to get to know how slow your metronome will go.
You’ll be happy you did.