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7 Ideas On Using A Metronome
Effectively For Guitarists


Rhythm is, to me, the most important element of music. It is so essential to have good rhythm if you are a musician. You might still fluff the odd note, or fumble a chord, but if your rhythm is great most people won’t care. (The musicians in the audience might, but they aren’t going to be your biggest fans anyway!).

However, if your rhythm is off, EVERYONE will know, musician or not. They will be able to feel that your music does not “groove”, it doesn’t have a good “feel”. These are ways of saying that the pattern the brain is expecting from the music is interrupted in unpleasant ways. The part of the brain that processes rhythm is in the cerebellum, the most ancient part of the brain that deals with motor control (controlling physical movements). It is extremely fast at processing this information, and it can tell if the rhythm is even a tiny bit off.

Every musician should work on improving their rhythm skills by working with a metronome. There is a story that George Benson tells; he has the metronome that Wes Montgomery used, and when he first saw Wes with it, he said to himself, “Wow, Montgomery uses a metronome! Is that why he’s so good? Maybe I better get me a metronome!”.

Here are some different ways you can practice with a metronome. I would recommend not doing this if you are a total beginner, but for a late beginner to early intermediate player, this will help your time a lot.

There are many free metronome apps for your tablet or smartphone if you don’t have a hardware metronome. Pro Metronome is the one I use, it’s great.

1. Play one note in different subdivisions

Put your metronome on slow speed, say around 50BPM to begin. Now try to play one note along with the metronome for a few minutes, really trying to get every single note right on time with the metronome click.

When you can do it consistently, increase your notes to 2 notes per click. If that is easy, try 4. For intermediate to advanced players, try odd subdivisions such as 3, 5, or 7 notes per click. And try changing subdivision every 4 beats – that gets REALLY hard!

2. Play a scale in different subdivisions

Do the same exercise as no 1, except instead of only playing 1 note, play a whole scale up and down. If that’s too hard, you can start with a portion of a scale. Try just 4 notes up and down to begin.

3. Play a 4 bar loop

Adjust your metronome so there is an accent on beat 1 of every 4 beats. Now you can practice 1, 2 or 4 bars of a solo, melody or try improvising, and you will know if you drop or add a beat, because the accent will tell you where the 1 is each bar.

Adjust your metronome so there is an accent on beat 1 of every 4 beats. Now you can practice 1, 2 or 4 bars of a solo, melody or try improvising, and you will know if you drop or add a beat, because the accent will tell you where the 1 is each bar.

4. Improvise with the metronome on 2 and 4

In jazz music the drummer usually plays the closed hi hat on beats 2 and 4. So jazz musicians when they practice with a metronome, often put the metronome on the 2 and 4. How do you do this? Follow these steps:

1. Put the metronome on half the speed of the piece you want to practice. For example if you want to practice at 120BPM, put the metronome on 60BPM
2. Do not have any accents on the metronome
3. Start counting 1, 2, 3, 4 along with the metronome, but start IN BETWEEN clicks. So “1” comes in between clicks, “2” falls on a click, “3” is in between clicks, and “4” falls on a click
4. Count yourself in and begin playing, keeping the metronome on beats 2 and 4. It might be tricky at first but you will get the hang of it!

5. Improvise with the metronome on 40 BPM one click per bar

The less beats the metronome clicks on, the more your sense of time is tested. So if the metronome only clicks on 2 beats of the bar instead of all 4, like in the last exercise, that is slightly harder and better for your sense of time. After all, it makes sense that you don’t want to rely too much on the metronome all the time, do you? You want to gradually become more and more independent of the metronome while still maintaining great timing.

This exercise takes this one step further – instead of having the metronome click on 2 beats of the bar, have it click on just one. So if you want to play at 160BPM, set the metronome to 40BPM, and count 1,2,3,4 in the space of 1 click. Practice along with the metronome click falling on the 1st beat of the bar.

To make this harder, try playing along with the metronome’s click falling on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th beat of the bar!

6. Practice an odd metre groove in 5 or 7

Set your metronome click to have an accent every 5 or 7 beats and practice over that. This can be tricky until you learn to internalise the new amount of beats in each bar. I found this type of practice invaluable to learning to play in odd time signatures.

7. Play any song you are learning

Take any of these exercises, and instead of using one note, or a scale, or improvising, apply a whole song you have learnt. In other words, put the metronome on as described in one of these exercises, and play a whole song without losing the time. This is really hard if you are playing a fast song and you try to keep the metronome only clicking once per bar on the 4th beat for example.

Have fun

These types of rhythmical exercises are fun and challenging. I hope you enjoy improving your rhythm skills using them. If you are in Dublin, Ireland, and want to find a teacher who will help you become the guitar player you really want to be, check out these guitar lessons in Dublin.