Practicing with a metronome can be invaluable to your success when it comes to learning tough musical passages, getting a song up to tempo and more. But how, when and where should you incorporate it into your routine? Here’s some helpful advice from one of our newest instructors, Andre L…
Name some really great musicians and/or bands – let’s say Marcus Miller, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Victor Wooten, Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, Carlos Santana, Miles Davis and Bob Marley. This list of great musicians can really go on and on. However, do you want to know the one thing they all have in common? Each and every one of them has an essence of musicianship that makes them all extremely talented and professional musicians: great timing! All of these big names spent hours upon hours mastering their crafts on each of their own individual instruments. And if you want to join their league, a metronome is one of the most important things you can include in your practice routine.
I’m sure at one point in your life as a musician you’ve come across a passage or line in sheet music that was super hard to nail. No matter how much you tried to play this passage, even with all the notes perfect pitch for pitch, you just couldn’t seem to try and fit it in with the rest of the song. With a metronome, you can practice that line slowly. Get a feel for it first and try playing each of the notes in succession on a slower bpm (beats per minute). It’s not very often that we’ll always be able to nail something perfectly on the first try, so realize that it’s okay to make mistakes the first, second, or even third time around. Something I have my students do is set the bpms at half the speed of the normal tempo, and just work on hearing how the line is supposed to be played that slowly. I even follow this particular routine myself from time to time. Once you get familiar with the slower tempo, speed it up about 10 bpms every 15 minutes or so until you get it right.
Beginner students can expect to learn a lot of scales and how to incorporate them into their playing. However, one of the first things I always do after teaching them a scale is ask them to practice it with a metronome. There’s nothing more helpful than practicing music to a steady beat. Don’t we all love playing with a drummer? I’m an electric bassist, and any time I can jam with a drummer who has great timing I hop right on the opportunity to do so. I’ve met some insanely talented drummers with amazing timing, much better than myself. Instead of feeling discouraged around them, I take every opportunity with musicians better than myself to learn! Don’t ever feel like you’re a bad player because you can’t keep up with playing alongside a better musician than you; you’re only setting yourself up for failure. However, if you look at the opportunity you have placed yourself in as a learning experience, you’ll be on the right path to setting yourself up for success.
Now, although practicing with a metronome can have pros, it can also have its cons as well. For instance, using it too frequently can hinder the development of a natural sense of rhythm and feel. Every musician has a metronome, but we all have a different way of feeling music, or as I like to call, grooving. No matter what style of music you’re playing, you’ve got to be able to find the groove and lock into it.
Yes, using a metronome can get boring, monotonous and painstakingly difficult, but the end result will be worth it. We all start somewhere, and although there are no shortcuts on the road to success, the possible outcomes are limitless. So you want to be a great musician? Get a metronome at a local music shop or online music store and start grooving! Play on!
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Andre L. teaches bass guitar, guitar, clarinet, music performance, music recording, music theory, percussion, trombone, and tuba lessons to students in Deer Park, NY. He joined the TakeLessons team in June 2012. Sign up for lessons with Andre, or visit TakeLessons to search for a teacher near you!
Photo by Charles B. Owen