Practice Toolbox-The Metronome

Playing in time, with a good time feel, is a must for every musician regardless of the style you choose to play. If your time feel is solid, then people with want to play with you and you will be an asset to any group.

The Metronome

The tool that helps us develop a solid time feel is a metronome, so let's add it to our toolbox! A metronome is a device that generates a short sound at a specified tempo or speed. Many have a dial you turn to adjust the tempo, others have buttons that increase or decrease the tempo.

Choosing a Metronome

Metronomes all work pretty much the same way. Some have a needle that moves back and forth, others a digital needle on a display, and a few simply have a light that blinks with every click. They vary in price and size.

One thing to check out before buying, is the sound. Some metronomes generate a beep and others have a wood block sound. I've had students comment that the beep becomes annoying after a while and that the wood block is less grating. It's really a matter of personal preference.

Most metronomes have a headphone jack. This is handy if you play a loud instrument or if you want to use it with a group. I've run the output of my metronome into an amp so the whole band could lock into the beat. If you are practicing on your own most metronomes are loud enough to be heard.

How to Integrate into Your Practice

Students often ask, "How do I pick a tempo?" Picking a tempo depends on a variety of things like technical difficulty, length of the passage, and the goal tempo, just to name a few. But remember, set the tempo to only as fast as you can comfortably, accurately play the piece or exercise. Playing an exercise sloppy only reinforces bad habits and inaccuracy. Slowing the tempo down allows your head and hands the opportunity to truly learn whatever you're working on.

Once you've selected an appropriate tempo here are a few things to try:
  • Clap your hands or tap your foot to the beat. You need to lock into the beat and really feel it.

  • Play a single note with the beat. If you're a guitar play, start by playing an open string. Make sure you can lock into the click before proceeding to licks or phrases.

  • Select a short passage, lick, or phrase and play the phrase with the metronome. Repeat the phrase until you are consistently playing it accurately and in time. Once you've got the phrase down, then increase the tempo by a few beats per minute and start the process over again.

  • If you are comfortable with the metronome clicking on every beat, then try adjusting the tempo so that it clicks on every other beat. For example, if you are playing at 100bpm and it's clicking on every beat and you want to feel the metronome click on 1 & 3 or 2 & 4, then set the metronome at 50bpm. This is helpful for developing a relaxed feel at faster tempos and can be a real eye-opener at slower tempos.

  • Playing at really slow tempos is sometimes more difficult than fast tempos, so vary the speed at which you practice your material.

I can't stress the benefits of metronome practice enough. If you don't already have a metronome, get one. If you already own one, dust it off and use it daily. Your playing will improve and the people you make music with will thank you!


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