A Method for Practicing With a Metronome

The metronome can be a beneficial aid in your practice regiment. Here is just one method on how increase the efficacy of your practice.

Ultimate Guitar
If you're reading this, I'm sure you've been frustrated with the lack of information on how to actually use a metronome, despite how many claim how useful it is. Most articles are rife with the benefits of concentrated practice, but few actually give the reader anything of worth to take away, and utilize in their own practice - I'm here to shed some light.

The Metronome

Myself, I've got an old Seiko DM-10 I inherited from my violinist/pianist uncle. You, modern, internet-age rebels, can feel free to drop by any music store and pick up a generic Korg for $20. Too cheap? There's a copious amount of apps out there, like "Mobile Metronome" by Gabriel Simones for Android phones. Pretty much anything that can keep a beat, and allow you to progress in small increments will suffice.

Actually Using It

So you've got the metronome. You're ready to make some progress in your playing abilities. The focal point of this discussion is SPEED. You want to play fast? Keep reading. You want to sing along to chords to swoon your current love interest? Look elsewhere. The first step:

Have something you want to be faster at

This can be a chromatic exercise, a scale pattern, a riff, or something you wrote but can't quite play up to speed.

Set a goal

Chromatic scale at 160bpms in 16th notes, sixtuplet scales at 120bpm; define an end point for your practice. The entire point of practicing is having the ability to play what you want. If you don't define your goals, how will you know when you're ready?

Keep a log

Write down your practice sessions. I can't tell you how beneficial it is to do this. If you journal every exercise, you can literally track your progress over time, and make changes as your goals change.

Actually Using the Metronome

Okay, so you've got your metronome, you've got your exercises, you've got a goal speed and a journal to track it all in.

First off, keep in mind a sort of "priority" for what you want to accomplish. For example, my practice includes the chromatic scale, pentatonics, modes, sweep picking, and tapping triads across the entire fretboard. Pick one that is most important to you - that's the focal point of today's practice session. I want to improve my tapping speed, so I give the tapping the most attention. 

Actually Practicing

Can you tap your foot? Lord, I hope so. Take your exercise, let's say, a basic 1234 "chromatic" type exercise on the first fret. Tap your foot, play through it a few times with the most perfect technique you can manage; the slower the better. Once you establish a comfortable speed, plug that into the metronome via the "tap tempo" function, or figuring it out yourself. Play through it a few times.

The Fun Part

Increase the speed by 8bpms. (that's 8 beats per minutes, or 8 1-counts for the uninitiated) Is it perfect? Tack on another 8bpms. Do that until your technique starts to break apart.

The Decision

So you started your exercise at 60bpms, and it's breaking apart at 144bpms; where do you go from here? Easy. Depending on how important you consider it to be, drop the tempo 20 beats and give it a shot. If it isn't that high on your list, move on. Easier, huh? Now increase the beat by 4bpms, instead of 8bpm. Continue this until you reach your breaking point, which is probably faster than before.

How important is your speed on this exercise?

Drop the bpms by yet another 20bpms and increase by 2.

Shredding is a part of who I am

So it's speed that you want? You hit your breaking point on 8's, dropped the bpms by 20, and did the same for 4's and 2's, what's next?

Drop the bpm by 20 and do 1's. You need the practice. Use this time to examine your hands. How tense is my fretting hand? Am I letting the notes flow, or am I mashing the fretboard? What's my picking hand/arm doing? Am I picking from the shoulder, the forearm and elbow, the wrist, or the joints in my fingers? Now is the time to analyze your technique, use it wisely, and learn something from it. This part of the process takes the longest, only reserve it for the most important exercises.

To Conclude

You finally found the tab for the song you've always wanted to play, but it's too fast for your playing ability. You scoured UG for lessons on how to play faster in vain. Here's your answer. With focused, regimented practice, you can play whatever you want, provided you've got the time and patience to do so. If your goal is maintenance, stick to 8's and 4's. If you really want to get fast, reserve your time for 2's and 1's. Keep in mind that progress takes time and consistent practice. Even 1bpms is better than what you did yesterday, don't get down on yourself if you aren't playing like your heroes. For a helpful anecdote, even Steve Vai practiced 10 hours a day in college, remember that.

This is my first "lesson" on UG, if you took the time to read this, be sure to leave a comment. If there's anything I left out, I'd be more than happy to read it and amend my post. If you benefited from something I wrote, leave a rating. Thanks for your time.

8 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Good article! When using a metronome how many of you accent? Iv recently learned in the last few months how important it is to accent, and how when trying to reach those goal tempos, they become more simpler because you yourself have become somewhat of a metronome when you accent.
    Can you point me in the direction of a good lesson on accents mate. I really get in the tempo when it becomes so fast. Cheers.
    Very thorough and dead on! Trying to discipline myself to use this every day
    I completely understand they trying to get the metronome discipline, nothing great ever come easy.
    Jacques Nel
    Good article. I must admit, I've never owned a metronome, I use virtual ones. Thank you for the method and tips though. I used to just put it on and once I get comfortable with a speed I speed it up by around 5 beats. Will try the above though.
    This is such a dumb question. I hope it's not too dumb. I'm such a beginner, but I'm trying to get a song I wrote up to the speed I want. I get the basic idea behind this. I just want to make sure "8's" "4's" "2's" and "1's" means "increase by X number of bpm." So by 2's and 1's you mean "increase by 2 bpm and 1 bpm."
    just to add .. everyone will reach a point where he hits a bpm-wall .. a point where you cannot increase the speed ..just kill it .. say you're stuck on 130bpm .. try 140 ..then go down to 110 and gradually work your way up to 130 again .. i dont know why .. suddenly the wall is gone ..