Adult Piano Lessons: Practicing Trills with a Metronome (1 of 2)

After several weeks of work on the trills—all eight of them—that populate Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor, my piano teacher, Stephen, was concerned. I was not playing those decorations with enough fluidity or speed. It was time for a metronome.

“A metronome,” Stephen said, “takes away the rhythm problem so you can concentrate on the quality of the trill.”

As a teenager studying the piano in Tucson, the heart of the Sonoran desert, I felt panicky whenever my piano teacher turned on the metronome. She owned an old-fashioned mechanical wind-up model, the pendulum swinging back and forth in such a regular fashion that it was hypnotic. I was afraid I would not be able to match its insistent beat.

As it turns out, on the subject of using a metronome, pianists divide into two camps. One camp finds the ticking so distracting they can concentrate on little else. But the other camp discovers that the metronome frees them to improve their technique.

This time around, as a student of adult piano lessons, I wanted to be in the second camp. I hoped practicing with a metronome would cure my trills of irregularity and lethargy. I wanted to play the Chopin Nocturne in all its haunting beauty.

At our town’s music store in the plaza, I inspected the metronome options. One model bore a suspicious resemblance to the mechanical metronome that belonged to my childhood piano teacher, the wood casing replaced with an imitation-wood plastic. I would not choose that one since I was trying to develop a new, positive attitude about the metronome.

I managed to bypass some of the fancier electronic models, settling for a Seiko quartz metronome with a dial on its face for adjusting the speed. The Seiko came with two sound options, one that sounded to me like a person tocking his tongue on the roof of his mouth, the second like fingers snapping.

Purchase in hand, I headed home to the trills in the Chopin C-sharp minor Nocturne.

Read Part 2 of Practicing Trills with a Metronome.

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