The unbeatable metronome

I think one of my most useful resources in the ESL music classroom is my metronome. I use the old-fashioned kind – with the tick-tock swinging pendulum and the little weight-slide that you use to adjust the speed.

The students I work with at the Language School love it. It’s a strong visual cue, it makes the regularity of a beat tangible, and predictable. It teaches them about the discipline of keeping to a pulse in music without me needing to find simple words that can explain the concept to them.

This suits me, and suits the students – language and explanations can be cumbersome in an ESL setting where too much talk can mean you lose students’ attention quickly. It’s tiring for them, to be constantly trying to figure out what is going on, listening to people talk in a language they are not very familiar with!

So visual cues and clues are like gold. Here are some of the tasks and games I’ve been doing with the metronome these last few weeks:

  • Who can clap in time with the metronome? Individuals see how many claps they can do without losing pace with the metronome. The students are incredibly focussed when doing this, and working on their own gives them a chance to really hear what they are doing, and adjust themselves as and when they need.
  • Four claps each around the circle. Try to cover every beat – no gaps between people – so each person has to be tuned in and ready. Today the students focussed on looking and listening while the person before them had their turn, so that they were ready to go, right on time.
  • Two stamps each around the circle. As above, but each individual needs to be even more on the ball, and notice how different parts of the body offer different control. Stamping one foot and then the other requires a shift in weight – important for coordination and left brain/right brain stimulation.
  • All of the above, but with different speeds
  • All of the above but with percussion instruments.

The metronome is also served as a problem solver today. One girl had the task of playing the bassline figure on the bass xylophone, while the other students were playing a contrasting line. She found it difficult to stay in time. We set the metronome up in front of her and it did two things – kept her in time, and also encouraged/compelled her to keep playing, regardless of any mistakes she made.xylophone

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2 comments so far

  1. Visual cues (3) « music work on

    […] Posted March 12, 2008 I have written about visual cues for ESL students in the past – using a metronome to encourage a sense of pulse and ensemble, and floor markings giving student reference points for […]

  2. […] Therefore, the following week (last week) I decided to work on this skill a bit further. I brought out my trusty metronome (which I have written about in most glowing terms in the past on this blog). […]


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