Practicing with a metronome is an uncomfortable exercises for many. Musicians are rebels, so the thought of rules is appalling at first.
Using a metronome is a skill you’ll have to develop for many hours before you get a breakthrough. It’s very frustrating to everyone for quite some time.
At some point many students in NYC ask me if they really need to play to a click. The answer to that is yes. Having good time and being able to lock to a steady grooves is crucial. It doesn’t matter how many licks you have, if you’re out of time it’s a deal breaker.
If you can’t practice with a metronome how are you supposed to lock to a real drummer?
Let’s look at some of my experiences when it comes to a metronome.
Sessions: many sessions are recorded to a metronome these days. You’re expected to be able to play perfectly in time either live or as an overdub. One of the biggest reasons guitarists have been replaced on records is bad timing. There are very few producers that are willing to spend all their free time correcting your tracks. Better get practicing with a metronome .
The bigger the gigs get, the more refined the groove is. There is going to come a point where playing perfectly with the click is not enough. It gets much deeper then that. Where you place the beat in relation to the click is going to have huge effects. But, we’ll get to that later.
Dancing with Myself
I hear from some guitarists that they don’t need to practice with a metronome because they play by themselves. This is a fatal flaw. Just because you’re playing solo doesn’t mean people can’t feel bad time. The greatest musicians have solid time even when they fly solo.
I made a record a fee years ago with Abby Ahmad called “Curriculum”. What was unique in the process of that production was the drums were cut after the acoustic guitar parts. Some of the songs weren’t even recorded to a click. Her timing was rock solid. Everything felt totally natural when the drums were laid down later.
I read a post the other day that laid out some myths about practicing with a metronome . It was said that it’s bad for drummers to play along to music instead of to a click because this doesn’t teach them good time. That’s absurd. A great drummer or guitarists can follow and lead when they need to. You have to be able to do both.
Playing with a click is mostly mental. You develop an inner clock by playing along with the metronome in your head. You don’t just sit around. I’m keeping time in my mind.
I’m playing the rhythms in my head. Too many musicians put the click on and just expect their fingers to lock in. If you can’t verbalized things in time, how can you play them? The orders come from your mind.
Exercises for Practicing with a Metronome on Guitar :
Set the metronome to an average tempo between 92-100. Now, as the click is playing, sing whole notes. (It can be any pitch. The pitch doesn’t matter because were working on rhythm). It’s best it’s a monotone pitch because you don’t need to be distracted about whether you’re hitting the right pitch or not.
Can you land on the downbeat of every bar perfectly? Do not move on until you nail it. It’s possible you may spend several days on each type of note. Example: it may take more then one day to master whole notes.
Once you’ve mastered whole notes, pick up the guitar and play the same exercise on guitar while singing at the same time.
After you’ve nailed that, start at the beginning again but with half notes. Then quarter notes. Then eighth notes.
Don’t get restless practicing with a metronome . I have students that come to guitar lessons and blaze through all the exercises in 5 minutes. They come back in a week and see no progress. Of-course, because the exercises aren’t being practiced properly.
Playing doesn’t bypass your brain. In order to strengthen your chops you have to strengthen your mind and concentration. There is no fast track to mastery. It takes time.
Practice these exercises for 5 minutes a day. Over time you will see a great improvement.
For examples on groove and placement of the the beat, check out “Up for the Downstroke” by Parliament and “Next to You” by the police. You will notice the Parliament song is behind the beat ever so slightly. The police song is on-top of the beat slightly. Neither one is out of time, their relationship to the beat is different. There is mastery in having control over the beat. That starts with getting control over playing with a metronome .