Do you want your band to sound even better? (Who doesn’t?!) Here, San Diego, CA teacher Maegan W. shares her secret for improving the group’s sound as well as your individual musical skills…
Do you think a metronome is just a personal preference for some musicians? Are you one of those musicians who KNOWS your time is perfect and unmatched? Well I’ve got news for you — it probably isn’t as spot-on as you think.
Most fights in bands are due to someone being off-time, and unable to accept that it is them. The truth is that most people honestly believe they are on time. As a drummer, I learned a long time ago the only way to know for sure how good your timing really is, is to use a metronome.
I’m not suggesting that you always play, practice, and perform with your metronome — not all music calls for that. What I am suggesting is that you take your musicianship to a whole other level, and take your power back! There is no greater feeling than knowing 100% where each note, beat, lick, and fill fits in the time and space of the song.
Singer-songwriters and guitar players… I’m calling you out. I challenge you to use a metronome when practicing and learning songs. I have played with so many amazingly talented musicians, guitar-playing singer-songwriters who performed and sounded fantastic alone, but when it came to a band setting, they were like complete beginners. Don’t let this be you.
Here are some ideas on how to get comfortable with the metronome as you’re singing or playing guitar with your band:
1) Listen to your songs against the “click.” This will help you to see where everything really lines up, and how much time you actually have to do whatever you want to do or play.
2) Devote at least 10% of your practice routine to practicing with the metronome. I recommend more like 50-90% but baby steps are fine for people not used to practicing with the metronome.
3) If you’re in a band, have “The Talk.” This will hold everyone equally accountable for doing what they can to improve their personal timing, which will improve the band’s time as a whole. Also having a group practice where the drummer listens to a click is helpful too. It instantly builds trust and competence. (If there is a problem member that can’t admit or see their faults, it may be helpful to have some practices where everyone can hear the click through the speakers, to shine light on what needs extra attention.)
4) Be humble. Learning that your timing sucks can be a hard realization, especially for sensitive musicians. This can bruise the ego and come out as anger. Remember the point is not to be “right” or make someone feel defeated. The point is to improve your band’s sound, as well as individual sound. The metronome is the Truth, and sometimes the Truth hurts.
5) Slow down! The best way to really lock down any song, riff, groove, fill, or solo is to slow way down. Take the tempo down to half or 3/4’s of the original tempo and practice in slow motion, to let your brain and muscles learn exactly where everything fits. Do this until your muscle memory learns the movement of the piece. Then when you speed back up, do it gradually in increments of 5 or 10 bpms until you arrive back at the original tempo. Then push past 10 or 20 bpms so you truly have it mastered. You never know when you will need to play it faster or slower, but with this practice, you will be prepared no matter what the speed.
These are just a few ways to incorporate the metronome as you’re playing guitar, singing, or whatever part you play in your band. I hope this is helpful — and remember, it’s about taking baby steps. This is not something you just want to brush off. Being a master at time will make you a more valuable musician, and more confident in your skills too. It may be tough at first, but anything worth learning is.
Go easy on yourself and/or your band. It is challenging, but I know you can do it!
Maegan W. teaches drums, songwriting, and more in San Diego, CA. She earned a degree in Percussion from the Musician’s Institute, and has been teaching private lessons since 2004. Learn more about Maegan here!
Photo by Jessie Hodge