Friday, August 26, 2005

The Metronome is Your Friend

Ah, the Metronome. The name itself reminds me of a 2 foot high, cross-dressing hair stylist from Scotland, who sports a long white beard and goes by the name of Chris.
(Note to self: call china and begin production of The Metro-Gnome, these are going to sell like hotcakes.)

Actually, a Metronome is a portable device that is used to provide an audible click, or tone, at a set BPM, or Beats per Minute. They all have the option to adjust the tempo, or BMP, from very slow (40 BPM), to very fast (Over 208 BPM). Different models offer higher degrees of tempo adjustment, and some even offer tuning and volume adjustments. They range in price from around $14 all the way to over $150.

As musicians, we use Metronome’s to practice our songs and exercises at precise tempos in order to help build rhythm and perfect the performance or exercise.

To some, the Metronome is a haunting device that brings fear and panic to even the most seasoned players. Guitarists looking for the quickest possible path to glory often sidestep practices involving a Metronome. BIG MISTAKE. The result is poor meter and huge cost overruns at the recording studio as they wrestle with laying their parts down to a click track for the first time. Trust me, I know, I have tried to record drummers who have had this problem. Not only are they fully embarrassed by their obvious lack of tempo but they also become frustrated and tired as the continuously attempt what they should have already learned.

Please, don’t be the musician that ends up standing alone in the recording booth with his headphones on shrugging his shoulders as they enter the 5 hour of trying to lay down his simple 3 minute guitar track. (ca-ching). The recording studio is a very expensive place for learning how to play to a Metronome or Click-Track.

Performance Tip: Before going into a recording studio, learn to play all of your parts with a Metronome. You technique will improve as will your confidence to perform with a constant click tempo playing in the background. In fact, bring a metronome to your next band practice and have your band mates prove to you that they can play their parts to a click-track, especially your drummer. This little piece of advice can save you thousands of dollars.

(Climbing back down off the soap box)

O.k., besides saving you from looking like a jackass in the recording studio, the Metronome has a useful purpose in your daily practice. Let’s go over some ways that we can incorporate the Metronome into our practices. By now, you should have a series of daily exercises incorporated into your practice. If not, check out my post “Finger Exercise for Strength and Speed”.

A Free Metronome -

Slow it down – The idea is to set the Metronome to its slowest setting, usually around 40 BPM, and practice your exercise at this speed until you can play it perfectly. Play 1 note to each click. Your note and the click should sound off at the exact same time.

Practice Tip: One of the hardest parts to playing with a metronome, or click-track, is over listening. If you are playing in perfect time, you will not hear the click; it will blend perfectly into your notes and almost disappear. When this happens, some guitarists will panic thinking that they are now OFF TIME and wait to hear the click. Many musicians focus so hard on the click that they end up playing their part a microsecond too late. It’s like they wait for the click and then play, worried that if they don’t hear the click than their timing will be off. Don’t panic if you don’t hear the click, it most likely means your playing perfectly, and that’s a good thing.

Speed it up – Once you have perfected your performance at the slowest setting, it’s now time to start speeding it up, but only a little bit at a time. Move the metronome up to the next setting, maybe 42 or 44 BPM. Play it again. Once you have it perfect, speed it up again.

Use this technique for practicing exercises, songs, scales, and even your coolest licks. Every single top guitarist has written that this is the technique that they HAD to use in order to develop their excellent picking techniques and playing ability. IT WORKS!

Speed Kills – Anybody can play fast. Big deal! Speed is never an indicator of skill, often it is just the opposite. It’s very easy to hide slop and flubs in fast playing. Even tempo fluctuations are easily hidden in fast playing.

Be the Turtle – Go Slow! Take your time! Slow and steady is key. By going slow, you can focus on perfect technique, hand position, picking style. DON”T PRACTICE MAKING MISTAKES.


Beginners: From now on, all of your exercises should be performed to a Metronome. Always start on the slowest setting and work you way faster only after you can perform it PERFECTLY. Concentrate on good technique. Your goal is to take an exercise from 40 BPM to 60 BPM. I know you can do it.

Intermediate: Have you been using a metronome? I bet not. Well, it’s time you started and not a minute too late. Your homework is to prove that you can slow it down. Take a song you know by heart, and slow it down to 50 BPM. Can you still play it perfectly? Are you in time? If not, practice it until you can play it perfectly at 50 BPM, then move it up to 60 BPM, and so on, and so on.

Like the beginners, I want you to start all of your exercises at 40 BPM, however you should be able to advance them, 10 BPM at a time, up to 100 BPM. Concentrate on your picking technique and hand placement. You are surely going to start to see some bad habits by using this technique. The rule of thumb is, if you make a mistake, you finish the exercise; however you must do it again at the same tempo until you get it perfect. It’s not easy, but you can do it.

I would hope that most advanced guitarists have already mastered the metronome and its use; however that is often NOT the case. Prove to yourself that you have mastered the metronome. You should be able to do any exercise from 40 BPM up to at least 160 BPM or higher. Most likely, the very slow tempos are going to cause you the most problems. Imagine that? Don’t skimp on this, try everything at 40 BPM and see what happens. PROVE that you can do it slow, as that is the mark of a truly advanced guitarist.

Practice advanced rhythm patterns at the various tempos. Triplets and sixteenth notes sound different and have a different feel at the different tempos. Once again, I guarantee that the slower speeds are going to throw you. Try counting the advanced tempos out loud as you perform. 1 te ta and a two te ta. Etc.

I wasn’t kidding when I said that all of the top rated guitarist contribute metronome work as THE KEY to proper picking technique and lick speed. Try your favorite licks at normal speed, and then try them slower. What do you see? Try to play as fast as you can, with no metronome. How are you holding your pick? How are you striking the string? Is it different that when you play slow? Both hands techniques should be consistent across all tempos. If not, then you know what your homework is.


Hard work, especially on the more boring of exercises and techniques, really pays off in the long run. Unfortunately, many guitarists choose to skimp on these sorts of things, and end up paying the price later on. The end result can be embarrassment, as in the case of the jackass in the recording studio, or extreme frustration, as is most often the case with seasoned musicians who try to overcome bad habits acquired early in their practices. By using steady proven learning methods, such as regularly working with a metronome, you will build a stronger foundation of skill that will allow you to progress faster and learn at a higher rate than those musicians who decided to skimp on the basics.

Be the smart musician, you’ll be thankful for it 5 years down the road.