Metronome Secrets For Rock-Solid Timing

A metronome is a vital practice tool for all musicians, but many don't make regular use of it or know how to use it properly and to its full potential. This article describes the proper usage of a metronome in practicing a technical exercise or section of a piece of music, and also describes some less well know exercises using a metronome to improve a musician's inherent sense of timing and rhythm.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
0

Many guitarists have a metronome kicking around, but how many really know how to use it properly and to its full potential? I'm sure that many were bought with the best of intentions to practice regularly with the metronome because the guitarist heard that it was important, but the discipline was quickly abandoned when they found it too difficult - usually because they tried to set the metronome much faster than they were able to comfortably play.

However, a metronome is an essential practice tool for guitarists who want to develop the kind of tight timing that ensures they fit well within a band or recording situation. In this article I'm going to describe the basic use of the metronome that should always be part of your practice routine, and also some more advanced metronome exercises that you may not have thought of that will help you develop an instinctive sense of timing and keep your playing rock solid even when the metronome is not around.

The Basics

The most basic use of a metronome is just to set it to the tempo that you want to play at and play the piece or exercise along with it. However, it's important not to set the metronome too fast too early. You probably won't be able to play a new exercise accurately at top speed straight away, so start slowly and build up. The temptation amongst many guitarists is to play material too fast before they are able to play it accurately and ignore any errors they might be making, but remember: if you can't play something without any errors and with good timing at a given tempo then you can't play it at that speed!

Here's my suggestion to approach learning an exercise or piece of music. For a longer or complex piece of music, it's often a good idea to break it down into sections and treat each section separately for this:

  • Get a pencil and write your target tempo against the exercise or piece of music. For complete songs the desired tempo will often be specified or you can make an estimate if you've got a recording that you can use to match your metronome against or use its tempo-tap function if it has one. Most exercise books will suggest desired speeds, or just pick a challenging tempo such as 180bpm or 200 bpm. Circle your target tempo.
  • Start with a slow tempo, say half or a third of your target tempo. Set your metronome to this tempo and try to play the exercise or song section. Reduce the speed if you're struggling. Otherwise, keep playing the music through until you can comfortably play it without any errors four or five times in a row.
  • Once you can play without errors, increase the metronome speed by 5-10bpm and continue to play. If you start making a lot of mistakes, reduce the tempo a little.
  • Keep repeating this process, increasing the tempo a little at a time only when you can play the music comfortably without errors, until you reach your target tempo.
  • You will probably take a few practice sessions to reach your target tempo (if not, you should probably find more challenging material to stretch you a bit more). At the end of each session, write down your highest comfortable tempo next to the target tempo. On the next practice session, start with the metronome set a little slower than your previous high tempo and work up from there. As you progress through practice sessions, cross out previous high tempos and write down the new maximum tempo that you've achieved - hopefully this will act as a motivator as you see your "score" increasing at each session!
  • At the risk of repeating myself, it's important to be honest with yourself about how accurately you are playing and only increase the tempo of the metronome when you are sure that you can play the exercise without errors. Be sure that you are hitting all the notes clearly without fret buzz and muffled notes. If you find it difficult to judge when playing, then make a recording of yourself to listen back to.

    Using a Metronome to Develop Your Sense of Timing

    Metronomes are invaluable for ensuring that you are practicing with accuracy, but once you're out performing whether on your own or with a band then you won't have a metronome to rely on to ensure that you are in time. Therefore, it's important for musicians to develop an inherent sense of timing so that your playing is rock solid even when you don't have a constant click to play to. So, here are some suggestions of different ways to use your metronome to help you develop your timing.

    For practicing your timing you can use pretty much any repeated exercise such as scale/arpeggio exercises, or even pieces of music that you're learning. In fact I would encourage you to apply them to as many situations as possible. They do take the metronome outside of it's normal usage, so may not always be possible with traditional metronomes and a digital or software metronome with a larger tempo range may be required.

    Normally, you set a metronome to sound on every beat of the bar. This is fine for helping you to learn a piece in time, but you are relying on the metronome for all of your timing indicators and you want to develop your own sense of timing. So the first step is to set the metronome to beat only on the first and third beat of the bar (assuming you're playing in 4/4 time). To do this, halve the tempo of the metronome. If your metronome has an indicator of the start of the bar it's best to switch the indicator off for these exercises so that the metronome has a constant sound. Then play through the exercise at the normal pace, counting 1..2..3..4, but with the metronome only sounding on beats 1 and 3.

    Once you've got that, try a more difficult exercise - keep the metronome at the same tempo, but play the exercise with the metronome clicks falling on beats 2 and 4 of the bar. This is a bit more tricky as you have to start counting beat 1 when there is no sound from the metronome, but keep at it and you'll soon get the hang of it!

    Now to make it really tricky - this is where you might have trouble if your metronome can't go slowly enough. Set the metronome to a quarter of the original tempo. Then play through the exercise repeatedly with the metronome click falling only on the first beat of the bar. This can be really tricky to get right, but once you can consistently play through a whole bar and hit the first beat of the next bar accurately with the click then you're well on the way to developing a great sense of timing.

    We're not finished yet! For a real challenge, keep your metronome at the same quarter-speed tempo and play through the exercise letting the click fall on the third beat of the bar. Then do the same thing with the click falling on the second beat of the bar. Finally, let the click fall on the fourth beat of the bar. This is a real challenge, but if you can manage it then you'll really have developed your sense of timing to a degree way beyond what most other musicians achieve.

    I've described these practice methods assuming 4/4 timing, but of course you could equally apply them to 6/8, playing the half-speed metronome exercise on beats 1 and 4, 2 and 5, then 3 and 6. Odd time signatures are more difficult to achieve using a standard metronome, but you could program a drum machine to play the clicks at the points you want in the bar.

    Graham Pett is a guitarist and bassist from London, England. He is creator of the Guitar Notes Master software tuition system for teaching guitarists fretboard notes, intervals, scales, arpeggios and chords by learning to construct them from first principles.

    9 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Charlie4
      Step 1. Make sure your Metronome works properly , and not like my TU80.
      SilverSpurs616 wrote: Helpful to beginners and those who have a metronome gathering dust >_>
      Skwisgaar uses one - all the time. Pretty necessary tool imo.
      aeromigit
      It's best to increase the speed of the metronome by 8 because then if you can't do it you lower it to 4 then 2 then 1 simples
      SilverSpurs616
      Helpful to beginners and those who have a metronome gathering dust >_> The first time I truly realised the usefulness of a metronome was when learning the arpeggiated chords in "Eudaimonia Overture" by Paul Gilbert. Really helped me nail the timing!
      Weaponxclaws
      I have a metronome trainer on Guitar Pro. I have a few bars in 3/4 (so I can play chromatic exercises and land on a proper beat) and then 1 measure of rest and it goes 10 clicks faster. I start at 70 and the program goes up to 200 but I can't quite make it there yet. I go until I mess up which at the beginning of practice is like 90 but I can usually make it to 160 where I can still play clearly and accurately on the chromatics.
      Echoplex
      If you ever have any sort of interest in ever being able to play fast, use a metronome. It helped me immensely. Now I can alt pick at a max speed of 16nps (sextuplets at 160bpm) because of metronomes.
      SilverSpurs616
      Charlie4 wrote: Skwisgaar uses one - all the time. Pretty necessary tool imo.
      Good to know. Must be some great reason why this creature isn't well-known enough to have any relevance.
      rickyj
      everything you said in here was pretty obvious.
      SilverSpurs616 wrote: Charlie4 wrote: Skwisgaar uses one - all the time. Pretty necessary tool imo. Good to know. Must be some great reason why this creature isn't well-known enough to have any relevance.
      ...skwisgaar is the lead guitarist of the band dethklok
      SilverSpurs616
      rickyj wrote: everything you said in here was pretty obvious. SilverSpurs616 wrote: Charlie4 wrote: Skwisgaar uses one - all the time. Pretty necessary tool imo. Good to know. Must be some great reason why this creature isn't well-known enough to have any relevance. ...skwisgaar is the lead guitarist of the band dethklok
      Cool. We can all learn something from cartoon bands.