Do you really have to practice with a metronome?

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 Why use a metronome?

Take a moment to imagine if our speech was spoken with long time intervals in between each word. We use symbols such as the period to complete our sentences and the comma to organize our thoughts into comprehendible sentences. This creates the right space within our spoken speech to where it is fluent and understandable. With music, we apply the same concept, where we use rhythms to organize our notes and rests to complete our musical phrases. Playing the guitar can be combined into the marriage of the notes that we play (pitch) and the timing in which we play those notes (rhythm). The tool that you use to effectively bind these two things together is a metronome.

Aside from making our playing more comprehendible, practicing with a metronome holds a number of other benefits. Another important advantage is building the ability to perform while having another entity in mind. If you ever want to play with another musician, rhythm is essential to keeping your sense of timing together – it is part of the language. It also develops an internal sense of rhythm and timing, so when you step away from it you have a more balanced and even tempo. You can get metronomes physically, online, or as a phone app using your smart phone (and many of the free ones work great!) 

What are the functions of a metronome?

There are a few things you need to know about using your metronome to start using it effectively in your practice routine. The first would be the number that you set your tempo to, or the beats per minute (BPM). This is how many times you will hear the click in the time span of one minute (i.e., a metronome set at 120 will click 120 times in one minute). Most songs will have a specific BPM that they are set to. The next is the time signature, which you want to set to match the song that you are playing. While your most popular time signature is 4/4, try switching to ¾ and listen to the difference. A lot of the digital metronomes include handy features such as different sound sets, full screen flashing on certain beats, and even color schemes.

How do I apply a metronome into my practice routine?

There are a number of exercises you can do with a metronome to help improve your playing speed as well as helping with your timing. Here are a few examples that I use in my lessons.

Exercise 1: Checking your alternate picking speed.

Try out this exercise with your metronome. We use open strings here because we want to accentuate the focus on the picking hand, without having to be distracted by a tricky riff in the fretting hand. Use alternate (up and down) picking.

-Set your metronome to 50 BPM

-Increase by increments of 5 until you accidentally start picking the wrong string.

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Exercise 2: Monitoring Your Chord Transitioning Speed

Try strumming an E chord followed by A Minor:

-Set your metronome to 60 BPM in 4/4 timing.

-Start by strumming each chord one time every four beats, or for the length of whole notes.

-Then try strumming each chord every two beats, for the length of half notes.

-Try strumming each chord on every beat, for the length of quarter notes.

-Strum up and down two times per beat, for the length of eighth notes.

-Increase your metronome speed by increments of 5.

Exercise 3: Locking into the rhythm of your songs

This exercise works great from just learning new sections of songs to polishing up the timing on a piece of sheet music that you are reading. Set your metronome to the BPM of your piece and lock into the rhythm with the metronome. Start slow then gradually get faster.

Tip: The metronome is an essential tool to creating and setting goals for yourself, which I spoke more of in my last article Beginner’s Guide to Guitar Practice. Try logging your Metronome speed and increasing that number by 5 BPM each week. You can download your very own metronome log here.

Can I practice my rhythm while I am not near a metronome?

While practicing with your metronome will be the most effective way to practice, there are alternatives to practicing rhythms when you are not able to use it. If you are able to access the song that you are learning, playing along with the track simultaneously helps keep your rhythm and is a fun way to practice. Any type of body movement can help with keeping a steady rhythm, such as nodding your head or tapping your foot.

Tip: If we are not by a metronome, there are ways to get a close estimate of a speed we are working on. Remember that BPM count the number of beats per minute, so if we are counting 60 BPM, we can count them the same as we do seconds. Count that rhythm in eigth notes(or double it), and you are at 120 BPM which is a common speed to practice at.

Are there alternatives to using a metronome?

While the classic metronome is a very effective way to practice, there are alternatives that make practicing a bit less tedious. One way to still use the function of the metronome in a fun and more real time feel is to use a drum machine, such as the guitar-geared drum machine called Beat Buddy. It is an essential tool for guitar players, from beginner to advanced, that allows you to keep the functionality of a metronome while adding the real time sound and feel of an actual drummer. It functions as a standard guitar pedal, but is a great assistant to any practice routine. They are coming out with a mini version of their product that will be available for purchase at Christmas time 2015, which will be much more portable and able to better serve any practice schedule at $149. Remember, nothing can make you progress as quickly as taking private music lessons consistently to track your progress and reach your goals!

You can find more free lessons and videos of my playing on YouTube. You can also find out more information about me, get more materials, free lessons, blogs, and private lesson information at www.YouPickMusic.com.