Will A Metronome Make You A Better Guitar Player?
Which of these statements do you think is true?
- 1) Using a metronome will greatly improve your guitar playing
- 2) Using a metronome will hold back your guitar playing progress
If you said number 1, you're right!
But if you said number 2...you're also right!
The metronome is an essential tool every guitar player should use. However, it's important to use it at the right times and as part of your practice routine. Not for all of your practice.
Why Use A Metronome?
The biggest reason to use a metronome is to keep time. When you tap your foot along with your playing you naturally slow down and/or speed up. This happens subconsciously for most people. It takes years of practice to develop a good internal metronome where your timing is really good on its own.
But it's really hard to play something you're not very comfortable with AND keep on beat. Even if the tempo is really slow. Sometimes we have to work things out with our hands and mind before thinking about turning the metronome on.
Metronomes are really great tools for 3 reasons:
They keep your tempo honest. This is what I was talking about before. We naturally speed up and slow down when we play on our own. Metronomes keep us on beat and help us develop better timing and rhythm.
They can help measure your progress. It's not the only way, but it is a good way to measure your progress. Progress happens slowly. Sometimes we don't even notice it. If you played a chord progression at 70 bpm (beats per minute) last week and you can play it at 75bpm this week, that's noticeable. And it can be very encouraging.
It helps you slow down and get it right. This one is not so obvious. Humans aren't the most patient. So we tend to rush things to force progress. Slowing down makes you get those details right.
When NOT to Use A Metronome
I had a student come to me recently to tell me how much he's been struggling with a metronome. He went on to say how he uses it all the time and it distracted his playing. He seemed to overthink everything when using a metronome. Things he could play fine without a metronome had to be slowed way down just to play along.
He was so focused on using the metronome that he stopped focusing on what he was practicing.
Use the metronome for some of your practice, but not all. That's the key. Out of a 20 minute practice session use the metronome for 2-4 minutes. Use it when you're trying to build speed or keep yourself honest with time.
And it's almost never a good idea to use it when you're just learning something.
How To Use A Metronome
So what are some ways you can use a metronome as a helpful tool?
I love using metronomes to practice basic exercises. It can be single notes like a scale, or a chord progression where I'm focusing on my timing. I actually keep a practice log. It lists what I did for practice on a given day and the tempo I practiced it at. I'll get up to a tempo that's pushing me a little and write it down. Then I'll try to beat that tempo in the next few sessions.
Just make sure you're not sacrificing quality for speed! Playing fast and sloppy never sounds good. But playing slower and clean always does.
Metronomes are unforgiving. They'll tell you when something is wrong. This can be used to help you see where you're struggling. One example I see in beginner students is changing chords. I might have them strum a chord once in the measure. Then twice. Then on all 4 beats. It will be pretty clear if they need to work on chord change timing.
And when that happens metronomes can be used to work on this. Slow down the tempo and dial in the chord changes. Then once it sounds good you can start to speed it up.
When you use a metronome right, it can be a great tool. So use it wisely and see just how much progress you can make.
Do you use a metronome? Let me know why you do or don't use one in the comments!