Taking Your Guitar Technique To The Next Level Using A Metronome

Many players acknowledge that a metronome is necessary for developing accuracy and control needed for high levels of playing.

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If you are not yet playing guitar at the level you desire, this can be due to a variety of causes. Certainly, there are many skills that need to be learned before one can become a good or great musician. From these skills, I want to focus on technique in this article. Physical technique serves as a vehicle for communicating your creative vision. You can be a great musical genius, but if you lack the skills to get your music out on your instrument, it will be hard for you to express it in the way that you intend. Technique by itself, like any isolated musical element, is not the "most" important element of the musical puzzle, but without it you will be unable to play what you want to hear.

Many players acknowledge that a metronome is necessary for developing accuracy and control needed for high levels of playing. However, a lot of guitarists do not understand how to use this tool for maximum effectiveness. I often receive questions regarding how to practice with a metronome for higher speed development, and I wanted to address some of them in this articlce. I should mention that the practice approaches I am about to describe should be integrated into your practice routine and balanced by other musical elements. You want to make sure that all of the musical skills relevant to your goals are constantly improving and do not become out of balance in one area.

One of the most common questions that I receive about using a metronome is what tempo should I start with? It is difficult to answer this question in a general way. The answer (your answer) will depend in many ways on your current skill level as a player, the specific technique/exercise in question, and the note values being played (16th note triplets will require a slower starting tempo than regular 16th notes for example). So become clear on these elements before you begin.

In general, before you start a metronome routine it will be helpful to make a list of specific techniques/problems you want to improve, and write next to them the target speeds you want to achieve. Next you want to establish your current top speed at which you can play a certain technique comfortably. Write this down as well. All of this will help you assess your current skills and show you the gap that must be bridged before you can play at the level you desire. The more you understand about your current playing ability and the specific technical challenges you are facing, the easier it will be to overcome them. The metronome is only useful as a tool for "fixing" problems after you become aware of "what" problems need to be fixed! Please do not skip this step.

While writing this article, I came across a useful free resource that evaluates your technical skill level in greater depth. For the curious, here is the link I found.

After you become clear about your current skill level and your goals, you will be ready to pull out the metronome. I generally recommend starting to practice at about 30-50% of your maximum speed. Your first objective should be to simply teach your fingers the motions and learn to be relaxed while playing the phrase or exercise. You also should make sure that your playing is totally clean and precise at this initial stage. If it is not, it will become much harder for you to develop the level of control necessary to play easily and cleanly at much higher speeds.

The next question I am often asked is "how much can I increase the speed and when do I do it?" This is another issue that does not have a clearly defined answer, but I will share with you the approaches that I use. You should increase the metronome speed when you are able to play at the slower speeds easily, cleanly and accurately, and Consistently. This means you should be able to easily play the passage more than once, instead of nailing it only one time. At that point it is safe to increase the metronome tempo by 1-10% of the previous speed. The closer you get to your maximum speed, the smaller the increase in speed should be.

Another common question is: What if I get stuck at a certain speed? In order to move past a sticking point on the metronome, you need to become clear on what exactly is going wrong with your playing at your maximum speed. Analyze where the mistakes are happening. Then slow the metronome back down to about 60-80% of your maximum speed and drill the exercise again, this time focusing more on the points where you noticed mistakes at your top speed. Make the motions more efficient and more relaxed in these spots. After doing this for a few minutes, move the metronome back up. The maximum speed should now feel easier.

This process described above is a general approach that I recommend starting with. There are several variations on this method, and they mostly depend on the specific skill level of the player. Sometimes, a different, more advanced method can be more appropriate. One of such tactics is described in this article.

In addition to the challenges of not knowing how to use a metronome, many players fail to develop high levels of technique because they believe in a common myth that persists among guitarists. Some people believe that having great technique automatically means that the player's music begins to lack in feel or emotion. As a result, many choose not to pursue the really high levels of technical development, partly because of fear of becoming sterile/soulless shredders. This could not be more false. Great technique is only a tool, nothing more. You use that tool in a way that suits your musical desires. Also, do not forget that there are several Different kinds of emotion (in other words, there is Much more to emotion than "bending a note"). Players such as Rusty Cooley, Theodore Ziras, Paul Gilbert may be on a completely different side of the technique spectrum from Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and BB King, but all play with extreme emotion that is appropriate for their style and their musical vision. It is up to the listener to discern the emotion in the music. Just because one can only perceive emotion in a limited number of styles, does not mean that emotion is lacking in other types of musical contexts.

So my advice to you is to let go of any negative misconceptions you may have about speed and seek to acquire as much guitar technique as you need to play what you want to play. Admittedly, not everyone likes the sound of fast/virtuoso guitar playing, but if you do, then you are feeling Emotion! This should reason enough for you to move forward with getting to that level yourself.

Use the process described above, believe in your own potential and you will surely begin to see much improvement in your playing!

Additional articles/free resources: Article #1, Article #2

Visit Mikephilippov.com and receive an additional free article about guitar playing not published anywhere on the internet by joining a free newsletter.

You can contact me at mike@mikephilippov.com I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. I reply to all e-mails.

Mike Philippov is a professional guitarist, recording artist and instructor. Currently Mike is busy working on several projects including composing and recording a solo CD featuring music in the neo-classical and progressive rock styles as well as more instructional products that are in the works at this time. Visit mikephilippov.com to hear samples of Mike's music and join a free newsletter which is sent out periodically and contains helpful tips and advice for guitar players.

2008 Mike Philippov All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

52 comments sorted by best / new / date

    HavokStrife
    Ok, so... in the band I play in, I play guitar. We picked up two different guitarists as rhythm guitarists. The first, much like the article, practiced much with a metronome, nitpicky and all that. Dude couldn't write a song to save his life. Couldn't even differentiate between verse and chorus. The rhythm guitarist we have now, is a little sloppy, but just has such great all around abilities. There's so much more to guitar than just playing the notes. Man, can Nolan hurry up with part 24, these columns are getting ridiculous.
    Erik_Aero
    Metallica-EX50 wrote: what do you actually do when the metronome is on? do you play say four notes everytime the metronome clicks (so you can't hear the click) or do you play four notes between clicks?
    yeah, it's basically like someone tapping their foot for you.
    tedhellcaster
    Metallica-EX50 wrote: what do you actually do when the metronome is on? do you play say four notes everytime the metronome clicks (so you can't hear the click) or do you play four notes between clicks?
    it depends. if you're trying to play quarter notes then you play 1 note per click. If 16th notes then 4 notes per click. 32nd notes then 8 notes per click. i wonder if somebody can do 64ths on 180bpm
    Venom77
    I Need Help With Everything!!! I Dont Know The Guitar Method. Probably Because I Was Self Taught... Can Someone Help Me Learn It??? Like For Example Wat R The Differences Between Quarter Notes And 16th Notes???
    stokesey
    I can keep rhythm with no metronome no metronome no metronome ....lol
    The_Man_IV
    just Jam with a drummer or play in a band 24/7 ull see how fast you get in time
    noj
    Pah, another infomercial... This whole article is summed up as so: Practice with a metronome, if it's too fast, set it slower, if you want to go faster, speed it up a notch, please, please, please go to Tom Hess's website and give him money for more of this guff, shredding is awesome.
    zero27
    i hate how everyone uses words like "desire" and "emotion," i'm pretty sure playing the guitar is just something you "do" and some people do it better then others. not everyone can be a "musical genius"
    mason092
    Metallica-EX50 wrote: what do you actually do when the metronome is on? do you play say four notes everytime the metronome clicks (so you can't hear the click) or do you play four notes between clicks?
    Neither. For every click, you play 4 notes, but you don't wait for it to click before playing them. You keep a steady rhythm. That's the whole purpose of using a metronome.
    ToyPJs
    If you're good can't you just do it by ear? I mean a metronome is good and everything but I believe devoloping your ear is just as important. How bad can your ears be that you need a device telling you? A drummer would probably be better than a metronome you can hear them a lot better too. Plus you can change it up!
    satch_magic
    Great artical. The metronome has been a huge part of my practising. It is definitely a love/hate relationship though,lol! It helps so much in the long run!
    tedhellcaster
    spikedemon! wrote: Im sure someone could ted
    i tried transcribing 64ths on 180 bpm in GuitarPro. It sounded like chipmunks overdosed on caffeine. try it. i doubt anyone can play scalar runs on such speed
    jpgilbert701
    i clicked the survey thing about technique and when i saw tom hess i closed the window...
    Shaharz
    Ah, yes, the wonder of the metronome. Nice article. I'm sure it will help beginners
    lpcustom325
    i need to use a metronome more, i've used it and it worked extremely well it was just so boring using it
    NosferatuZodd09
    guitaringnathan wrote: Great technique is only a tool, nothing more. You use that tool in a way that suits your musical desires. Also, do not forget that there are several Different kinds of emotion (in other words, there is Much more to emotion than "bending a note"). Players such as Rusty Cooley, Theodore Ziras, Paul Gilbert may be on a completely different side of the technique spectrum from Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and BB King, but all play with extreme emotion that is appropriate for their style and their musical vision. It is up to the listener to discern the emotion in the music. Just because one can only perceive emotion in a limited number of styles, does not mean that emotion is lacking in other types of musical contexts.
    you my friend are correct you have recieved Zodd's Seal of Approval
    b0ch0
    I'm using a metronome and i found it a very useful tool. i think that in order to play well this item is a must great article by de way
    tom-the-lawn
    In addition to the challenges of not knowing how to use a metronome, many players fail to develop high levels of technique because they believe in a common myth that persists among guitarists. Some people believe that having great technique automatically means that the player's music begins to lack in feel or emotion. As a result, many choose not to pursue the really high levels of technical development, partly because of fear of becoming sterile/soulless shredders. This could not be more false. Great technique is only a tool, nothing more. You use that tool in a way that suits your musical desires. Also, do not forget that there are several Different kinds of emotion (in other words, there is Much more to emotion than "bending a note"). Players such as Rusty Cooley, Theodore Ziras, Paul Gilbert may be on a completely different side of the technique spectrum from Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and BB King, but all play with extreme emotion that is appropriate for their style and their musical vision. It is up to the listener to discern the emotion in the music. Just because one can only perceive emotion in a limited number of styles, does not mean that emotion is lacking in other types of musical contexts.
    This has opened my eyes a bit, even if it was just subconciously I did believe that but it is kinda dumb. I think this is a very good article and is more helpful for me then Tom Hess ones.
    febrera
    Great article! Thanks! The survey you linked to was very interesting as well!
    Led_Zeppelin992
    I enjoy this guy quite a bit more than Tom Hess, but I still didn't like the fact that there was a link to his website there. Otherwise, good article. Thanks.
    Tenacious D'er
    I will have to start tryin to use a metronome a lot more often, this will cetainly help! Thanks for all the great Tom Hess questionaires by the way...
    Tenacious D'er
    sam rowsell wrote: i think i should buy a metronome lol
    You can get free ones on the internet, just to let you know.
    mosh_face
    my metronome is permenantly stuck in 6/4 lol (real metronome, real broken)
    Fargalas
    I'm with Led_Zeppelin992 on this. I enjoyed the article, though I already use a metronome extensively, but any link to Tom Hess immediately reduces credibility in my book. Also... Why does Tom Hess feel so entitled to teach us? He has had no critical success as a guitar player or musician. This doesn't bother me, but what does is that his teaching approach is completely BASED ON his "successful musician" authority, and he simply doesn't have that.
    CapnKickass
    I should really get off my ass and do this, I'll probably never improve otherwise. My 'practicing' really is just me playing fun riffs and stuff.
    guitaringnathan
    Great technique is only a tool, nothing more. You use that tool in a way that suits your musical desires. Also, do not forget that there are several Different kinds of emotion (in other words, there is Much more to emotion than "bending a note"). Players such as Rusty Cooley, Theodore Ziras, Paul Gilbert may be on a completely different side of the technique spectrum from Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and BB King, but all play with extreme emotion that is appropriate for their style and their musical vision. It is up to the listener to discern the emotion in the music. Just because one can only perceive emotion in a limited number of styles, does not mean that emotion is lacking in other types of musical contexts. you summed up how i feel about shredders, and helpful arcticle, i've always had trouble about figuring out the metronome.
    kashmir7192
    Definitely gave me some solid advice for metronomes...I have been using them for awhile but I will adjust a little and try your method to give my right hand attack some more potency Strong article, look forward to reading more.
    Guitar Sushi
    I was very happy with what he said about speed. I get so pissed off when people come in, who can't play for shit, and flame all the really good shredders, saying "there is no soul". Blehhh....
    watevalah
    Lol i could'nt agree more Guitar Sushi. Most 'flamers' are usually jealous blokes with no proper self determination to improve and would try to bring down anyone doing better than them.
    Machine Gun Cat
    In addition to the challenges of not knowing how to use a metronome, many players fail to develop high levels of technique because they believe in a common myth that persists among guitarists. Some people believe that having great technique automatically means that the player's music begins to lack in feel or emotion. As a result, many choose not to pursue the really high levels of technical development, partly because of fear of becoming sterile/soulless shredders. This could not be more false. Great technique is only a tool, nothing more. You use that tool in a way that suits your musical desires. Also, do not forget that there are several Different kinds of emotion (in other words, there is Much more to emotion than "bending a note"). Players such as Rusty Cooley, Theodore Ziras, Paul Gilbert may be on a completely different side of the technique spectrum from Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and BB King, but all play with extreme emotion that is appropriate for their style and their musical vision. It is up to the listener to discern the emotion in the music. Just because one can only perceive emotion in a limited number of styles, does not mean that emotion is lacking in other types of musical contexts.
    +1098745 I hate arguing with morons who think shredders have no feeling
    Wasp
    While writing this article, I came across a useful free resource that evaluates your technical skill level in greater depth. For the curious, here is the link I found.
    I was fine with the article, until he said he 'discovered' a useful tool on Tom Hess' site. If only he had just been honest: "Tom Hess pays me for this article, so click on this link." Ah well, I guess this article was useful, in a way.
    punkrockjoe
    Dudes, i've been playing guitar for a bit and i've read so many places that I should use a metronome but I didn't wanna buy one but there are loads free online like www.metronomeonline.com which are helpful.
    antareus
    Wow, all this hate for a link to Tom Hess' site. More on-topic, a metronome lets sucky players like me play with a lot more confidence and I began feeling better about my playing in as little as one week of using it for fifteen minutes a day. And I play to a pretty slow beat: eighth notes at 110bpm. I start at 80bpm, and go up 10bpm at a time after I run through the major scale cleanly seven times in a row.
    Travlembo
    How do you practice with a metronome? is this a joke? start slow and get faster, this was an incredible waste of words and time
    XacrossXwatersX
    Yeah, this makes me feel guilty for not using one of those demonic little things. I really should, though. Actually, I think I'll start. Maybe it'll make me suck less. What was up with the "quotes" around everything? I didn't get that . . .