In my lifetime as a musician, I have owned several metronomes and tuners. From a basic metronome with a dial and an off/on switch, to a Doctor Beat DB90, I have owned the economy model, the deluxe, and most things in between. Of course, how you use the metronome or tuner is more important than what metronome or tuner you have! Here are a few of our favorite practice methods that will hopefully make metronome and tuner practice more enjoyable.
1) Subdivision practice: Imagine you have a slow lyrical orchestral excerpt to practice, or a lyrical part in a solo. No matter how much you practice with a metronome, you always rush or drag. Solution: Using the rhythm feature on your metronome to subdivide the beat. Put it on 16ths or 8ths. Play 16ths or 8ths along with the metronome, changing notes at the correct time. Then, play the passage with the metronome, keeping your underlying rhythm "honest."
2) Point and shoot: Playing with a tuner only works if you are learning a) what your tendencies are, and b) if you are listening to your initial pitch as well as your pitch after you adjust the way the tuner tells you to. My favorite tuner technique works like this: Pick a measure. Close your eyes and play the first note. Then open your eyes and check: are you sharp or flat? Don’t adjust! Instead, write down your tendency. Close your eyes, play the note again, this time aiming higher or lower. When you’ve decided that you’re in tune, open your eyes. Were you right?
3) Offbeat practice: Set your metronome to the correct tempo, but then play with the clicks on the "ands" instead of the beats. Can you keep steady? Do you know exactly where you change notes? This works particularly well in passages that are rhythmically tricky or have a lot of off-beats.
4) Drone practice: Does your tuner/metronome play pitches? Find a passage that is all in one key (any piece written before 1900 will probably have many passages like this). Set the tuner on the tonic of the key, and play the passage slowly. Tune each note to the drone. What interval are you playing? Is it major? Minor? How does that affect where you play the pitch?
5) Speed drills: Have a tricky fast passage? Set your metronome to the final tempo, but instead of playing the passage straight through, play only the first beat of the first measure. Wait 4 beats, then play the second beat. Wait 4 more beats, then play the third beat. Once you make it through the passage, cut down the number of rest beats: from 4, to 3, to 2, and to 1, until you are playing the passage without any breaks, as it is written. If you want to be really thorough, you can also expand how many beats you play before resting (i.e. play 3 beats, rest 1) until you make it through the whole passage before you rest.
6) Rhythm practice: Are you having trouble being even in a running passage of 8ths or 16ths? Set your metronome on the dotted rhythm option and practice the passage as the rhythm was a dotted 8th + 16th note. Then turn it around and practice it as if the rhythm was 16th + dotted 8th note.