It’s the most useful, but hated, tool in every musician’s arsenal. No matter how much time you spend with it, it seems like you still never really enjoy its company. Never. Yet, we push forward and let it click away at us tauntingly. Why would we put ourselves through such torture? So that we can learn to play in time better, duh! That’s all this evil device is good for!
I find that a lot of musicians only see the metronome as a means for developing their sense of rhythm, and I think this is a bit of a waste. No one likes using the metronome, so when we do, why wouldn’t we at least try to get the most out of it that we can. Here are some other simple ways to use the metronome that I have found a lot of practicers, students and professionals alike, don’t utilize.
Isolator: The metronome won’t tell a lie; We all know this far too well. It doesn’t just slap you in the face to tell you your timing is wrong, though, it can also help show you some other problems. Say you’re working on something at 120bpm, and there just seems to be one part, maybe a lick or a chord transition, that you can’t nail at that speed, even though everything else is solid. A lot of people, surprisingly, just keep hacking away at the whole section rather than realizing what the metronome is trying to tell you: that’s a weak spot! Take your weak spot and isolate it. Only work on that, and then put it into the rest of the section later. I use this idea with my students all of the time. Sometimes, when you’re playing without a metronome, it can be hard to realize where a problem area may be. Everything may seem nice and smooth, but the metronome will gladly identify any weak spots for you to isolate and hone, making a better whole. See our blog on compound vs. isolation practicing here.
Speed Developer: Most people know that the metronome can be used as a speed developer, but don’t really know tricks to make it into one. They just try to master a piece or section at 130bpm, and when they have it down, they turn it up to 140bpm. There are much smarter ways to go about doing this.
Firstly, once you nail a lick at 130bpm, 140bpm is going to seem like a whole new, uncharted territory, especially if it was pretty tough getting to 130. Putting yourself under this pressure can be useful (we’ll talk about this later) but seems like overkill most of the time to me. Instead, nail what you’re working on at 130, and then move it up to 131. The difference is the time it takes to click one more beat, divided up over a whole minute. This is going to be indistinguishable to you, which is good for your mental confidence.
More than likely, if you can play well at 130, 131 is going to be a cinch. If 131 was easy, 132 is nothing. If 132 is nothing, than 133 is cake! Keep this going! After awhile, you’ll look over at your metronome and see it clicking away at your goal of 140, but the gradation was so slight, you barely even noticed!
The other way you can trick your brain is by using relativity to your advantage. If your goal is 140, than try to practice at 150. You’ll more than likely crash and burn, but that’s ok! Obviously, we don’t want to overuse this idea, or we can possibly start developing some bad technical habits, but when used in moderation this is very useful. Even if it’s ugly, try with all of your might to play at 150, until you think you’re making a bit of progress. Once you do that, bringing your metronome down to 140 is going to feel like taking a breath of fresh hair after being held under water. 140 will all of a sudden feel really easy, and make your brain relax. Relaxed brain=better performance.
Progress Tracker: Another thing that I like to show my students with the metronome is that it doesn’t only give you bad news. It’s a great way to show that you’ve made progress that you may not have noticed! If you’re practicing all week without a metronome (music teachers around the world just gasped) and you make progress by say, 10bpm. That 10bpm, divided up over those 7 days is going to make you feel like you haven’t gotten much better. You probably won’t even notice a difference. 10bpm can be a big accomplishment though! Especially, if you’re already close to your brink. The metronome can help quantify that for you. There is an actual physical number that you’re looking at telling you “You weren’t here before, and now you are; great job!”
This also means you can use this to help set much more defined goals for yourself i.e. I want to be able to do these sixteenth notes at 180 by next week, or I want to increase my speed on this lick everyday by 5bpm and so on.
Any questions or other ideas you wanted to add? Leave a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Guitar Instructor, Co-Owner
Falls Music School