This has to be the most common comment I hear from students whether during a one-on-one lesson, guitar camp or Skype session. What are they referring to? It is something that often exists only within their imagination and not in their home, vicinity or guitar case. Their metronome.
The excuse line is always, “Well, I used to have one”, defensively followed up by such entertaining comments as “I need to get one after I purchase a Wee Willy Wonka Thingo that I’ve been saving up for.”
Or my personal favorite is, “Oh, I hate those things. They don’t really work for me.”
Then there is the beautifully vague response. “Well, Uncle Billy had one but he lost his, too and then one day when he was over to our house for Thanksgiving I remember he told me that he played a 12 string and used a really heavy gauge of string and he was a pretty good singer, but we mostly liked his songwriting and once he entered a competition with it, but that was on the way to Cullman after he fixed the belt on his favorite tractor at the house and…”
“Ummm. What about the metronome?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, well, he lost that, but mine is here somewhere. Do they take batteries?”
In a nutshell, my point is that practically every student I’ve taken on had not initially made a metronome a steady part of their practice sessions. I believe one of the main reasons is that they didn’t quite know how to use one properly as a tool to help in their development as a musician.
I can say with absolute confidence that the payoff of working with a metronome at every practice session is evident as every player I’ve worked with has improved their sense of timing.
Additionally, they seem to have all developed a much greater sense of confidence along with a desire to create practice session time versus just playing around time. I believe the reason many students are more likely to practice versus playing is that they begin to see the real results when targeting their timing. With the right attitude, it can actually be fun to practice. Once that door is kicked open, it’s almost impossible not to notice the improvement.
Here are a couple of very basic tips for how to begin to use a metronome and what I feel should be some very encouraging approaches.
- Get a battery.
- Turn on your metronome to any speed and stare at it in horror as you hold your breath and pray pointlessly to the rhythm genie for help.
- Get to work after exhaling.
- Set the metronome on a speed of about 80 and try to just strum any chord along with the click. Adjust the metronome until you find the most comfortable setting and work from there. Perhaps change your strumming pattern, but just slightly.
- If you’re a fingerpicker, try to select the simplest pattern you can think of and do the same as the strummer by adjusting the tempo to your comfort zone. Watch your breathing as you work and even try to play with your eyes closed, moving your mind and focus back and forth between the click and the sound of the guitar.
- Attempt to change chords with a tempo slightly slower than your comfort speed. Only change to a single chord and when you arrive at that chord, do a single strum (or picking pattern) with it and STOP while you listen to additional clicks before starting the effort again. This allows you to transfer between chords without a speed hiccup. The more difficult the next chord is to set up may require a much slower speed than your comfort zone speed.
- Build your picking patterns with the chord changes (or strumming patterns) but never add more chords than you are capable of doing or you will lose sight of the timing tightrope you are on.
- Do this every time you pick up your instrument and essentially parent yourself where you simply tell yourself that you are not allowed to play until you’ve done your work. The good news is you can keep these metronome practice sessions to five minutes. That’s right. Five minutes. Even that effort should be enough to kick that door open after a couple of weeks and you’ll never look at your playing the same way.
The good news is you can keep these metronome practice sessions to five minutes. That’s right. Five minutes. Even that effort should be enough to kick that door open after a couple of weeks and you’ll never look at your playing the same way. Best of luck to you and I have to admit one of the best metronomes I’ve found that is extremely light weight and can fit in your pocket is the D’Addario Planet Waves PW-MT-02 unit. Very handy and yes, I use it at every session, either practice or just prior to a concert to line up all the planets. You can read more here.
Side Note: Richard Gilewitz will be working with the metronome at his upcoming GillaCamp Guitar Workshop this February. More on this event for players to hone their craft and bond with other folks. Plus, the weather in Florida promises to be warm and sunny. http://richardgilewitz.com/workshops/gillacamp.htm