Episode 15 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at three ways you can use a metronome to improve your guitar skills.
Whether you’ve spent some time practicing with a metronome or not, this episode will give you some new ways to practice and how useful a metronome can be.
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If you don’t already use a metronome, you have two choices. You can either buy a physical metronome or get a metronome app on your smartphone or tablet.
I recommend using an app because they often include features that aren’t available in physical metronomes.
The below screenshots of some popular metronome apps show how customizable they can be with precise tempo settings, beat subdivisions, polyrhythms, and more.
Search for ‘metronome’ in your app store of choice and try a few free apps out. You may find a simple metronome app like ‘The Metronome’ by Soundbrenner suits you or you may prefer something crammed with features like ‘Tempo’ for iOS.
If you really want a physical metronome, I recommend getting a digital one. While it might look good to have one of the old-style pendulum metronomes, they’re not very useful when you want to dial in specific tempos or subdivisions.
Metronome Rhythm Exercises
As the episode explains, one of the powerful ways you can use a metronome is to develop your rhythm skills.
The below exercises are simple rhythm exercises designed to test out your current rhythm skills and to find areas you should work on.
Listen to the episode for advice on how to practice these exercises and make sure you can play them flawlessly at a variety of tempos.
This simple exercise is a basic starting test. If you have trouble with this exercise, spend some time working on it with a very slow tempo to get used to splitting the beat up.
Work on this strumming lesson if you have trouble with this rhythm exercise.
This exercise should feel almost as easy as exercise 1. This one shifts some focus to off-beat rhythm. So if you have trouble with this exercise, spend some time practicing counting the off-beats in your head.
This exercise introduces sixteenth notes. Use a slower tempo on the metronome to feel comfortable with the pattern, then gradually increase the tempo.
Triplets often feel awkward at first, so if you have trouble with this exercise, look up some lessons on triplets and practice them until they feel natural. Being able to play triplets effortlessly is something a lot of guitarists aren’t able to do. So if you can develop this skill, your rhythm skills will immediately be better than most other guitarists.
The challenge with this exercise is feeling comfortable with the long pauses. If you’re not used to sight-reading, this may be challenging at first. Just get used to splitting the four beats per bar up and take it one bar at a time.
If you can play all of these exercises flawlessly every time at a wide range of tempos, you’re ahead of most guitarists in terms of a sense of rhythm. If you can’t play all of these flawlessly, follow the advice covered in the episode and you’ll gradually get there.
Podcast Episode 15 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 15 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.
In this short episode, I’ll explain three ways you can use a metronome to become a better guitarist.
Even if you’ve used a metronome before, have a listen to these three methods to get some new ideas or ways of practicing.
If you haven’t used a metronome seriously before, this episode will make it clear how useful they can be and how much of an impact one can have on your progress.
The first way to use a metronome is what everybody knows to use it for – building speed. The metronome is the perfect tool to help you build up your speed with any technique, lick, or scale.
The basic idea is that you start by playing something such as a scale run along with a metronome set at a comfortable tempo. Then if you can perfectly play along with that tempo, you gradually raise the tempo. You keep gradually raising the tempo until you start to make mistakes. Then you back the tempo off slightly and keep practicing.
Every day you follow this practice routine, you’ll notice that the highest tempo you can reach without making any mistakes gradually rises. If at day one you could only play the scale run to 120 bpm, you may find that by day five you can easily play at 150 bpm without any mistakes.
If you’ve ever heard guitarists play blisteringly fast parts flawlessly, they likely developed those skills using this method with a metronome.
Now here’s something that a lot of guitarists get wrong when it comes to speed. You might be thinking to yourself, “well, I don’t play a fast shreddy style, so this isn’t relevant to me”.
Even if you have no interest in playing fast, I still recommend you add this to your practice routine.
Because it’s really not about speed, it’s about control.
If you use a metronome to build your speed on something up to 180 bpm and the song is only 150 bpm, you’re not just building up speed that you’ll never use when you play the song.
You’re building up control over your playing. Being able to play something at 180 bpm when you only need to learn it at 150 bpm is like polishing your playing to a mirror finish.
When you go to play the song at 150 bpm, it’s going to feel effortless.
That extra 30 bpm pushes you to play better in a way that you can never do if you only practiced the part at the song’s tempo.
Anybody listening who has done this knows exactly what I’m talking about. But if you haven’t, it might seem strange.
The reason I recommend using a metronome to work on speed even if you have no interest in playing fast is that it adds so much control to your playing.
If you want to see for yourself what I’m talking about here, pick a scale run or lick you already know and use a metronome to push yourself past your current limits.
If you can learn to play the song at least 30 bpm faster than you currently can play it, you’ll see what I mean when I say this method adds so much control to your abilities.
When you go back to playing the part at the normal tempo, you’ll feel the difference.
Okay, hopefully, I’ve made it clear why you should consider using a metronome this way. I could talk about this for an entire episode, but let’s move on to other uses of the metronome.
Sense of Timing
The second way I suggest using a metronome is to work on your sense of timing. Any time you use a metronome, it helps improve your sense of timing.
But what I’m talking about is practicing in a specific way to improve your sense of timing.
Here’s a quick test to check your current sense of timing. I’m going to play a metronome set at a slow tempo for eight clicks. Listen to the first two clicks, then try to clap along with the next six clicks in time.
Oh, and I’ll just mention that some podcasts apps automatically remove silence, so I’ve added some white noise behind the clicks to try and stop that from happening.
If you speed up playback in your podcast app, temporarily slow it down to normal for this test or it’s not going to work.
Ready? Here we go.
How did you go? Did you manage to time your first clap perfectly after only listening to the first two clicks? Did you sync up all six claps perfectly? Or was it only the last few clicks where you managed to sync up?
Trying to keep time with such a ridiculously slow tempo is hard. But it’s a great way to test your sense of timing.
How quickly you were able to sync up with the metronome after only listening to two clicks tells you a lot about your sense of timing.
How accurate your claps were also reveals a lot about your internal sense of timing.
You’ll probably never need to play along with a song at 20 bpm, but it’s the exact same skill you’ll use for playing along at any tempo.
The great thing about the metronome is that you can use it to improve your results at this test and your overall sense of timing.
If you want to improve your sense of timing, here’s a simple exercise.
Start with a metronome at a moderately paced tempo such as 120 bpm. Just like this test, listen to a couple of clicks, then either clap your hands or strum a muted chord hit in sync with the click.
The reason I recommend using a muted chord hit is so you get a better idea of how accurately you timed your hit. If you let the chord ring out, it masks imperfections in your timing. So only practice with muted chord hits.
Listen closely to each click and how precise your timing was. If your muted chord hit was a bit late, try to compensate for the next click.
Keep working at this tempo until you can perfectly sync up your timing without any mistakes.
If this feels easy, slightly lower the tempo to 115 or 110 bpm. Listen to a couple of clicks, then try to play along in the same way.
When working on speed, we gradually raise the tempo to push ourselves. When working on your sense of timing, lower the tempo.
Lowering the tempo stretches the gap between clicks out further. This makes it harder to keep your internal clock in sync. But just like working on speed, practicing this helps you gradually improve your timing.
Practice at 115 or 110 bpm over and over until your timing is flawless. Then gradually lower the tempo to 105 or 100.
Eventually, you’ll start to find it difficult to keep sync with such long gaps between clicks.
Just like the other exercise, if you practice this method every day, you’ll start to notice that you can gradually play at lower tempo over time without any imperfections.
If you keep working on this, eventually you’ll be able to play flawlessly to ridiculously slow tempos like the earlier test.
Just like the practice routine for speed, this one really isn’t about how slow you can play along with the click. It’s all about control. If you can keep flawless timing at 20 bpm, you’ll have no issues at any higher tempo.
If you haven’t spent time working on this before, I recommend working on it daily for at least two weeks. You might feel you only need a few days worth of practice, but if you stick with it for two weeks, you’ll see a massive change in your sense of timing.
Let’s move on to a similar skill you can work on with a metronome.
The third way you can use a metronome is to work on rhythm. Now this isn’t the same as your sense of timing, but it’s closely related.
When working on your sense of timing, it’s all about how well your internal clock can keep a steady tempo.
When working on your rhythm, it’s all about how well you can split up your internal clock into different patterns.
The typical way guitarists learn basic rhythm is to split up the beat. You start by strumming once per click, then strum twice per click, then four, then eight. Most guitarists learn rhythm in this way, by learning to subdivide the beat.
Then you might start mixing up the pattern such as playing a one beat strum, then split the next beat up in two, then back to one, and so on.
I have listed a handful of simple rhythm exercises with TAB and standard notation on the page for this episode. If you haven’t worked on simple rhythm exercises like this before, just follow those exercises along with a metronome.
This is a basic skill every guitarist should be able to play flawlessly, so run through those exercises with a metronome to test your rhythm skills.
But a metronome can help you take your rhythm skills much further.
If you really want to improve your rhythm skills, don’t look for guitar rhythm exercises. Instead, I recommend looking at how drummers practice rhythm. Watch a few lessons on YouTube for drummers and you’ll see how they think about rhythm and how they split rhythms up.
Even if you don’t know anything about drums, there’s a lot you can learn from these lessons.
Learning to think about rhythm like a drummer can make a big difference to your rhythm skills.
Watch a lesson for drummers on polyrhythms and you’ll see how drummers take complex-sounding rhythms and break them down into simple exercises.
You can take any of the exercises you see for drummers and use them to work on your guitar rhythm skills. If the lesson focuses on bass drum timing, simply follow the bass drum pattern by strumming muted chord hits.
Then take that pattern and practice it with a metronome at a tempo you find comfortable.
The key point to remember is that practicing different rhythm patterns and subdivisions along with a metronome can have a massive impact on your rhythm skills.
If you really want to develop the best rhythm skills, study rhythm lessons for drummers and apply those patterns to your guitar.
So hopefully I’ve made it clear how you can use the metronome to work on different types of skills. Building up your speed, improving your sense of timing, and working on rhythm skills are all crucial skills I suggest everybody work on.
As I mentioned earlier, even if you have no interest in playing fast, I still recommend using a metronome to build your speed up. It’s not really about speed, it’s about control.
I have written quite a few exercises with Guitar TAB and standard notation you can use to get you started. Check out the exercises above this transcript.
The page also suggests different metronome apps or gear you can use if you don’t already have a metronome.
Try working on these three areas with a metronome for the next two weeks and stick with them. You may not notice any obvious improvements for the first few days, but if you stick with them you’ll see gradual improvements to your timing and rhythm.
Check out the exercises on the website and I’ll talk to you next time.