Metronomes are like
an auditory form of Chinese water torture to some, but they are an
indispensable tool in developing good timing and increasing speed.
are a number of ways to make your metronome drills more engaging,
efficient and rewarding, which is what this article is all about.
question of how to use a metronome may seem a bit "noob", but it's
than simply being able to set the BPM (beats per minute) and press
"start". It's about getting the most out of your metronome as a
practice aid so you can become a better musician.
There are two main functions a metronome serves. Its primary function
is to help you keep time
and improve your timing. Its secondary function is to increase your speed.
Without good timing, speed will lose all its grace.
First, Get Yourself A Good Metronome
There are now a few
ways to get access to a metronome. There's the
traditional "tick tock" mechanical metronomes such as the Cherub WSM-330, which has a certain ornamental charm!
Then there's the battery operated, digital kind, which offer additional
functionality such as tap tempo, click samples and tuner, e.g. the Korg TM50.
If you own a smart phone or tablet, you can get metronome apps for your
And of course, many free online metronomes exist, such as Jamplay
and the rather proudly named Best Metronome.
I personally stick with the app and online metronome as I like to keep
as much on a single device as possible.
Basic Timing Using A Metronome
Whether strumming or picking, you can use a metronome to help you
improve the accuracy of your timing. Good music isn't just about
playing all the right notes in the right order!
First, before you work on your timing, you need to know what you want
to play. This could be a lick or strumming pattern you've heard or have
come up with yourself. Start with the notes/chords and just play them
out as they come.
You ideally need to know the tune by heart before you work on the
timing, so you're only focusing on one thing at a time. If it's a solo
piece, break it up into short note sequences and work on each one
Once the sequence of notes/chords is memorised, set your metronome to 60 BPM (you can
always slow it down if needs be).
Most instrumental parts are played using what are known as eighth notes, where
we typically play/pick two
notes per beat. In the diagram below, each square
represents a picked note (or multiple notes together)...
In the audio below you'll hear an 8 beat/click intro and then the
eighth notes will come in.
And here's how we might strum straight eighth notes (down strokes on the
beat, up strokes
on the &)...
Many people find it helps to count each beat/click
- 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 etc. with
each group of four being a measure
This is known as 4/4
or common time - the most commonly used timing in rock and pop.
For example, here I play a simple, repeating lead sequence using eighth notes at 60 BPM.
if you're writing a new lick, try starting it before the first beat of
the measure (e.g. the last & before 1) for a more natural "lead
The aim at first is to "lock in" to that timing is closely as you can,
ensuring the notes "inbetween" the beats (the &'s) are spaced correctly.
It's just as important to be accurate at slow tempos as it is quicker
Now, if it's a lead solo you're playing, obviously not every note will
last the length of an eighth note. For example, some notes will be held
longer than others. Depending on the piece you're playing, you'll want
to experiment with holding quarter
notes - that is, half the time of eighth notes - one note
per beat (we simply remove the "&" from the eighth notes)...
Or even longer, such as half
notes, which last half a measure...
And whole notes,
which last the entire measure...
These are the basic timing ingredients in most songs. They're called note values (whole,
half, quarter, eighth notes).
Let's see/hear an example incorporating a mix of note values...
We can also use what are known as dotted notes
to increase the duration of the basic note value by half. This creates
subtle differences in timing as it places notes "off the beat",
giving the lick a different feel. Take a listen to the same lick
above but this time using dotted notes...
So do experiment with holding notes like this, starting and ending off
the beat (on the &).
There is another commonly used note value we've left out - sixteenth
notes - but we'll come to that.
Being aware of the different note values that make up a solo, lick or
pattern will make your metronome practice more productive.and efficient
in terms of developing accurate timing.
There are other timing elements to know about, such as different time
signatures (e.g. 3/4, 3/3), stops, triplets, syncopation, shuffle notes
etc. and I'm working on a course that will take you through all these
elements. But for now, just focus on getting to know these core note
values using your metronome.
How To Increase Speed Using A Metronome
An error many guitarists make when trying
to play fast is they increase the metronome too much, too
soon. They don't give their fingers the chance to grow in to the lick or
The first thing to note is that you should only increase the BPM when
you can play flawlessly at the current
tempo. When I say flawlessly, I mean zero mistakes,
play-it-in-your-sleep kind of flawless. Have discipline and it will pay
off sooner than you think, especially if you abide by...
The Rule Of 10
Start off as slow as you find comfortable (40-60 BPM is the standard)
and, when you're happy with your performance at that tempo, notch up
the metronome by just 10
BPM, no more, no less.
The significance of using increments of 10 is that it's subtle enough
to not throw you off, yet big enough that it won't take long until
you're at 100, 140, 180 BPM.
Consistent, incremental changes are the key to building speed with
The Sixteenth Note "Roll Back"
As mentioned earlier, sixteenth
notes can come into play once we reach a fast tempo with
eighth notes (aim for around 240 BPM with eighth notes).
Roll back the metronome to 60 BPM (or 40 if that's more
comfortable) and start playing four notes per
As we're now cramming double the number of notes between each beat, it
won't be long before it gets really challenging. Initially aim for 120
BPM using sixteenth notes. That's a solid pace for picking. Throw
in some legato and you'll be able to push it to 160 even 180.
So the "secret" to playing really fast like these shredders is to roll
the metronome back to where you started with eighth notes and follow
the same "rule of 10" with sixteenths. This means you'll be able to
play confidently and accurately using both eighth and sixteenth notes.
Other Metronome Exercises
While the above processes were very structured, there's nothing wrong
with a bit of freestyle experimentation now and again.
Test your knowledge of the scale pattern by setting your metronome at a
comfortable tempo and playing randomly
around the pattern. Use the note value exercises from earlier and chop
and change between them when the feeling takes you.
As you do this, try to avoid too much linear movement (e.g. 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 6 5 4 3 2 1). Use string skips and note jumps to make your movements
less predictable. This is also a good way to come up with melodic
Use the "rule of 10" to speed up and before you know it you'll be
dancing around the scale pattern in very spontaneous and improvised
ways. It's also a great way to develop finger dexterity, muscle memory
and pick-hand co-ordination.
As mentioned earlier, these are only the core metronome practice
elements. I'll be expanding on this in the future, but I hope you make
the effort to include the metronome in your future practice sessions.
It will pay off.