Importance of Using a Metronome to Practice Guitar

Why use a metronome? Well, I can think of many good reasons why you would want to use a metronome when you practice guitar. People are born with perfect pitch, but very rarely does anyone ever have perfect time? Most people have to work at it. Time, as most people would agree, is something everyone needs to develop. This is where our good friend, the metronome, comes in handy.

If you want your musical ideas to be cohesive, things have to be played “in time.” You can play the hippest notes you want, but if it’s phrased poorly and out of time, frankly, it’ll sound terrible to not only musicians, but to your average listener as well. That goes for any style of music. The human ear (or brain) likes to be able to recognize organized logic. Playing music on your guitar in time is a large part of that organized logic.

Using a metronome for some is a bit off-putting because it can expose your weaknesses, and this is a blow to your ego. You might think you have good time until you play with someone that does, then you just might feel inadequate in that department. Well, break out your metronome and get to work!

You can use a metronome for many things in your guitar practice routine. When doing finger exercises, picking exercises, anything you do to build technique, scales, or sight reading–more on this later–are things you can utilize the metronome with in your daily practice. You can use the BPMs (Beats Per Minute) as a way to gauge how much your improving in some instances. The faster we can cleanly (stressing cleanly) execute something the better we are getting, right?

It can be very rewarding to witness yourself conquer your previous record on playing a certain passage, or guitar exercises. You literally see proof of your improvement! When first starting out it might be a good idea to mark down what you accomplished today, so you have a goal to overtake tomorrow.  All this can help motivate you when it’s often hard to notice improvement in your abilities. You now have something tangible to gauge your progress.

So Let’s get started! Here are some great tips to utilize a metronome:

Nailing Time Values:
Eighth notes, sixteenth notes, eight note triplets, quarter note triplets, etc. You get the picture. This could be just working on picking hand techique, or adding in the fretting hand as well. Conversely, you can concentrate on just the fretting hand and play “legato,” using slurs, hammer-ons and pull-offs in time with the metronome. Sometimes, one hand is holding the other back. Get both hands working to optimum efficiency.

Playing Really Slow:
I mean REALLY slow. Try it. You’ll see that playing really slow is harder than playing fast in many ways. Play a passage or a whole song at 40 BPM and see if you can pull it off convincingly, with passion, all without speeding up. Many top notch guitarists you admire who play with excellent time have learned to “feel” time at extremely slow tempos as well as ripping tempos.

Sight Reading on Guitar:
Ugh!! I know. Sight reading and guitar seems like mixing oil and water to most of us. Let get to be well-rounded guitarists, and step into the not-so-comfortable zone. I often get my guitar students to use a metronome to help with their sight reading. Breaking all the elements down, note recognition, fretboard and finger placement, note values, etc. Picking a tempo that’s not too fast, while having the metronome mark out quarter notes, I have them do the following steps:

1) Name aloud each note in succession treating each note as if it was a quarter note, disregarding note values (rhythms), and making sure you time saying the note in time with the click;

2) Then actually play the notes on your guitar. Again treat each note as a quarter note disregarding note values, and staying in perfect quarter note time;

3) Now clap the rhythms while counting. Listen really hard–don’t speed up or slow down;

4) Next play the rhythms on the correct string (open or muted) that you would play each note. This helps the picking hand focus on being accurate without worrying about the fretting hand;

5) Finally, put it all together and play the song as it is supposed to be played.

The faster BPM that you can do each step, the better you are at bringing together all the elements to sight reading: note recognition on the page, note recognition on your guitar, rhythms, and finally putting it all together. It also helps a person realize what area that may be causing difficulty with sight reading by isolating each element at a time.

Know Thy Fretboard:
You’d be surprised how much better you get at knowing your fretboard layout by naming notes up and down (yes down too) on each individual string. The faster the tempo, the faster you can recall the note, in turn, the better you are getting at learning the notes on your fretboard. You get instant feedback, witnessing yourself improve. And yet further, you are exposing weak spots. Are you sensing a theme here? Almost everyone has a zone they avoid because they aren’t comfortable. Practice the uncomfortable so you can get comfortable.

More Challenging:
Instead of putting the “click” on each beat, try cutting your intended tempo marking in half. For example, if you want to practice something at 120 BPM, set the metronome to 60 BPM. Now count yourself in hearing the clicks on beats 2 & 4. This is really good for making you have to “hear”, or feel where beat 1 is. This in my opinion helps you develop better time than having the
metronome tell you where each beat is. This concept, and the following suggestions, will help you create a more elastic time feel, something not so rigid but still “in time.”

Fast Tempos:
If you’re working on playing fast tempos, try dividing the tempo one fourth (200 BPM = 50 BPM) and hear the click on beat only on beat 1, or just 2, or just 3, or just 4. Now you are getting somewhere developing good time.

OK, What About 3/4?
It 3/4 time, hear the click on just beat 2 or 3, only. Or have it click every second beat so that it click on beats 1 & 3 for the first measure, then beat 2 in the second measure. You’ll notice how every two measures you cycle back to beat 1 again.

Advanced Ears:
For a more advanced move, especially you jazzers, try hearing the metronome click on the “ands” (or up beats) of a swing 8th note feel, or just the “ands” of 2 & 4, etc. You get the picture. Try to stay in time only hearing the up beats.

And of course, use a metronome when you are practicing the new approach to scales. Treat playing scales as a guitar Etude, a short practice piece, where you can measure your improvement. Start off slow, and gradually increase the tempo. More to come on that topic next post

For Metronome Tempo Markings, see this post. (at the bottom)
Feel free to comment or post your thoughts and ideas below


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