Why Should I Use a Metronome?
Metronomes have been a popular (or sometimes not so popular!) practice tool amongst musicians for 200 years and have proven useful for many, particularly when it comes to improving their timing. The metronome should be used to keep a steady tempo, and to make sure that the player does not speed up or slow down through the duration of the piece that they are playing.
It can also be used to work up to a faster tempo that may be unmanageable at first on the players chosen instrument, since by starting at a more comfortable tempo to then slowly increase the speed in set increments, the player can accurately track how they are improving. It is natural as human beings to want to push and pull the time which although may be desirable sometimes for a certain effect depending on the song and the genre, the majority of the time could be seen as an error.
When Should I Use A Metronome?
The short answer is, as much as you can! Not only can you use a metronome to keep your tempo steady while playing a complete piece, but you can use this while practicing scales, different exercises, improvising, or chord progressions!
When practicing scales it is up to the player if they want to set the metronome to a quarter note (or crotchet) and to play one note of the scale per beat, or to play the scale in eighth notes (quavers) while the metronome is clicking on the downbeat (quarter note/crotchet). Play around with both to see what feels more comfortable!
One very important thing to mention that applies to anytime you use a metronome is that make sure that you are comfortable with whatever you are playing first before you dive in to playing it along to a metronome, whether that be running scales/playing a piece/improvising ect. Having the metronome clicking will introduce added pressure so it’s very important to first be confident on what you are playing.
How to Practice with A Metronome
To give a more specific example of how to practice with a metronome, pick a song that you are currently working on that is maybe manageable at a slower tempo, but you’re having trouble working it up to the original speed. Figure out what tempo in BPM (beats per minute) is roughly where your comfortable speed is (this should be slower than the original) then try playing along with the metronome clicking on the quarter notes (1 2 3 4).
If you’re unsure of how to find this tempo, see if your metronome application on your device has a ‘tap tempo’ function, which is where you tap the quarter notes of where you are feeling the beat for the metronome to tell you what tempo you are tapping. Once you are confident at playing at this tempo, keep bumping up the metronome by 5 or 10 BPM at a time to slowly increase the speed until you hit the point of it becoming a little too fast. If this faster tempo is making your playing sloppy, bring it back by 5 or 10 BPM to a more manageable tempo and practice the example here for a few days/weeks until you can confidently increase the speed. Keep doing this until you reach the desired tempo of the original song.
Another great exercise to try is to set the tempo really slow, 50BPM or below, to see just how strong your ‘internal clock’ is. A persons ‘internal clock’ is their ability to feel a tempo without the aid of a metronome and their ability to keep playing at a consistent tempo without speeding up or slowing down. Playing at extremely slow tempos can be very hard, as it will feel unnatural to wait so long in between clicks before the next beat. If the player can feel when the next beat will land with the metronome without speeding up over this slower tempo, then they will have a strong internal clock.
Sub Division Exercise
Another great exercise to practice scales along with the metronome and something to improve your rhythm is a popular subdivision exercise, where you start by playing your chosen scale along to the metronome first with crotchets, then crotchet-triplets, quavers, quaver-triplets, then semibreves. For example, set your metronome roughly from 70-80BPM.
Let’s say you’ve picked the A minor pentatonic scale to use (great choice!). Start by playing the notes of the scale in quarter notes along to the metronome (this will be every time the metronome clicks), then move through the crotchettriplet, quaver, quaver-triplet, and semibreve subdivisions once you feel ready. Although you could set how long you are going to sit on each subdivision for, let’s say it’s 2 bars each, it may be best to start off by moving to the next subdivision only once you feel ready. What you want to aim for with this exercise is to have no awkward transitions between the subdivisions by rushing or dragging when you change between them.
A great exercise to improve a players swing feel is to set the metronome to only click on beats two and four, as this will accent the beats and swing the groove. Since jazz music is mostly played with a swing feel, this will mean that beats 2 and 4 are accented meaning that there is an emphasis on those beats. Start by playing the metronome and just counting along with the beats. This can be tricky since there will be no click on beat 1, so once you’ve counted along with 2 and 4 for a few bars, start putting beats 1 and 3 in.
Once you can confidently feel the groove, try playing a simple chord progression such as a ii V I (Am7, D7, Gmaj 7 in the key of G major) along to get into the swing feel.
You can then move on to using this exercise when practicing full jazz standards for both the chord changes and practicing the melody, and also to practice improvising playing along to the chord changes without any backing, to not only work on your timing but to work on outlining the chords clearly without the chords playing in the background.
Tags: Guitar advice
, Guitar tips