In this article we're going to look at how to use a metronome for beginners.
Regardless of what instrument you play – guitar, bass, drums, piano or otherwise – it’s important to develop a good sense of timing and rhythm.
After all, music is made up of three elements – melody, harmony and rhythm.
There is nothing else to understand or improve upon beyond these core components.
Working on your rhythm, however, is kind of a tricky thing.
You need a device to keep you honest – tapping your foot isn’t enough, because honestly there’s no one on this planet that can tap out a beat consistently without losing time.
That’s where metronomes come in.
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Why Should I Use A Metronome When Practicing?
It’s important for musicians to develop a solid rhythmic feel.
But why is this?
If you intend to keep music a hobby and never plan to record, perform or jam with anyone else, then this is entirely unnecessary.
Otherwise, a metronome is a critical practice tool.
Most recordings are recorded to a “click”, which is essentially the same as a metronome.
As a session musician or recording artist, you must be able to play in time with a click.
Though metronomes aren’t always used in live situations (sometimes they are), for a band to be tight, they must be in sync rhythmically.
The same goes for jamming.
Not that there’s any pressure to be perfect when you’re jamming with other musicians, but it can be a lot more fun when everyone is playing to the same beat.
Finally, practicing with a metronome can help you build your accuracy and speed.
Many instrumentalists, when they’re first getting started, want to be able to play fast.
What they don’t realize is that speed comes from accuracy.
Playing fast and sloppy isn’t of much use.
So, you must practice playing accurately.
And, you can build your speed by starting at a low setting, gradually increasing it by five to 10 bpm until you feel comfortable with it and keep advancing as your playing levels up (be patient as this takes time).
How To Use A Metronome Effectively
I’ve already offered a brief description of how to use a metronome to build your speed:
- Turn the metronome on.
- Start it at a lower setting, like 50 or 60 bpm.
- Practice your exercises, riff, lick or song along to the beat the metronome pounds out.
- When you feel comfortable playing along with the beat, increase the bpm by five to 10 bpm.
- Go back to step three. Rinse and repeat.
But metronomes aren’t just for building your speed.
You can also use your metronome:
When Practicing A Riff
Maybe you’ve figured out the notes to one of your favorite riffs but don’t know how the phrasing goes just yet.
Playing along to a metronome can help you figure out where to place the accents, where the rests are, how the riff interacts with the rhythm and so on.
You can improve your understanding of rhythm by practicing riffs to a metronome.
When Writing A Song
Songwriters aren’t always thinking about the tempo of their song or how their riffs blend rhythmically while in the process of writing.
Once you’ve figured out your parts (lyrics, melody, accompaniment, etc.), it’s time to throw on the metronome and figure out what tempo to play your song at.
This can have several benefits:
- You can figure out if any of your riffs don’t connect tempo or rhythm wise (before you go into the studio and begin recording – you might end up having to rework the song if you leave it to chance).
- You can determine the exact tempo for your song, which again, can help with recording and performing.
- You can tighten your song’s arrangement.
When Practicing A Song
Musicians know the importance of practicing before a performance (or before going into the studio) but sometimes forget to nail down the tempo and rhythm of the music.
When you’re practicing a song, it can be helpful to play along to a set tempo, to ingrain the rhythm in your mind.
Your band will love you for it, assuming they’re committed to the same thing.
Otherwise, you can come off as a rhythm Nazi and that can be exhausting for all involved.
It’s good to work on your tempo, but sometimes songs just “settle” into a nice groove without you forcing it and it’s important to know when to let things flow.
What Exactly Is A Metronome & How Does It Work?
Earlier, I mentioned a “device” that keeps you honest rhythmically and that’s exactly what a metronome is.
Metronomes come in many forms – mechanical, digital, built-in (for Digital Audio Workstations/recording software), online and even smartphone or tablet apps.
Here's an example of a “click” metronome within a DAW (notice the settings in the lower left hand corner):
And, here's an example of a metronome app for iPad (Pro Metronome):
You can set them to a tempo of your choosing, though most metronomes have limitations in terms of how slow or how fast they can go.
Mechanical metronomes (as seen in the pictures scattered throughout this guide) are exactly as they sound.
They produce a machine-like “tick” for each beat and sometimes a “ding” on a chosen beat (e.g. the first beat).
Many modern metronomes can produce a variety of sounds depending on your preference – hi-hat, snare, kick, cowbell, woodblock and so forth.
Some are more authentic sounding than others, but they all serve the same purpose – to create a rhythmic structure you can play along to.
How To Use A Metronome, Final Thoughts
I encourage students to practice to a metronome.
But it’s not necessary to play everything along to a metronome.
When you’re learning something new, it can be of value.
When you’re working on your speed drills, it can be helpful.
Even when you’re writing songs, putting on a click can inspire ideas.
But it can be annoying to keep a click going during your entire practice session – especially if it goes on for hours.
So, dedicate a segment of your practice sessions to working with a click – not the entire session.