How to Use a Metronome for Guitar Practice


When it comes to using a metronome in your guitar practice, you probably fit into one of three groups.

  1. Group 1: You currently use a metronome for guitar practice, almost every time you practice your guitar.
  2. Group 2: You have heard that you probably should use a metronome to practice, but you do not do it. (You may or may not feel some shred of guilt about this.)
  3. Group 3: You have no idea what a metronome is, why you would need one, or what you would do with it.

Most people fall into the second group. With any luck, this tutorial may inspire you to bump up to the first.

How to Use a Metronome, Step By Step

What follows is a 4-video tutorial to get you started using the metronome, and to expand your abilities using a metronome for guitar practice.

Click the tabs below for the video lessons.



The Metronome: Frustrating, Annoying, Distracting

When you first start out using a metronome for guitar practice, it may not be the most positive of experiences. You may be thinking something like:

  • “This is no fun. Why do I have to do this?”
  • “This clicking is so distracting. I play better without it.”
  • “This is impossible!”
  • “Wow, I never knew I could be so annoyed at an electronic gadget.”

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. The metronome is a tool, and like most other tools, there is a learning curve.  In this case, a potentially frustrating learning curve.  (But please read on anyway!)

Many tools seemed scary until you learned how to use them. Many technologies are intimidating until you get comfortable with them.  Brave the learning curve, and you may just end up loving your metronome.

Why Use the Metronome for Guitar Practice?

There are several benefits to regularly using a metronome for guitar practice. Some of these benefits are more immediate, while others benefit your long-term growth as a musician.

Just as a mirror allows you to see that your hair is out of place or that you have spinach in your teeth, a metronome can alert you to places where your timing or rhythm is not perfect.

In music with complex rhythms, a metronome can help to organize the rhythm in your head (especially if you count aloud). It can assure you that you are playing what is on the page.

In technique work (scales, arpeggios, stretches, exercises, etc.), metronomes can provide a point of reference. It’s encouraging to see that we are faster than we were a week, a month, or a year ago.

One of the main benefits of playing with a metronome is that it builds our internal sense of steady tempo (or pace).

It is vital to develop the ability to keep a steady tempo throughout an entire piece of music.  And the metronome helps with this.

Especially in pieces where some sections are more challenging than others, we must be able to maintain a steady tempo throughout. If we haven’t built up the ability to maintain a steady tempo, we can find ourselves in all sorts of mayhem.

What is Good Rhythm?

While most of us know what the metronome is for (to get better rhythm), not everyone knows what this means in real life.

Rhythm is one of the most powerful and least acknowledged of the elements of music.  It can provide structure in the music. And it can allow for expression and emotion.

Notes come and go. There may be a mistake in the melody or the harmony, and we would never notice.  But drop one beat, or mess with the rhythm in any way, and people immediately know.  We have some sort of primal instinct that recognizes and anticipates rhythms.

Still, many players will sacrifice rhythm for correct notes.  Technically, it should be the opposite. Rhythm should come first.

Organization

–Having a well-developed sense of rhythm entails being able to place every little note in its proper spot. It also means keeping track of a larger pulse, ie. feeling the larger beats of the measure or the phrase.

Strong and Weak Beats

–Having a well-developed sense of rhythm also allows us to keep track of strong beats and weak beats. Not all beats are created equal.  Just as in speech, some words are more “important” in a sentence than others, so it is in music.

(This was one of the biggest arguments against disco when it first came out, that it homogenized the beats, and made them all more equal. Don’t get me wrong: there are certain moments in life when nothing but disco will do. But as mature musicians we really do need to understand the difference between strong and weak beats.)

Feel

–Having a well-developed sense of rhythm also includes being able to inflect the rhythm of the piece of music with an appropriate “feel”.  Some examples of this would be:

  • swing
  • samba
  • waltz
  • jig

Expression

–Having a well-developed sense of rhythm also means being able to use rhythm as an expressive device. This means making subtle changes in the placement of each note so that it encourages a specific musical outcome.

The basic timing and rhythm of the piece of music are still there, but we use the rhythm to demonstrate the psychological character of the piece.

How and when to use rhythm as an expressive device is beyond the scope of this article, but many CGS Courses give specific examples of how to do so.

Rule #1: Listen To the Metronome

Listen.  Listen like your life depends on it.

This is the number one, most important, must-do, must-have element of working with metronomes.  Your ear has to be completely focused on every single click, beep, or tock coming out of your metronome.  Easy enough, right?

Here’s the problem

Let’s take a slight detour her into some pseudo-brain science.

We can only consciously track around seven things at any given time. If some of these are very complex, we may be only able to focus on one or two.

On the other hand, our subconscious mind tracks millions of things in any given second. It registers everything we see, feel, hear, and generally sense.

One of the ways that our brains balance all the different things that it has to keep track of is by recognizing patterns. If we’re consciously focusing on something and we need more brainpower, the subconscious mind will recognize any patterns and relieve the conscious mind of that “bandwidth”.

This way, the conscious mind is free to pay attention to something else.

This is quite easy to recognize in normal life.

For instance, you may have noticed, when driving down the road, that you can “space out” for a while. If your surroundings are very familiar, or if there is not much novelty in them (such as miles and miles of highway or farmland), your subconscious mind will recognize that as a pattern and allow the conscious mind to drift.

Here are a couple more:

  • You aren’t aware of the noise from a refrigerator or fan, until it stops.
  • You aren’t aware of the flavor of your food, until you get a spicy bite, or a bone/rock/shell in your mouth.
  • In a room full of people talking, you aren’t aware that someone is talking specifically to you, until they raise their voice.

This is where one of the biggest problems in working with the metronome (and practice in general) lives.

The metronome keeps a steady beat. And a steady beat is definitely a pattern.

This means we are literally wired to ignore the metronome!

But if you want to practice with a metronome, and get good use out of the metronome, we have to do the exact opposite of what our brains are wired to do.

Overcoming natural tendencies

So what we have then is a battle between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind (or subconscious mind).

We have to consciously maintain focus on the metronome, even though our subconscious mind wants to recognize it as a simple pattern and allow our conscious mind to go in a different direction.

The only way to win this battle is through the sheer act of willpower. We simply have to forcefully keep our attention on listening to every beat of the metronome.

There are no helpful tips or tricks for this. We simply have to grab the rudder and keep the boat of our attention on course.

This is the main challenge and goal of working with the metronome: listening. Listening and continuing to listen.

Of course, the mind will stray to other things (such as counting, clapping, playing, food, sex, the news, etc.). When this happens, we must recognize that it is happening and gently steer our attention back to listening.

We do this over and over again. This is the true practice of working with the metronome.  It’s as much about training our mind to focus as it is about playing with steady tempo.

 


Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 


I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.





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