Metronomes are often overlooked; dismissed as an unnecessary instrument by guitar players, many of which learned the instrument casually or informally. Anyone who’s had lessons as a child will shudder at the thought of the metronome’s irrefutable and domineering grip as it swiftly induces a solemn reverence out of everyone unfortunate enough to be within is tyrannical proximity, tick, tick, tick……gulp.
I think the main aversion people have towards the metronome arises out of the realization that metronomes demand perfection out of players and more frustratingly reveal imperfections and errors in ones timing. You really can’t refute a metronome because unlike you (the player), the metronome does not make mistakes.
I have had students who were in such denial that they actually came to the conclusion that the metronome itself was in fact broken and it was not them who was falling out of time, needless to say I quickly discovered that it wasn’t the metronome that was broken.
Why Use A Metronome?
The metronome is an invaluable tool that helps you develop you own internal metronome. It also improves your ability to play in time, which is imperative especially if you want to play in a band. The trick is to know when to use a metronome and how to use it. A common mistake beginners make starting out with a metronome is they set the tempo too fast. This can cause guitar students to develop bad habits and to give up because they soon find that it’s too difficult for them.
When using a metronome or performing a particular exercise you should always start at a slow tempo, this allows you to develop your technique prior to increasing the speed. Make sure you can perform the exercise at slower speed before increasing it. When you do increase the speed increase it by 5 BPM at the most.
Start Slow…Then Pick Up Speed
Most students overestimate their ability to play a new guitar practice exercise in time at a fast tempo or they’re impatient and want to start playing fast right away, this causes bad habits to develop. Practice at a slow tempo until you feel comfortable enough to increase the tempo a notch then make sure you can perform the exercise cleanly at that faster tempo before proceeding. Personally I find that learning the exercise at a slow tempo a first is fairly easy until I reach a plateau and my fingers are simply not strong enough to play it faster. At this point I record my maximum speed for a period of either a week or a month and keep practicing to my peak until I can play it fluently at my desired speed.
I don’t practice just at my current max speed however. Instead I would generally start at a slow tempo to warm up with. I might play the exercise for maybe ten minutes or variations of it and then start gradually increasing my speed again before returning to what my max speed previously was. After a few minutes of playing at my max speed, I will attempt to increase my speed to say 108 and play at this tempo for a few minutes. Sometimes you may find it to be too difficult or too fast so you’ll have to reduce the tempo to maybe 100 before putting it back to 104 again, but if 108 feels comfortable you can record that as your maximum speed for the next session and begin from there. If it was too fast you’ll have to come back to it the next day and your max speed will remain at 104.
Also Practice Without The Metronome
Remember it’s very important that you warm up at a slow speed first. It can be detrimental to your progress if you begin at a speed that is too fast for your fingers to handle and can also cause injury and bad habits to develop. Your initial speed isn't an accurate indication of your playing ability. Secondly, for your guitar practice routine don’t always use a metronome. You don’t want to become dependent on a metronome for rhythm. It’s more helpful as an aid in the development of your technique when learning new guitar exercises, but you should be able to play with or without a metronome in time.
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