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Learn Tempo with a Metronome
To learn how to read music, you have to know how fast to count the individual beats. This is called tempo, usually marked by Italian words and a number. ‘Presto’ means ‘very fast, ‘allegro’ means ‘fast’, ‘moderato’ means ‘medium, ‘andante’ means ‘slow’ and ‘largo’ means very slow. There are other subdivisions, but generally these are what you’ll find. If you see a number it gives you the exact number of beats per minute to count. You likely won’t be able to count time in your head at first for concentrating on learning and playing the music. This is why a metronome would help at first.
A metronome is a good device for piano players to get – you can set it to tick at a specific tempo, and it plays quarter notes at that tempo exactly. The tempo marking at the top of your sheet of music will likely read ‘M.M = number’. That stands for stands for Maelzel’s Metronome, where the number will be the tempo you should set for the song. Nowadays metronomes are electronic, like tuners. The metronome won’t be drowning your piano playing out, so you needn’t worry, but you do need to have it loud enough so you can hear the tempo.
First, you need to get used to following the beat of the metronome. Set it to 60 beats per minute at first, and play a scale with one note to a beat. Do this until you feel accustomed to that beat, or for a few moments, whichever you feel okay with. Then you can set the metronome to a higher tempo – say 120 beats per minute. You’re now learning to play along with the metronome more accurately, and increasing your speed by playing faster. Go with 90 beats if you’re not yet up to 120. Speed isn’t as important as timing at this point.
You need to have a metronome and try to learn the tempo of songs this way. Even if you don’t, you can still learn a few basic tempos. Like I said, 60 beats per minute is the most basic tempo to start, or one beat per second. You can change tempos in your head by divide beats as needed. To get a 120 beat per minute tempo, you would count 60, and then subdivide each beat in two to get 120. This is standard for moderate to allegro tempo in music. 90 beats per minute is another tempo used often in music – slightly slower than moderate tempo. Figuring this one out mentally is a little trickier. Start with 60 but count only the first and third counts of each measure. This will leave you with 30 beats per minute, but there’s no song this slow that I know of. So divide each of these beats in your tempo of 30 into 3, as though they’re each measures of ¾ time signature. This will give you 90 beats per minute pretty close to a metronome without needing one – you’ve already figured up the tempo in your head.
After you can play along with a metronome or know the music tempo in your own head, you’ve mastered another step in playing piano and reading music.