The Metronome

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

In my opinion, the metronome is the most important piece of equipment you can have in your practice room, other than your trumpet and its mouthpiece. The metronome helps you develop your internal sense of time and rhythm, and helps you play fast and difficult passages with clarity, accuracy, and a great tone.

Whenever I am practicing, I have the metronome on. This is especially important when playing exercises that develop fundamentals on the trumpet: long tones, scales, lip slurs, tonguing, etc. While the metronome is going, I tap my foot firmly on the ground in order "…to establish the timing to which the muscles must move, so that they respond to the specific rhythm you make" , to quote the great trumpet teacher, Carmine Caruso.

While my foot is tapping precisely with the metronome, in my mind I am subdividing the beat into the smallest value that I can – usually semiquavers, unless the tempo is really fast – by saying to myself "1-e-&-a, 2-e-&-a, etc" so that the time becomes part of my physical process of playing the instrument. This makes my playing immeasurably more accurate and helps me find a connection between my body and the time or rhythm. By developing this physical relationship with time, when it comes to performing on stage it becomes easy to 'lock in' with my fellow musicians and play together.

If I am practicing playing a passage of music quickly while maintaining accuracy, clarity, and a great tone, the metronome is also incredibly valuable. I always start by playing slowly (usually half the desired tempo) so that I can focus on fundamentals while playing accurately. I will spend as long as necessary at the slow tempo to ensure that I am playing with absolute precision and with my desired tonal quality. Only then do I increase the metronome speed – by only two beats-per-minute – and practice the passage again. I continue working this way until I get to the tempo that I am looking for, and then continue working it up to around eight bpm faster than that to ensure that when I perform the music, I do so with a 'safety margin'. At all times during this process of practicing and gradually increasing speed, I am able to focus on fundamentals, being accurate, and playing with a great sound. Like boiling a frog, I barely even notice the speed is increasing until I am playing at breakneck tempo!

Playing in time is one of the first things that people notice when they play with you, in exams, or in auditions and it is well worth spending time with your metronome to develop this vital musical skill. To paraphrase a former teacher and colleague of mine's mantra, "In time, on time, in tune, and don't smell!", will take you a very long way as a musician!

Hope you have found this article informative and useful. My best wishes for all your trumpet playing endeavours.

Adrian Kelly
Adrian has performed as principle trumpet with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and continues to perform regularly with the Perth Symphony Orchestra, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and the WA Philharmonic