Hello you beautiful guitar players! Tony G here with another lesson for you from Guitar with Tony G. Today I’m going to help you get acquainted with a musician’s best friend, the metronome! Let’s face it, metronomes can drive us crazy and the constant beep boop can make us want to rip our hair out. However, once you can make nice with the metronome and jam along with it, your guitar playing and musicianship will grow so quickly. So, how do we become one with the metronome?! That’s what I’m going to show you today in How to Play with a Metronome 101.
What Does a Metronome Do?
Just before I get into what a metronome does, make sure that you stick around to the end of the lesson to learn the most important tip about how to play with a metronome 101.
Pro Tip: Change the sound of your metronome to something that won’t drive you crazy!
A metronome allows us to keep a consistent rhythm by giving us a consistent tempo and helping us stay right on time. In other words, it’s like cruise control in a car. You set the speed that you want and cruise control keeps you there. The way that we refer to speed in music is by using the word tempo.
Tempo is based on Beats per Minute or BPM for short. If we set the metronome to 60BPM, it will play a quarter note once every second. If we increase the BPM, the quarter notes increase in frequency and our tempo thus becomes faster.
A metronome can also subdivide the tempo for us. This means that it can also show us the space between quarter notes. For example, if we want to play a lick that consists of eighth notes and you know the quarter note tempo is 60BPM, you can do a couple different things to subdivide. The first thing you can do is use the eighth note (♫) subdivision option (if you have a fancy metronome or app) which will play not only the quarter notes at 60BPM but the eighth notes in between.
If you don’t have a fancy metronome, all you need to do is double the speed to 120BPM and that will provide beeps for the quarter notes and eighth notes at 60BPM. Eventually you will teach yourself to be able to subdivide in your head but having a guide at the start can be very, very helpful!
Let’s jump into how to set our tempo!
Setting the Tempo
“Ok Tony G”, you’re saying to yourself, “I know what a metronome does, now how the hell do I find the tempo of what I’m trying to play?”
Great question! This is going to challenge your rhythm skills a bit so if you have trouble finding the beat when on the dance floor, this will be tough to pick up on, but will improve with practice. In the video above, I’ll show you how to listen to a song and pick out the tempo.
Once you can pick out the tempo, you can set a metronome to that tempo and work on playing the song at the same speed! Practicing with the metronome will help make sure that you don’t speed up or slow down at certain parts of what you’re working on. It’s like that friend you have who is always right and although they can be a little annoying, when they’re right, they’re right!
Once you’ve found the beat, in order to set your metronome to the appropriate tempo, you can use the “tap” function on the fancier metronomes and apps. What you do is you tap along with the beat of the song and the metronome will automatically set the tempo. The other way to do it is to start your metronome and adjust the tempo little by little until it sits on the beat of the song. Both of these examples are shown in the video up above.
Pro Tip: Most tempos are even numbers!
“But Tony G, what if I can’t play at the same tempo as the song I’m working on?!” Well my friend, that’s the main focus of today’s lesson in how to play with a metronome 101.
Working Towards a Target Tempo
If the tempo of a song you’re working on is 100BPM but you can’t quite play it that fast, please DO NOT set the metronome to 100BPM and try to push through. You’ll have better success beating your head against a wall over and over again. If you take this approach, you’re going to make mistake after mistake which will then become muscle memory and lead you toward the dark side.
Instead, let’s take some advice straight from the guidelines of how to practice with a metronome 101.
Working Smarter, Not Harder
When you can’t play your target tempo, find a baseline tempo which is a lower tempo that you can play at and work your way up from there. This way we can play according to the Three C’s: Correct, Consistent, Clean. When you can play correctly, consistently and cleanly at a lower tempo, you will build great muscle memory, strengthen your technique and be able to reach your target tempo quicker than the “beat your head against the wall” method mentioned above.
When you’re working towards a target tempo, we want to take it in small chunks. Just because you can play something at 60BPM doesn’t mean you can automatically play something at 80BPM. Instead, when you find your baseline BPM, make sure you can play the piece you’re working on several times in a row with minimal mistakes. If you keep making the same mistake, make sure that you isolate it!
Once you feel comfortable with the material at your baseline BPM, only increase the tempo by 1-3BPM and see if you can play it again several times in a row with minimal mistakes.
The reason you should only go up a few BPM at a time is to make sure you maintain your consistency and technique. Remember my motto?! “Slow and clean is better than fast and messy” and it really shines through here. I am so much more impressed by any guitar player who can play something consistently with great technique at a slower tempo than someone who plays the same thing at a higher tempo with terrible technique.
Now that we know the basics of how to play with a metronome 101, let’s take a look at some more in depth tactics.
Don’t Push Yourself Too Hard
When you’re working up to faster tempos, you will most likely find that it becomes more and more taxing as you increase the tempo. I liken this to lifting weights at the gym. Although you work your way up to heavier and heavier weights, you can’t do it all in one session – you just get too tired! That’s why it’s never a bad thing to take a break while working on increasing your tempo.
I find that if I break up my metronome practice into chunks throughout the day, my muscles get the rest they need in between sessions and it helps me push the envelope. If you find yourself maxing out at a specific tempo, do your best to not get frustrated! Just take a break, play something else, make yourself a cup of coffee, read the news, etc and then come back and try again later.
Finding Your Ups and Downs
Following the guidelines of How to Play with a Metronome 101 will also show you the parts in the material that you’re great at and the parts that need adjustment. When you find yourself playing faster than the metronome, you’re most likely quite good at that part because you feel confident in it and just want to rip! Nothing wrong with that, but try to keep it in check to really build up your consistency.
When you find yourself falling behind the metronome, it’s most likely because you are not as strong at that part and it could use some isolated practice. A very realistic goal is to be able to play everything at the same speed. In fact, here is the most important tip from How to Play with a Metronome 101:
Let the weakest section of the material dictate the tempo.
In other words, don’t set the tempo according to the parts of the material you excel at – set the tempo according to the parts that need the most work. There is no point in playing the parts you have a good command of at a fast tempo and then falling behind that tempo when you get to the section you’re weakest at. Condition yourself to play the parts you can rip at the same tempo as the harder sections to maintain consistency.
This will help you maintain tempo control and allow your problem spots to catch up to your strong spots. I know that 90% of you will disregard this advice and get into a slump but the other 10% of you will take this to heart and smash through the skill ceiling. Which group are you going to be in?
There is not a single world class musician who does not play with a metronome. It’s just a fact that if you truly want to elevate your playing, you need to play with a metronome. It’s not the most fun thing in the world but if you put in the work, you will reap the reward.
Whether you want to play easy open chord songs, play soulful solos or be a rip-roaring shredding machine, the metronome will help you become a better guitar player and musician. If you want to ever play with others or form a band, playing with a metronome during your individual practice will help you play in time as a group.
Overall, playing with a metronome has directly helped me be able to support myself financially by just playing and teaching guitar. This may not be your ultimate goal, but think about your guitar goals and know that being able to play with a metronome is one of the key stepping stones to reaching them.
As always, my love and support go out to you on your guitar journey. If there’s anything that you’re struggling with and need some help, please feel free to reach out to me!