I'm having a huge issue where even though I've practiced with a metronome I still can't play a steady beat. I try playing THE SIMPLEST song that's just one quarter note after another, even with a metronome, even while counting the basic "1,2,3,4" in my head, I still play with timing all over the place. I can play riffs that sound (at least to me and most people (I think)) just fine (timing wise), but still can't actually play steady somehow. I know this because every time I try writing a song with multiple layers/parts they all just end up all out of beat/sync and sounding like two completely different songs being played at the same time. I even talked to an old guitar instructor of mine and he had no clue what to do about it other than saying "try practicing with a metronome some more" or "somethings are just impossible for some people." It's seriously holding me back because at this rate I'll never actually be able to play in a band or anything! I can't even play in the same key as other people without having the music all written out for me. To top it off, the weirdest thing is that I actually did play in an orchestra (I played cello) for years and could play in time with everyone else no problem! Yet every time I pick up a guitar, my ability to play with a group goes out the window. I wonder if if might be because the music I listen to has lots of tempo changes. You're my last hope... please help me!
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!

It's entirely possible this stems from either getting excited or nervous, and tensing up either way,

The solution is definitely practice, but you are going to have to run experiments to determine where the problem lies, going from the simplest rhythmic tasks upwards, with each task requiring more coordination.  You have to be your own detective and cure.

Whatever the task is (some suggestions below), record yourself and the metronome, say for 8 or 16 bars, at a tempo you feel is comfortable.  Then listen back and observe all places where you are out of time (early, late).  Consistently early or late at one particular beat?  Random?  Make sure you aree relaxed.  Check your body for tension (holding breath, clenching jaw, ...)

To hone in on where your problems are arising, try the following.

1/ Away from guitar, make some sort of sound in time with the metronome (foot or hand tap, tongue click ...).  This checks your basic sense of time.  This is rarely a problem.

Do the rest with guitar.

2/ Check your picking timing.  Don't use your fretting hand.  Repeatedly pick an open string in time with the metronome.

3/ Check your fretting hand timing.  Alternate between two nearby notes on ONE string.  Try different finger pairs
a) hammer on each note
b) hammer on one note, pull off the other.

4/ Repeat adding in more fingers.

5/ Check combining with picking.  Repeat 3/ and 4/ but picking each note at the same time.

Now you'll have some basic information ... If anywhere above reveals a problem, then this time slow the experiment right down, record yourself each time, and focus on the beats where you noticed you had trouble, and correct those (without worrying about the beats you were ok with ... just play them without really thinking).  Has the problem shifted now, to where you weren't thinking, or is it getting better?

You really need to address any and all issues occurring with just one string.

If all is good above, then the problem will be associated with timing as you change strings., so devise some checks using two adjacent strings with simple finger patterns, analagous to the above.  This may show up coordination issues in either or both hands.

As long as you are detecting specific issues to work on, your practice is achieiving its goal.

This focus and slow movements lets the brain acustom itself to generating the fine control required.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Jul 15, 2017,
I always seem to be consistently early, and then also end up being late because I overcorrect when trying to get back on beat. I already tried the basic procedures of "Repeatedly pick an open string in time with the metronome" many times and still fail to do that. I think the by far most likely reason is what you said about being nervous/excited and tensing up, but I don't know what to do about that if that's the case.
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
That's exactly what I did. In fact I did quarter notes at actually 55 bpm thank you very much.
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
Start your practice sessions with two fingers of a good scotch. Wait 15 minutes and start.
I can't see how playing cello in time in an orchestra for years could lead to playing guitar out of time. Can you tap your right hand index finger on a table in time with a metronome, or the beat of a song. Then do 2 taps per beat, then 4.  Then translate this into plucking a string using D D D D, then U U U U, then D U D U.
Last edited by gbaddeley at Jul 15, 2017,
I don't think that playing cello caused my problems, I just find it annoying and weird that I could do something then that I can't now. I tried doing it just with my hand some more and though I thought I could do it for a second it turned out I really couldn't. I think part of the problem might be that a) I always get distracted within a few seconds while playing because I like to talk to myself in my head ALL THE TIME or b) because when I played in an orchestra there was always someone beside me playing the same exact thing as me and I would just listen to what they were doing and adjust to/copy them and I may have never really learned to keep a beat on my own in the first place.
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
Quote by User0fAName
I always seem to be consistently early, and then also end up being late because I overcorrect when trying to get back on beat. I already tried the basic procedures of "Repeatedly pick an open string in time with the metronome" many times and still fail to do that. I think the by far most likely reason is what you said about being nervous/excited and tensing up, but I don't know what to do about that if that's the case.

Sounds like you could do with a change of mindset when you go to practice timing.  It's a pain when a vicious circle happens, between expecting problems, problems occurring etc.

So try focusing on discovering where the issue is coming from, as part of the purpose of your practice.  When you start to find that, you're making positrive progress.

The interesting thing is that the muscle/joint control for bowing a cello is very different from picking, and in the former case you developed the fine control needed.  There has to some motion you're initiating somewhere that is causing the pick to hit the string early.  Are you reaching too soon with your pick/fingers?  Moving your wrist early, or rotating your forearm early (if you use this when picking)?  Is your upper arm moving?

I'm pretty sure, given the fact you could handle cello ok, that you've developed some kind of incorrect response/technique to the job of picking.

Suppose for example there is a lot more of the pick protuding between your fingers and the strings... even if you hand timing is correct, the additional "length"  will hit the string earlier than is less pick is showing, relative to some fixed hand position. 

The plane of the pick contacting the string affects timing, as does the pick thickness and shape.

The tightness of grip on the pick also affects things ... it wants to sort of loose (not enough to drop it, obviously).

Regardless. have you checked whether your fretting hand is in time?

A good technique teacher will be able to spot and fix your issues if you have no success by yourself.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Jul 16, 2017,
jerrykramskoy I play with my fingers. My forearm and upper arm never moves when I play and my wrist only moves when I do slap, so those obviously aren't the root of the problem. I also when trying with the metronome will actually try just laying my finger on the string itself before doing the note each time, so that would theoretically eliminate any chance of the angle, hand position, etc. from affecting my outcome, it would just be me and the string. I think part of the problem was that I was focusing too much on muting earlier, but I still am not able to play steady, but sorry, I still seriously don't know. Thank you so far though!
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
User0fAName You playing guitar or bass (you mentioned slap)?  Re-reading your original post, you say you can play riffs finem and you also mention multi-part tunes you're writing.  All the same instrument?   (Different skill/technique levels across these)?

If you're using fingers instead of a pick, have you tried observing your timing per finger?  You have to narrow down where the problem(s) lie.
I play the guitar (with slap.) I've tried writing music with multiple parts with multiple instruments, and also songs with multiple parts and just one instrument, ( I'd say I'm pretty equal in skill across my different instruments cello, ukulele, and guitar.) Also, when I was practicing with the metronome I was only using my thumb so different finger speeds obviously isn't the root of my problems.
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
User0fAName So, is there a clue there (your thumb being the villain of the piece)?  What happens if you finger-style all but the thumb part (as an experiment), or if you use a pick to just play the thumb part, or even just play the thumb part with your thumb?  (simplify down till you hopefully find the issue).

This is intriguing me (and a pain for you).

Can you submit a video of yourself playing a troublesome piece?
Ok, I made this video. (Sorry that I couldn't get the metronome and camera to work at the same time!)

The first minute or so is me just trying to play quarter notes in 4/4 at 60 bpm. I do it with just my thumb then all upstrokes, then alternate, then with my fingers and then also with thumb with all the strokes and patterns I felt necessary. I then pull out the pick and repeat while also using my fingers on the other strings with the same beat. (I play with my fingers so much I could probably count the number of times I've used a pick before with my - fingers.)

The rest is just me doing improv to show off what I can do (I can never find songs that are my style.) (I've only been playing for a year.)
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
wow that looks really uncomfortable. You should look into standard right hand technique.

But as far as the rhythm goes, I don't think it's related to technique, unless your fingers are actually getting hung up on the strings. Sitting down with the metronome might just be something you have to do for a while before it really clicks. If you haven't had a need to play with consistent tempo before, it will take some time to get used to.

But you have to do more than just quarter notes. Do 8ths and triplets and 16ths, too. Switch between rhythms. Just do things that force you to be aware of what you're doing.
Last edited by cdgraves at Jul 17, 2017,
It didn't hurt my hand, wrist or anything at all. Also, for a good portion of it I was intentionally positioning my hand differently so you guys could see better. I know when something hurts, and this wasn't one of those things.

Also, when I played cello they made me just play straight quarter notes and to a beat and nothing else somewhat quite often, and also triplets, and eighths and sixteenths, so hopefully I have practiced those enough, other than for the fact that I still mysteriously can't play basic rhythms.
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
I don't mean to be a dick, but here's the brutal truth: what you're doing is NOT playing guitar. You're randomly slapping the thing without any sense, feel or anything. Go strum some cowboy chords like we all did when we started. Clap your hands to some AC/DC songs or something. Make yourself FEEL rhythm. 

Rhythm doesn't come from the head, you can't think it out. It comes from the heart and your whole being. You have to be dancing on the inside. 

What I see is awkward technique and complete disconnection from the instrument. Learn the basics first. 
Can you play Knocking on heaven's door or something like that?
User0fAName I  think I have a reasonable understanding now where your problem lies... yes, you have technique issues, but different to what to you think (based on the video, and ignoring the slap piece).  But the fundamental problem is you are trying to develop an advanced rhythmic technique (slap) as part of your style, without the underlying basics having been properly attended to.   

An analogy would be someone trying to develop a trick dive off the 10m board in a swimming pool, when diving off the edge of the pool mostly ends with a belly flop.

Skills on cello will be different on guitar.  The body mechanics playing guitar are entirely different, and the brain needs to figure these out to generate the appropriately timed movements in the joints and muscles etc.

I think you do have rhythmic awareness, but the coordination you had on cello isn't there across both hands on guitar.

My guess is you have spent a lot of time on practicing slap, at the expense of evertthing else, where you do have major fretting hand timing issues (see below) ... so obviously, if you then combine several tracks each with their own issues, the overall tune will be very messy.

It's really admirable that you wnt to develop your own style / song style, and you must keep that as a guiding goal for the work you need to put in on technique.

About the video

So, you're timing with individual fingers / thumb / pick is not bad at all.  But add in the fretting hand, and things go badly wrong,  

The slap technique youi're showing is all about the plucking hand, and again, where you've got to with that is actually quite impressive ... BUT you need to be able to smoothly get in and out of that technique as part of a song, and I don't see any evidence of the required level of coordination in your fretting hand ... this was what I trying to get you to check out with my original questions and suggestions.

You need to work a LOT on accuracy of timing with that hand, with a metronome, WITHOUT using your plucking hand at all.  Slow speed, aound 40-60 bpm, one note per click, on basic finger groupings (1,2,4),  [that is, 1st. 2nd and 4th finger],  (1,3,4), (1,2,3) in various orders, nice and relaxed.  You're not trying to smash and rip sounds out of the strings.  Then try 2 notes per click, 3 notes per click, 4 notes per click, 6 notes per click ... your main goal is finding weaknesses. inaccuracy, and working on these.  Just on one string.  Try moving these patterns along one string, grouping them together.  Then start adding in different note lengths, in time, with rests ... so now it's getting musical.

Then add in your picking hand, and ensure you can still do the above in time.

Then try a pair of strings, with the same ideas as above.

Try songs with a strong rhythmic feel, which don't necessarily change chords too much, and coordinate the fingering required for chord changes.  Try some old rhythm nd blues, 12-bars, funk.  Get the coordinatioon  going.

In summary, you need to re-balance your current skills, which strongly favour your plucking hand at the moment.   You need to develop your fretting hand coordination.  
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Jul 18, 2017,
beggar__ Yes I can strum chords. I got tired of how basic that was a long time ago. If you legitimately enjoy listening to someone playing a C chord with the occasional A chord for five minutes straight, be my guest to go listen to someone do that. I would rather eat my guitar than do that, making my esophagus bleed all over. If you honestly think that I don't feel anything or care about the instrument then tell it to the 3 hours of practice I put in a day. Just because other people play the guitar the your way doesn't mean it's the "right" way.
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
jerrykramskoy My guitar teacher actually did tell me that I have left hand coordination issues, and I've been suspecting that he was right. 

Some of the issue was simply because I was improvising and I was already straining myself pretty hard to just make the right notes to fret in the first place, but yeah.
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
User0fAName I was trying to give you some advice. Enjoy your crappy playing, you have no feel whatsoever and feel is the basic thing. Put your 3 hours into something more useful, music is not your thing obviously.

So much for trying to help someone...fuck that.
beggar__ One day you'll realize that throwing insults doesn't equal giving advice.
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
Well it is important to build a solid foundation of rudiments. It's not always the most exciting, but you need to have basic material to apply your techniques to. You don't have to choose between doing your own thing and knowing the standard palate of chords, scales, and techniques.
beggar__ User0fAName both of you calm down.  I don't want to have to lock a thread where someone is still getting good advice, but if you both don't back off and chill out, I will.

I may throw in my $0.02 with actual advice later, but for now... chill the heck out.
R.I.P. My Signature. Lost to us in the great Signature Massacre of 2014.

Quote by Master Foo
“A man who mistakes secrets for knowledge is like a man who, seeking light, hugs a candle so closely that he smothers it and burns his hand.”

User0fAName The good thing is you recognise there's a problem to be fixed.  That's the main thing.  Given you've been playing a relatively short time, it's unlikely you'll have any seriously engrained bad habits to get rid of ... rather just enjoy fixing issues with your fretting hand, which I suspect you can achieve quickly, with appropriate attention to detail.  Obviously don't stop with your style, just improve it with this additional practice ... the overall effect can only be imjprovement across the board.  Good luck there.

BTW: the extended use of C chords and the occasional Am chord takes me back to my youth, at a gig, where someone played 9 trillion verses of a Bob Dylan tune  (luckily that was the abridged version).  Sadly, he stuck to the original, so there were literally 2 chords, no inversions.  I think the electricity meter ran out in the end, so we were saved.
beggar__ I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings. No sarcasm.
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
jerrykramskoy I have an extremely long way to go. Hopefully I can more or less knock the left hand coordination issue out of the park pretty quickly and efficiently.

The chords thing... just wow. 
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
Quote by User0fAName
beggar__ I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings. No sarcasm.

Quote by beggar__
Zaphod_Beeblebr  I admit I got pissed off and carried away, sorry. Feel free to delete my posts in this thread, I'm out. 

Well done, the pair of you.
Heyyyyy we're talking about beats and stuff so my bass playing skills are good for something I guess.

Groove is a key concept in any form of popular music. As a term, "groove" might sound kind of unspecific but what I mean by groove is the ability to not only play the right notes at the right time but having the ability to play with confidence and intent without ever losing track of the rhythm. The difference between someone who has a good sense of groove and someone who doesn't have it, is that the latter's playing will sound more shy and also more mechanical. Even if you play at exactly the right rhythm, there's a possibility that your playing will end up sounding like you're just going through the motions without really locking in with the feel of the song.

You can't develop your sense of "groove" by just playing along to a metronome that's on each beat. When you're actually playing live, you don't have a metronome, you either have nothing or you have a drummer, and even drummers are human just like you and me and their rhythm will fluctuate slightly. Having a good sense of rhythm is having the ability to react and adjust your own timing based on the context. In fast bebop etc. the bass player might rush the walking bass line by just a tiny tiny bit in order to give the song more drive, while in a genre like reggae the guitarist might want to drag just a bit in order to make the whole feel of the song more laid back. I'm talking about near imperceptible changes in timing that will take years to master.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, just to illustrate that "staying on the beat" is a much more complicated process than just playing a note exactly on the beat over and over again. What's the use of staying pinpoint on the beat when your drummer doesn't anyway? Maybe you're playing solo and you don't have a beat behind you? I guess the more interesting thing from your perspective is to actually learn how to improve this sense of groove. Here are a couple of tips:

1. using your metronome in a more creative way than just note-per-beat. Set your metronome only to beats 2 and 4 and try to stay on time. Or maybe set your metronome to only beat 4 and try it again. This will make you focus much more on what you're playing, instead of constantly focusing on the beat. Just try the 2-4 method for a while, it's much more fun and rewarding than just setting the metronome at four clicks per beat, and also develops your skills more.

2. Use yourself as a metronome. Ever tried counting out loud to four while playing? I bet you can't do it fluidly on the first try. Or the 40th try. If that's too easy, what about only counting out beats 2 and 4 out loud? Even more difficult, but does wonders to your ability to perceive rhythm. You can keep a metronome running on the background at first to make sure you're not rushing or dragging your counts. This is definitely the most difficult method but it's also surprisingly helpful.

3. Play with/to a drummer. If you can't find a drummer to jam with, search youtube for videos where real drummers play real drum beats. This can be pretty fun, and approximates a real performance a lot better than a metronome. I recommend finding a drummer and jamming out though, it's loads of fun.

There's just some tips from a guy to whom rhythm and groove is everything. I'm not even a great bassist but I love genres like funk and soul where understanding rhythm is of most importance, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about these things. I hope you got some ideas from this micro-essay on groove by the worst mod on the site, if not I'm happy to clarify things and discuss anything rhythm related anyday. Cheers.

Btw did not read through all of the books-worth of text that's in this thread so if I repeated anything sorry
Your idea on looking up videos of drummers playing is great, thanks, I've never thought of that! And you managed to not repeat anything.
What do you mean you're not supposed to dial the gain to 10?!
hey all. guitar / music teacher here.. 10+ years of experience.... here's my two cents...

technique and style preferences aside, you're trying to do a really complex rhythmic technique without a proper internalization of the metronome.

long story short: your problem is that you are playing IN RESPONSE to the metronome, rather than playing WITH it. the purpose of the metronome is to listen to it and build the ability IN YOUR OWN BRAIN to keep a steady count, send that timing to your tapping foot and your hands, and then play your music on that beat.

if you are constantly watching the metronome to see if your notes will match, or constantly trying to catch up to the beat, then all you're doing is getting mad at the process.

when i hear a metronome start up, i immediately start counting along in my head, but after a few beats, i am doing the count myself, in my mind, and the metronome starts to feel / sound like part of a drum kit that is playing WITH ME.

the real skill is simply to count the pace of the metronome, and then keep that count going on your own, even as the metronome continues to click.

it's all about your mindset, bud. if you treat the metronome like it's not there to help, it won't be of any help.
User0fAName I would try playing with a drum machine instead of a metronome. I could never play with a metronome but used the drum loops on garage band and then ultimately the session drummer on logic and it helped me a ton.