I know the thought of using a metronome for Irish trad probably elicits any number of reactions from any number of people, but hear me out. Today I did just that. I’m learning a fairly difficult tune–Cooley’s reel–and wanting to do more than just play the notes. I’d like a few well-placed cuts and rolls, cranns and chords in there too. The metronome I used is an app for Android phones called Mobile Metronome–it’s free from the Android market and does what you need it too.
I started at 80 beats per minute (bpm). That was way too fast, so I took it down to 75. Still a bit brisk. Down to 70 bpm–AHA! perfect. Easy to keep up, easy to throw in a few “ornaments” as some call the twiddly bits that make Irish music sound Irishy. The hard part was sticking to the beat, but tapping my foot along really helped in that regard.
So after about 30 minutes of playing along with 70 bpm I bumped it up to 75. Hey–no problem. I actually was easily able to keep up, put in my ornaments, and keep tapping my foot along. Fifteen minutes later and I was playing at 80 bpm. Then, just for laughs, I tried it without the clicker AS FAST AS I COULD. I actually was playing it at nearly dance speed with some issues, but one of them was NOT continuity–I was able to keep playing, tapping my foot, adding ornaments. Buried under the other instruments in a session you’d probably not know I was messing up a bunch!
So, now that I made you read all that, the short of it is that practicing to a metronome for one hour can really improve your timing, continuity, and fluidity. Start slow enough that you are not making many mistakes and work your way up. Strive for accuracy right from the start, and keep playing the tune through over and over again (as Corey suggested last session). And make sure you TAP YOUR FOOT, because you’ll want to be doing this ANYTIME you play–with or without the metronome. Do this a few times each week and the benefits will move from the short term to the long term!