Saturday, 16 February 2013

Confession #5 - Use a Metronome!

... or a Drum Machine, or a Multi-Effects Pedal,  or an Electronic Keyboard

One of the most important skills for any musician to develop is a sense of rhythm.  You may play brilliantly, but if you can’t play in time with a metronome or other musicians, then you'll be stuck in your basement forever.  To some people, this skill may come easy, while for others it will take some practice.  But it can be learned.


Now, just because you are able to play along with the record doesn’t mean that you’ve mastered this skill.  When you play along with the record you have an example to follow and are subconsciously picking up on other cues in the recording.  None of these things will be present if it’s just you and a metronome, or you and a bass player and a drummer.


Metronomes are really, really boring musically, but are also pretty inexpensive.  Consider stepping up to a drum machine, or a multi-effects unit with a built in drum machine (I have the Digitech RP-250), or better yet an electronic keyboard (I have the Yamaha Portatone PSR-E403).  All will provide you with a variety of beats to practice with. 

Digitech RP-250 Multi-Effects Pedal

Yamaha Portatone PSR-E403

An electronic keyboard has some additional benefits:

  • If it has auto-accompaniment, you can use it for one chord jams in a variety of musical styles, and
  • The piano keyboard can be a useful tool for learning and understanding musical theory because it has  easily recognizable patterns.  Patterns are harder to see on the fretboard, so this can make it hard to grasp musical concepts and relationships.

Spot the C Major Scale on the Keyboard

Now find it on the Fretboard !?!?!?


Hopefully I’ve convinced you that using a metronome has many benefits:

·        It's like truth serum for your playing.  If your rhythm is off, it will show.
·        It will help you develop a feel for a steady rhythm.  You'll play better when there isn’t a beat available.
·        It's great for rythym training exercises (e.g. learning to play 16th notes at 100 bpm)

The most important thing to remember when using a metronome is to:

            Know the part before playing with the metronome!

There's no point in putting a beat on until you know the part you are trying to play.  If you are constantly starring at the TAB and still working on fingerings, the beat will just drive you mad and hinder your progress. You don't have to have the part fully memorized, but your fingers should already know where they want to go as your eyes move quickly over the TAB.

The other most important thing to remember is to:

            Start Slowly!

If you set a tempo that is too fast, then you will make mistakes.  Worse, you will probably persist at that tempo (You’re probably telling yourself that “I should be able to do this!”) and keep making more mistakes.  What ends up happening is that you practice making mistakes instead of practicing playing correctly.  Don't practice making mistakes!

Start with a tempo that you can play comfortably at without any mistakes.  Stick at this tempo and develop a feel for the part you are practicing and develop your muscle memory for playing it correctly.  Slowly speed up the tempo, even if it’s only 4 bpm at a time.  If you speed up the tempo and find yourself making mistakes, go back to the original tempo and practice playing it correctly.  

Remember, you are not going to get a new part up to tempo in one evening.  It may take several days of slowly increasing the tempo to get up to speed.

Don't practice the same thing for more than 5 or 10 minutes per session.  If you practice one part for 30 minutes,  it is more likely to hinder than help your progress.  Keep the practice short and give your brain a chance to digest.


While you are developing a feel for rhythm, you need to keep it simple and slowly increase the difficulty.  Start with just whole notes and strum a chord on every beat 1.  If this is going well, then try strumming on beat 1 and beat 3 (i.e. half notes).  Next step up to quarter notes (i.e. beat 1, 2, 3 and 4), etc.

Alternatively,  stick with whole notes, but change chords every time beat 1 comes around.  Try  the following I-vi-IV-V7 progression in the key of G:


I’ll talk more about this progression in a future Confession.


The last thing you hear is what’s going to stick in your brain.  This is why it is critical that you finish your practice session by playing the new part you’re learning correctly.  It’s great to increase the tempo during your practice session and push yourself, but always finish your session by slowing it down to a comfortable tempo and playing the part correctly.  This is what your brain will remember.

Get your gear today with the AMS Easy Payment Plan

Next Week's Confession - Warm Up! - Exercise #1

No comments:

Post a Comment