Find Your Groove! Training Your Inner Metronome

Sep 07, 2022

By Anne Sullivan

“Don’t rush, dear.” You may have heard your harp teacher say that to you, maybe more than once.  Keeping a steady beat while you play can be one of the hardest things to do, but it shouldn’t be. In fact, it can be as simple as breathing. 

Consider for a moment that our entire body is rhythmic. Our heart beats in a steady rhythm; we breathe in and out. We have a natural sleep cycle. Even our snoring is rhythmic. These processes happen without a single conscious thought on our part. 

So why do we have trouble keeping a steady tempo when our whole body is working in rhythm? It’s because we aren’t listening to our inner metronome.

Certainly playing at a steady speed is difficult. Drummers spend their entire career making their inner pulse steady and unwavering. We use a metronome, whether we like it or not, in an attempt to instill a habit of playing at a consistent tempo. But are we truly paying attention to the beat as we play?

The beat may be way down the list of our practice objectives. When we worry about playing the right notes and the fingering, we sometimes lose our connection to the pulse. We hesitate or slow down in order to get to the correct strings. We humans lack the ability to truly focus on more than one thing at once. So as soon as the notes get tricky, that’s where our focus goes and we lose the steadiness of the beat.

Although the metronome is a terrific tool to help us notice the beat and stick to it, we often use the metronome as a substitute for counting. When we stop counting, we actually are abdicating the responsibility for keeping the beat. Counting is how we maintain our close connection to the pulse of the music, to the steady procession of beats. I like to think of counting as the verbalization of our own inner metronome; by counting, especially counting aloud, we can be assured that we are feeling the beat and playing to it. 

Okay. You agree that keeping a steady beat is important and that it would be good to train your inner metronome so your playing would be smooth and even. You know your teacher keeps telling you to count. But how do you practice counting? Here are three simple steps:


You probably never thought of counting as something to do by itself, but you will likely find this exercise very revealing. First, simply count aloud: “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and.” Just count. Don’t play; don’t listen to music. You need to listen to your counting. Count at a moderate tempo and keep the beat steady. Don’t use a metronome for this; that would defeat the purpose entirely!

Keep counting and listening until you feel confident that you are counting at a steady tempo.

Next, count again, but this time at a faster tempo. Choose any faster tempo you like and count aloud as you did before, making sure that you are maintaining this faster tempo and not reverting to the one you did earlier. 

When the faster tempo is steady, start over again, this time counting at a quite slow tempo, almost a slow motion tempo. This part of the drill is harder than the others. It is quite challenging to stick to a slow tempo. Don’t rush, dear. 


Now take your counting to the harp. Do the exact same drill as above, counting at the three different speeds, but this time, as you count, play a simple scale. “Simple” is the key word here. You need to maintain your concentration on the steadiness of your counting, not worrying about your fingers on the harp strings. Think about matching your playing to your counting, not the other way around.


Lastly, choose a simple, short piece. Repeat the same three speed counting drill. Now however, you will have a little more distraction while you are counting. Try to resist the distraction of the notes, or your technique, or the strange tempo choices. Just focus on matching what you are playing to your counting, not the other way around.

These steps may be challenging at first, but you - and your teacher - will notice the difference they make in your playing!


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