Practicing With a Metronome

A metronome is a device that produces a regulated pulse, and is used to establish a steady beat, or tempo, measured in beats per minute (BPM). Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel is credited with inventing this device in Amsterdam in 1812. Ludwig van Beethoven was the first major composer to use the metronome. Of course, with the advent of electronics, and then the internet, there are a wide variety of metronomes today that are in many respects superior to the old wind-up models!

if you want to be a fast and clean flatpicker, one of the smartest things you can do is to practice using a metronome. you may say, “I don’t have a metronome.” Well, I will not allow you to use that as an excuse–because you can now go to an online metronome any time you wish, and it doesn’t cost you a cent! Just go to:

So, now you have a metronome. Now you might wonder, “Why do I need a metronome?” you may think you have a perfectly good sense of rhythm. be willing to be shocked as you start to practice with a metronome. Though you think you are playing those bluegrass licks, fiddle tunes, or lead guitar breaks quite well, you may discover that you are playing some of the parts well, while you are quite sloppy on other parts–and you didn’t even know it–until it was exposed by that nasty, mean metronome!

How do you begin to practice with the metronome? Decide which tune you want to practice and adjust the timing of the metronome until its rhythm is at a pace that is much slower than you would ever play the tune. Yes, that’s right–much slower! By forcing yourself to play slower you are really getting in touch with what is in fact going on in the piece of music you are playing. You are becoming intimate with it. Plus, you are establishing the pattern by which your fingers will learn to obey your brain, and your brain will learn what to tell your fingers to do. Rob Gravelle, guitarist for Ivory Knight, suggested, “In my opinion the purpose of practice is to fine tune the muscle memory so that the muscles obey the brain with a minimum of conscious intervention – whether the practice is for music, sports, whatever…”

as you are playing your guitar at an abnormally slow pace you will find out that you didn’t really know those licks as well when you thought you did. You were fooling yourself. Now, after this humbling experience, and after you have played the tune many times at that painfully slow cadence, kick it up a notch (as Emeril would say!). Set the metronome one step faster and repeatedly play the piece at the new setting. Then take it up another notch. And another. However, never set the metronome at a speed exceptionally which you can play the whole piece you are practicing cleanly and with perfect timing.

Before you set the speed too high, listen to the notes you are playing within each measure. Consider the context and richness of each note. Experiment by accenting several notes in each phrase. Then play identical phrases and accent different notes. You are setting the stage to express some great dynamics that you had never considered!

Gradually, take the metronome to a higher speed. This is where it gets to be funny! You learn to play the whole piece (including the most difficult licks) perfectly at one pace and you reward yourself by graduating to the level.

I have found the metronome to be a most priceless tool in terms of instilling confidence for playing acoustic guitar solos. Practice with a metronome and don’t take shortcuts: The reward will be well worth the hard work!

Copyright © 2007 Lee Griffith. All rights reserved.


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