The Metronome: Meet Your New Best Friend!

No matter what instrument or style of music you play, it is crucial that you can play very tightly to a click.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
0
In my last article, "How the Pros Practice", I talked about how to optimize your practice time in order to be successful in the studio. I received a lot of feedback about it. Most people thanked me for the valuable information. Others disagreed with my stance, stating that it was too harsh, and that it took the fun out of practicing and recording. In response to these concerns, I can only say "welcome to the music business"! It reminds me of a quote I heard about an adult film director who said: "I don't pay the actors to have a good time. I pay them to look as if they were having a good time." It turns out that the music business is amazingly similar! Artists are masters of presenting a certain image and mystique. What they don't reveal is just how much work goes into making it all look so natural and easy! One of the prime skills to develop as a musician is in playing tightly to a metronome. Unfortunately, too many players don't fully grasp the use and purpose of the metronome. Not only are many individuals uncertain of how to use it, but many people are unaware of why is so important to become very well acquainted with one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal! Plenty of information about how to use the metronome has already been written, so I don't intend to rehash popular exercises here, but I would like to expand on what the metronome means to us as modern musicians and suggest some tips on how to maximize your efforts in developing tightness. A metronome is a device that helps musicians play at a steady tempo, that is to say, at the speed that was intended by the composer. Have a look any "official" music score and you should see it at the very beginning of the piece. The "Heavy Rock" part is a description of what kind of feel the composer is looking for. This is fairly subjective but it helps steer the player in the right direction. Following that is the tempo indication. It states that one quarter note, or one beat, occurs exactly 156 times in one minute. Hence, we would say that this piece is played at 156 Beats Per Minute (BPM). That is great to know, but it would be very difficult to estimate with any precision how fast this actually is. This is where the metronome comes in. Its raison d'tre is to provide a audio or visual cue as to how often each beat occurs. Visual cues are usually some kind of blinking light, whereas audio ones could be a beeping or clicking sound. In fact, many modern digital metronomes include both.

Two Styles Of Metronomes

  • A Windup Metronome:
  • A Digital Metronome:

    Modern Applications

    There is a lot more to using the metronome than simply sampling a few bars to get the tempo of a song. In fact, the metronome is quite essential to all musical activities these days. You can thank artist/guitarist extraordinaire/inventor Les Paul for elevating the status of the metronome from a mere device for providing tempos to the indispensable live and studio tool that it is today. You may have heard that he is the creator of multitracking, which is the process of recording one track at a time and then mixing them together afterwards. Before the advent of multitracking, bands would all get in a soundproof room, place a microphone in the center of them, and record a few good takes to choose from. Multitracking allowed each instrument to be recorded separately for the first time. This approach had a number of advantages, but it also meant that there had to be a steady pulse for everyone to follow. The multitracking process is used to produce the vast majority of CDs today. Multitracking necessitates being able to play with a far greater accuracy than was required in the early days of recording. The typical modern procedure for recording a song goes like this: The band will spend some time playing the song to a metronome to determine its tempo. Once a consensus has been reached, a metronome track will be recorded for guidance. This is what's referred to as the click track. In digital recording, there is no need to record anything because the click can be set and played during recording and even during playback. When viewed on the screen, each track will be stacked from top to bottom and will extend from left to right. Time intervals can be denoted in time or in bars and beats. These divisions are what's known as "the grid". Usually, instruments are recorded in order from the most rhythm-centric to most melodic - E.G.: drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, vocals. However, because of the grid, it is possible to record in pretty much any order. That's one of the reasons that recording is done this way today. If you have a famous session drummer flying in to do tracking in two weeks, why hold up production? As long as the bass and guitars are in time, they will sync up. For this purpose, a scratch drum track can be recorded using a drum program or machine. This would be replaced later by the real drums. You can see why it would be beneficial to be able to play very tightly to a click! As I mentioned in my last article, amateur musicians tend to shy away from using click tracks because they falsely believe that it will take away the feel. This assumption is based on inexperienced players' tendency to try to chase the individual clicks rather than feeling the groove of the pulses. Having recorded guitar tracks myself over drums that were not recorded to a click, I'm not sure why anyone would put themselves through the hell of trying to sync up a riff with uneven drums! The truth is that recordings done this way will almost always sound sloppy and will take three times longer to record. The exception is highly skilled players who record everything at once to capture more interaction between the instruments. Unless you've done at least ten CDs using a click track, I don't recommend that you even think about experimenting with recording without one! The fact is that, even bands who do record everything at once or that use an analog system to get that old school warmth, still need to be extremely tight because it is standard practice to have a professional digital editor go over everything to clean up the tracks. When the difference between tight and sloppy tracks can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, you can bet that no record company would let you put down anything less than near perfect parts. For the reasons stated above, no matter what instrument or style of music you play, it is crucial that you can play very tightly to a click. In a live setting, you can get away with playing without a metronome, but you may not have considered all the circumstances that would necessitate playing to a click live. The most common is the dreaded live "speed up" phenomenon which can affect even the most seasoned musicians. A cheering crowd and adrenaline rush can make for a more energetic performance than you were prepared for! The solution is to have the drummer wear an earpiece with a click. The rest of the band don't need to wear one, since they can follow the drummer. Oddly enough, I haven't met many drummers, or even whole bands for that matter, who want to do this. They say that it takes too much effort to follow the metronome and it takes away from the enjoyment of the live experience. This is a very interesting response because it highlights the difference between playing for fun and playing professionally. It does take some getting used to, but the difference is a loosey-goosey "bar" band sound versus a tight pro sound. The other common scenarios for using a click live are when sequencing is involved such as time sensitive lighting or sound effects and live recording. If you release CDs, there comes a time when you will want to release a live CD and/or DVD. Just check out most any professional live recordings and I think you'll find that the playing is surprisingly solid. That's because the drummer is almost certainly playing to a click! If not, he or she undoubtedly practices to one regularly. More On Practicing For Tightness I have discovered something interesting about tight players. They all spend a lot of time recording! In my early days as a musician, I practiced to a metronome when I was getting ready to record and the odd time that the mood struck me, which wasn't all that often! This did very little to help my timing at all. It seems that playing along to a metronome will not do wonders for you by itself. At best, it will make your live performances more solid. It was not until I put together a home studio and began to use it every day that I started to see some real progress. Having read interviews and spoken to some of the best players, I have come to realize that the habitual recording to a click is what separates the really tight players from the so-so ones. It acts as a mirror to your playing that does not lie. All too often, players will only hear what they want to hear when playing a part! Recording a part forces you to listen to the sounds that your hands are actually producing as opposed to what you're hearing in your head. Here is the process that many pros follow when perfecting and recording a part: The first step is to play along to the metronome or drum machine for about fifteen minutes or until you feel that the part sounds as noise free and tight as you can play it. After you've recorded a few satisfactory takes, listen back to them. If you're like me, you'll be amazed by all the ways which the part could sound a lot better than you thought it did! Once you have ascertained what needs to be improved upon, repeat the whole process again and listen a second time. The kinds of changes that I personally would make (as a guitar player) will usually consists of tightening, picking more clearly, eliminating string and position shifting noises, as well as making minor changes to the part to make it sound clearer. This iterative process can continue up to a half-dozen times. Sometimes I come back to a part a few days later as well. Even a pretty good sounding part will improve with a couple more sessions. In other words, you can always play tighter and better! Tightness is not just about following a click track to a very exacting degree, but it is also about clearly enunciating each note and making what's in your head come across on "tape". The tightest players happen to be the ones who spend a lot of time working on this very skill. Whether you're a hobbyist or a full-time pro, you can't go wrong by recording yourself over a click track - often. Until next time, happy practicing!

    References

  • Online Metronome
  • answers.com Rob Gravelle is the guitarist for the Canadian classic metal band Ivory Knight. He received a BA Mus from Carleton University. His band has released two CDs which are available from CD Baby, and are currently back in the studio with producer & legendary axeman Jeff Waters of Annihilator. Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles issue #92 listed Ivory Knight as one of the top Metal/Hard Rock bands in Canada. Check out RobGravelle.com for more articles and lessons by Rob and IvoryKnight.com for more info on his band.
  • 74 comments sorted by best / new / date

    comments policy
      WlCmToTheJungle
      GREAT! i am just learning how to do this now after almost four years of playing i really should have started a lot earlier
      Nocomment
      Kutanmoogle wrote: What program is he using in that picture? I'm looking for a free program that I can make loops with.
      Haha good luck with that
      Co&Ca182
      Kutanmoogle wrote: What program is he using in that picture? I'm looking for a free program that I can make loops with.
      I Suggest Either Fruity Loops For Loops Or Audacity For Recording...I Have Both Programs And They Really Work Well.
      Roybordom
      ok, i can say im off timing and probly need a metronome, but if i started hating what i was doing, f*** it. i'd play without a metronome
      nay-palm
      really good article. i think that it is important that people should realise how important playing in time is, theres nothing worse then a band who gets up and cant play their own stuff in time.
      Eirien
      mellowyellow729 wrote: i heard that listening to the metranome while you sleep will help your rythm alot is this true?
      theoretically, yes. it's like those tapes that help you quit smoking. what you listen to while you sleep will become lodged deep in your subconscious. but i really don't have a clue if it will increase your rhythm, or it will just help you keep time at a certain tempo! anyway, i bet it's really annoying...
      chrchsingr
      In my own experience a metrenome has helped me and some of my fellow musicians emensely. If you consider yourself a musician and do not yet have a metronome, what the frick are you waitng for? I know you know where the nearest guitar shop or music place is and you can bet your butt they'll have at least one metronome at a reasonable price. They really are not that expensive and they virtually pay for themselves in use, plus if you get a higher end model they have cool little extras like oh maybe a tuner, we all could use one every now and then. Let's get serious people.
      yonathon
      how do you play rhythm parts to a metronome with funny strumming patterns, i struggle a bit to keep it with every beat of the metronome any ideas lol ???
      punkrocker10115
      isn't the point of being a musician to do what you love and if practice isn't supposed to be fun then whats the point in playing at all? don't get me wrong i used a metranome and it improved my timing a bit but if u can get a live gig why play with it it defeats the purpose of bieng a musician.
      Eirien
      ClaypoolWooten wrote: ok look, yes, you should practice with a metronome, but that aside, that first parafraph is B.S. What pros do you know? Recording is hard work yes, but wtf is the point of music if you don't love what your doing. I'd rather be a bum on the street with no metronome or record deal, thank you very much.
      yeah, of course you've gotta love what you're doing, but you'll be a lot prouder of the work you produce if you listen to this guys advice. the first time i went in the studio i had very little experience playing with a metronome and when the engineer said we needed to play to a click track i thought it was bs, would take away from the feel etc etc. at the time i thought i was kickin ass, playing my solos and stuff but now when i listen back to them they make me cringe and wish i'd been more prepared. the truth is, if you listen to this guy, you're likely to love what you do a whole lot more. i'm just gutted i had to find out the hard way.
      Abe
      have to say this article is remarkably well illustrated for a UG article. and the info is good too, nice one.
      chirayu
      both of ur articles are really good. one of the best ones here! can you write one on "setting up a home studio"?
      chrchsingr
      ClaypoolWooten wrote: ok look, yes, you should practice with a metronome, but that aside, that first parafraph is B.S. What pros do you know? Recording is hard work yes, but wtf is the point of music if you don't love what your doing. I'd rather be a bum on the street with no metronome or record deal, thank you very much.
      I know quite a few professionals and they all speak very highly of the use of a metronome. They also encourage their students to do the same.
      chrchsingr
      nay-palm wrote: really good article. i think that it is important that people should realise how important playing in time is, theres nothing worse then a band who gets up and cant play their own stuff in time.
      I could not agree with you more, but that also has to do with the music industry itself and the use of "music fixing" cause believe it or not, there are bands out that put out awesome cds not due to the fact that they are excellent musicians, but because they have excellent studio people. You ever been to a concert and heard a band perform that couldn't play but two of their songs like their cd, the rest just suffer horribly from bad tempo and the general ability to not play the song. That's what we call "doctored" music. It is kind of like looking at an impressionistic piece of art work, its nice to look at farther away, but when you get in close it's a big mess of angular paint blobs.
      Eirien
      scottishmob wrote: Say, does anyone know where I can find aa online metronome that reaches about 300 (to 350 maybe) bpm? I've been trying to find one for 300bpm everywhere.
      no, but you don't need one. for 300bpm just use 150bpm and play twice as fast. that also makes you better at dividing the beat.
      tom1thomas1
      punk_isntemo12 wrote: mi dad has a metronome. it cliks heaps and its bloody annoying.
      no sh*t it clicks heaps.
      thefoldarsoldar
      The only time you should not be using a metronome is if you are learning a new technique, say for example, sweep picking. In a case like that, the most crucial thing is to train your muscles to get used to performing the technique perfectly. Don't worry about timing , just get it comfortable. Once your hands know what to do, then go ahead and sync it up with a clicker.
      ken20008
      green day's drummer Tre Cool uses a click while playing "Bouelvard of broken dreams", nice. lousy musicans hate metronomes because they cant stand one. and that means they suck cause they are not willing to train with one.
      scottishmob
      Say, does anyone know where I can find aa online metronome that reaches about 300 (to 350 maybe) bpm? I've been trying to find one for 300bpm everywhere.
      nomad911
      good article,has some pretty good points and yah you should enjoy what u do but give it a ****ing rest, the guys been chewed out at least 50 times by now
      metalgirl1
      I agree with the article. I think when you are in a band & people pay to come & see you live, you should give them their moneys worth & put on a great show. That means that as a band, we should play as best as we can & as tight as we can, but also have fun doing it. You don't want to just go out there & put on a sloppy as- sounding show, because then it ruins your reputation as a band. You don't want people to walk away & say that really sucked! I think a metronome is a great tool the whole band can benefit from.
      GiantRaven
      I think it's terrible how people debunk using a metronome Tis a very important tool Nice article =D
      K!!LsWiTcH
      Last Ablaze wrote: ever heard of tapping your foot???
      if ur out of time than ur foot tapping probbably will be too. And yea the fun doesnt come from practicing and recording. it comes wen u finally do wat uve been trying to.its like if u practiced ur ass off and at abttle of the bands u win thats fun. and yes hes trying to say u shud love what u do as a musician but also to kno wen to work and get serious.
      EpitaphMan440
      Metronomes are your best friend. Use them for a while and you start to get your own "built in" metronome, and timing becomes smoother. But sometimes it is fun to play in free time.... good stuff.
      X_Op3th_X
      I dont think that this world needs more Dream-Theater-like bands...I say,if u dont love music try getting another job,cause music is about feeling and emotion...Even if u play black metal ...I dont have a record deal,and i dont think ill ever get one cause im a hobbyist,but i recon that when it comes to art money means less then s*ht...So im happy to say that i had 2 live performances with my group that i loved,even if they where as amateur as it gets....
      Nelshizzle
      ClaypoolWooten wrote: What pros do you know? Recording is hard work yes, but wtf is the point of music if you don't love what your doing.
      True dat. I do use a metronome, but sometimes I feel I have to get away with it to figure out my own rhythm. Good stuff overall. Checked.
      HavokStrife
      Good article, great article infact. I'm in the midst of my first multitrack recording with my band, and I was down in the dumps for a few days when I got my very first clip played back for me and I saw that I wasn't as good as a player as I thought I was. But I've been practicing a lot more everyday, and the recording in itself is already making me so much better in the matter of weeks. Metronomes are definately something to look into if you have any interest whatsoever in being a recording musician. Kind of didn't really agree with the live thing though. I mean, just the kind of live show I like to see--and thus perform--I kind of expect the band to play their songs a little faster than they are on the CD. While I do agree putting on a show that sounds dead on accurate to the CD is something that takes much talent, I don't think it shows showmanship. I mean, what's the difference between seeing a band that plays their music exactly how it is on CD, and, you know, just turning the volume up at home?
      Kutanmoogle
      What program is he using in that picture? I'm looking for a free program that I can make loops with.
      GrungePb
      great article, just bought Metronome too and i was wondering what the =156 stuff was all about
      recklessftw
      It is important to use one yes, it'll help you improve your speed as well when you practice. Recording in a home setting really opens your eyes like he says, all you have to do it record yourself once, play it back and you'll see. Once you get more comfortable with playing on a recording you'll be fine with it. It only took my 2 song to better with playing for a recording session. Even now though I still have to have some 'sacrificial' recording tries before I feel like I'm ready to listen to some for use. Good article. I think it should be mentioned that you should like what you do though, you wouldn't be doing it if you did though... you wouldn't even make it to near the pro level if you didn't so it's kind of a given IMO
      vantage4
      good article. still got a bit of the ego left over from the first one, i see, but at least it's confined to the first paragraph.
      J.A.M
      Thats great,but how do I go about using a metromone, and setting it up for different time signitures etc. ?
      Guitardude19
      Great article... I use a metronome a lot... Infact I am going to buy a mechanical one because my electronic one runs out of batter like a bitch.
      E V H 5150
      If you don't have a metronome on hand, you could just use an anolog clock. Or if you're like me and wear a watch, when I put my distortion on it picks up the clock ticks, giving me easy tempos at 30,60,120 and 240 B.P.M.
      Gnomestar
      WTF! yeh use metranome for sure but the first paragraph about the music industry?? You should be playing and writing music for fun, so if it's not fun than you're playing music for the wrong reason...
      skralan
      I've been playing guitar for not so long now, but i made a simple computer program to help me with timing... it ticks every given interval. I don't wat to spam it here, so if you want it send me a PM or something. I would like some people to comment on it and maybe give suggestions on things that can be improved or implemented.