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How to practice with a metronome : The Quick Guide to Improving your Rhythm and Inner Sense of Time

“Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.” GOTTFRIED LEIBNIZ

I guess you’ve been told that in order to become good at guitar, you need to practice with a metronome.

When I was just starting with guitar I’ve heard this advice from everywhere. PRACTICE WITH A METRONOME.

And so I did. I turned the metronome on and played with a click. Months went by and my rhythm and timing hadn’t improved much. So I stopped doing that because I thought it was a waste of time.

And guess what?

My rhythm and timing still sucked big time.

It was years later when I finally learned how to develop my rhythm and how to use metronome so I am actually improving my timing.

Practice with a metronome is a useless advice if it is not followed by explanation how to do that. Turning on metronome and playing with it won’t improve your timing. Wayne Krantz said it best:

“The worst way that I know how to practice with a metronome is just to turn it on in a room and think that by the fact that it’s on somehow your time is getting better.” Wayne Krantz

I’ve put this guide together to help people learn how to practice with a metronome in a way that ensures that they are improving their inner sense of time.

I’ve spent hours browsing the web to put together the best exercises that actually work. I’ve then tested all of the exercises on myself and my students to see which works and which are just a waste of time.  The exercises that you find below are only the ones that really worked.

Why guitar players hate to practice with a metronome?

From my experience as a guitar teacher most students hate practicing with metronome. There are several reasons why that is so:

  1. They suck at keeping time and they don’t want to feel bad about themselves so they don’t do it.
  2. They believe that it is harder than it really is.
  3. They don’t know how to practice with a metronome properly to really improve their rhythm and timing. All they know is a bunch of boring and useless exercises.
  4. Choosing the right metronome and setting it up feels like too much work.
  5. People get annoyed by the sound of metronome click.

All of the reasons above really stop aspiring guitar players from getting better at rhythm.

My goal for this guide is to crush all of the above reasons so you start using metronome regularly.

And not only that.

My goal is for you to start enjoying practicing with a click.

I know this may sound crazy since most guitar players hate to practice with metronome but I believe that their beliefs are based on wrong advice they had received in the past.

If you learn how to use your metronome, you can improve your timing in a relatively short period of time. With the right approach it doesn’t have to be that overwhelming. Once you get to the point where your playing starts to groove, practicing with a click becomes kind of an addiction. It really feels good. Getting the groove going is one of the most rewarding musical activities that I know.

Let’s get to work.

The worst advice ever: Practice with metronome all the time

When I was researching materials for this guide, I spent lots of time on web to find the best advice on how to improve timing. And everywhere I turned, one advice kept popping out:

If you want to get good at rhythm, you need to practice with a metronome all the time.

And let me tell you something.  That kind of advice is one of the reasons why guitar players suck at rhythm even years after they started practicing with a metronome.

Metronome is a specific tool that we use when we want to improve our rhythm and timing and that’s why we don’t need to use it all the time. As with every kind of practice, quality is more important than quantity. Ten minutes of highly focused rhythm practice will do much more for you than two hours of mindless playing with a click.

Working on your rhythm is mentally challenging activity that requires lots of focus. Therefore it is not possible to do it non-stop. You want to do it regularly but in shorter practice sessions. If you don’t pay attention to where the beat is, you can actually also stop.

In many cases using a metronome could be counterproductive. If you are trying to get a new movement under your fingers then using metronome won’t help you much. Quite the contrary. Trying to make new movements rhythmic too early is not a good way how to approach motor learning. Focus on making the movement comfortable and fluent first.

One piece of advice I would give to anyone regarding metronome is to use it only when you want to check or improve your timing. Other times it is really not necessary.

Choosing a metronome

There are hundreds of apps and online metronomes and it can be quite time consuming to choose the right one. I know that some guitar players would spend hours trying different metronomes and complaining about the sound of the click, so I thought I would rather recommend you ones that I personally use. They are stable, easy to use, have nice sounding click and all the functionality that we need.

In my opinion the best online metronome is BEST METRONOME. It has nice and easy to use interface and all the basic functionality. If you need more advanced functions like metronome disappearing for few beats, check out BEST DRUM TRAINER.

If you are using your smartphone or your tablet then I am recommending the app called TIME GURU developed by Avi Bortnick, guitarist who is known as rhythm guitar player for John Scofield Band. It has all the functionality that you will ever need and is very intuitive to use. It cost two bucks but I think it is worth much more. Check out the app page to learn more.

Recording devices

“If you work on your time and you don’t record it, you are not gonna get any better.” Wayne Krantz

The above quote sums it all up: If you want to know how good your timing is, you need to record yourself and listen back. It is not enough to just play with a metronome and hope that you are improving. You need to get a very clear picture if you are rushing, slowing down or if you are completely out. Recording yourself is a must.

Here are my recommendations for recording software.

When I have my computer turned on I use AUDACITY as my go to recording software. If I need to find out how well do I groove with metronome, I always use Audacity. I use the built-in microphone in my notebook that sounds just terrible, but it is good enough for me to recognize how well I keep time.

The main thing for me is to keep it really simple.  It takes about 5 seconds for Audacity to load and I am ready to record. This is super important for me because if it would take two more steps to record something, I would not do it.

Another piece of software that I use for more detailed analysis of my playing is REAPER (but you can use any other digital audio workstation of your choice). The main reason why I am using this software is that I can create a 16th note grid over which I can record my track (see the picture in exercise#8). Being able to see where exactly my notes fell is a great way how to check my timing. We will talk about that later.

When I don’t have my computer turned on I use VOICE RECORDER PRO for Ipad. It costs just 0,99$ and is very easy to use with a good interface. The nice thing is that you can easily share your files on Dropbox or you can send them as an email attachment.

In instances where I need to do a video recording (checking posture and tension in my body) I use the built-in camera on my tablet. Before I bought tablet I had used built-in camera on my laptop.  Both are easy to use with a good enough quality of audio and video.

Rule #1: Keep it fresh, keep it fun

Many aspiring guitar players get bored and frustrated when practicing with metronome because they have never learned how to properly use one. And the fact that they get bored and quit is not that surprising. If you use metronome only as a steady quarter note beat, your practicing can become boring pretty soon. But as I said before, my goal is to teach you how to use metronome so you are building your inner sense of time and have fun at the same time.

There is probably nothing more damaging to your learning progress than practicing things that you find uninspiring and boring.

I hope that with this guide you will soon find out that there are many interesting and fun to play exercises that are highly addictive and very effective. So the only rule I have for you is to always keep your practice material fresh. If you are looking forward to your next practice session, you are doing things right.

There is no reason to play mind dumbing exercises. If you’ve decided to improve your timing, do yourself a favor and choose exercises that you find enjoyable.

How to use this guide

There is one thing I want to tell you before we start with exercises. You don’t need to go through all of them right now or during your next practice session. My goal is to equip you with the best metronome exercises possible and you can use them anytime you want or need.

If you wish to get this guide as pdf, please subscribe below:

Have fun!

Exercise #1: The Yardstick of Time and Groove

Here’s the first exercise that I want you to try. I borrowed this one from a phenomenal bass guitar player Anthony Wellington. The idea behind this exercise is to get the visual representation of what time is because many aspiring musicians have vague notion of what time really is.

The longest lines in the picture below represent quarter notes, the shorter ones are eight notes and the shortest are sixteenth notes.  The goal is to be able to accent any subdivision of the beat at any time.

yardstick

Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Set your metronome to a comfortable tempo (around 60bpm)
  2. Now accent just the first beat of the measure – this should be pretty easy
  3. Accent just the beat 2, then beat 3 and then beat 4
  4. Once you have all the quarter notes down, go ahead and try accenting all the eight notes (count: one-and, two-and, etc…)
  5. Once you have all the eight notes, continue with sixteenth notes (count: 1 e & a – 2 e & a – etc…)

If you need some more guidance, watch this video of Anthony Wellington explaining and demonstrating this exercise:

Once you have no problem accenting any subdivision of the beat, you can continue with following exercises.  Try them all and keep those that you enjoy the most. Every one of them helps in a different way to improve your rhythm and timing.

I usually choose the exercise that best fits the material that I am working on.  If I am working on developing my groove I usually choose Swing 2&4, when working on riffs I usually use Disappearing metronome. But this is not the rule. Choose those that work for you. The key is to have more options how to practice the same thing so you can tackle your problem areas form different angels and keep yourself focused and fresh.

Exercise #2: Swing 2&4 (hat tip to Sean Driscoll for the name)

This is a great exercise and I know that many jazz guys are using this for developing their swing. But it also works fine in other genres. The reason why this exercise works so well is that the click of a metronome is not falling on every beat but only on every other beat. This means that you have to rely more on your inner sense of time.

Here’s how you do that:

  1. Find the target tempo of the song (use tap tempo function in Time guru or Best metronome)

tap_tempo

  1. Set the metronome to the half speed of target tempo (if original tempo is 120, set the metronome to 60)
  2. If you want the beats of metronome to represent beat 2 and 4, so you need to fill in beats 1 and 3. One way how to do that is to start counting in between the beats. This is how you count yourself in:
  1. Press record and start playing
  2. Listen back to your recording and evaluate


Exercise #3 : Silent metronome

Another way how to really lock with metronome is to set the volume of the clicks so that when you play precisely on beat two and four clicks won’t be hearable. If you speed up or slow down, though, metronome will reappear. This exercise is very helpful when you need to expose certain places in a song where you tend to rush or slow down. It takes a little bit of tweaking to find the right volume, but it’s so worth it.

Exercise #4: Non-swing 1&3

Non-swing 1&3 is a variation of previous exercise. The only difference is that now metronome represents beats 1 and 3 so you need to fill in beats 2 and 4. This is easier to count in because now you just need to start counting when metronome clicks.

If you play with your metronome representing only beat 1 and 3, you will soon realize that this time it doesn’t swing. Yes, that’s right. Beats 1 and 3 do not swing and that’s why this kind of practice is great if you tend to rush your songs. When metronome is falling on the beats 1 and 3 it almost feels as if somebody was slowing you down.

Exercise #5: Quarter tempo

This is another great exercise, especially when you are working on fast paced songs. If your metronome is set to 180 beats per minute, it is really hard to notice how good your timing is.  One way how we can improve this is to set the metronome to the quarter tempo. This way it will only emphasize beat one of each measure.   Now it is your responsibility to keep time since you cannot rely on metronome.

Here’s how you do that:

  1. Find the target tempo of the song
  2. Set the metronome to the quarter speed of target tempo(if original tempo is 120, set the metronome to 30)
  3. Start tapping your foot in the target tempo of the song. Metronome now represents only the beat one of each measure.
  4. Press record and start playing
  5. Listen back to your recording and evaluate


Exercise #6: Quarter tempo moved a 16th note ahead

You will definitely love this one. It is quite tricky but once you get it under your fingers, it is really fun.

First time I saw this exercise was in the video where Victor Wooten demonstrated it. This is basically the same exercise as the one before but with a slight variation. This time the click of a metronome represents the last 16th note of beat four.  And let me tell you something, it is quite difficult to not slip and make it the first beat of a bar (as you can hear in my recording :-)). But as always, with focused practice you can get there.


Exercise #7: Disappearing metronome

This is probably my most favorite way how to practice rhythm. As the name of this exercise says, metronome plays for a few beats and then it disappears completely for a while. The better you get at keeping time, the easier it is for you to play during those periods of silence. Keeping time is really about getting good at feeling the beat even if the metronome went off.

  1. Turn on your Time Guru app or visit BEST DRUM TRAINER
  2. Set your target tempo. This time metronome will represent every beat of the measure
  3. If you want to keep metronome silent for one measure (4 beats), here’s how you do that in Time Guru:
    1. Press twice number four in the first row – here’s how your screen should look like:
      how to practice with a metronome
    2. Now press second number four that has appeared in the second row. Here’s what you should get.
      how to practice with a metronome
    3. Press play and now your metronome will disappear every other measure.
  1. If you want to keep metronome silent for one measure (4 beats), here’s how you do that in Best Drum Trainer:
    1. Choose the number of loud bars (1)
    2. Choose the number of silent bars (1)
    3. Un-check “Volume fade out”. Here’s what you’ll get:
      how to practice with drum trainer
    4. Press START and now your metronome will disappear every other measure.


Once you feel comfortable with metronome disappearing for one whole bar, increase the challenge. Make it disappear for two bars or longer and see how well you can keep time on your own. Have fun with this one!

Exercise #8: Play in the center of the beat

To keep things fresh and fun, here’s another exercise that will surely help you with your inner sense of time. This one is all about accuracy and placement. What you want to do is to place the notes exactly in the center of the beat. I’ve borrowed this exercise from Wayne Krantz who demonstrated it in December 2012 issue of Guitar World.

Check out the video below to hear what Wayne got to say about this exercise.

Basically what you want to do is to turn on your metronome and set it to a comfortable tempo. Then turn on your recording device and start playing. The goal is to be as exact as possible. You don’t need to play fancy stuff, just play something that sounds musical but is not too difficult for you because the main focus is placement of your notes, not what you play. After you are done, listen to your recording and see how well you’ve played.

One way that I find really helpful when evaluating my recordings is to plug guitar into my audio interface and record directly into REAPER. In Reaper I can create a 16th note grid that enables me to see where exactly did I place my notes. This visual double check helps me to get a better sense of what does it mean to play exactly on the beat.

reaper_screen

Exercise #9: Groove into metronome

If you want to get more musical version of previous exercise, try this one. I think that the name of this exercise is self-explanatory. Your task is to play with metronome and make it sound as groovy as possible. Inspiration for this exercise came from John Mayer’s Berklee clinic where he demonstrates how important it is to focus on the placement of your notes in time.

Check out the video below to see what I am talking about (skip to 6:07):

  1. Turn on your metronome and set it to a comfortable tempo
  2. Turn on your recording device
  3. Play a simple musical idea and make it sound as groovy as possible (Check out John’s video for inspiration.)
  4. Try to play exactly on the beat as in previous exercise or you can also try to play in front of the beat or behind the beat. Try all the possibilities and listen how each of them feels
  5. Listen to your recording and see how groovy your playing is

Exercise #10: Groups of three, five and seven notes against 16th notes

Here’s another fun exercise to practice. (Thanks to Fareed Haque for inspiration).

This one is all about shifting accents and creating interesting and cool sounding syncopations. Playing groups of three against 16th notes is not that difficult but it creates very nice rhythmic pattern. Listen to the famous riff from Clapton’s version of I shot the sheriff. The first four notes of this riff use this exact rhythmic pattern (0:41)

You can use this kind of rhythmic patterns to practice your scales and arpeggios. It sounds way cooler than quarter notes. Here’s a pentatonic scale played in groups of three against 16th notes. On the way up I am also using muted strings to fill the gaps between notes, on the way down I only play accented notes.

tab_1


Groups of five and seven against 16th notes are definitely more challenging but fun to practice for few minutes once in a while. Make sure you have groups of three down before trying to practice groups of five and seven.

Here’s a pentatonic scale played in the groups of five against 16th notes:

tab_2


So, there you have it! The best metronome exercises ever 🙂

Now it is your turn to take these exercises and use them. You won’t improve your rhythm and timing overnight but with consistent and focused practice you can get so much better. Have fun!

If you have any exercise that I didn’t mention but you think I should, let me know in the comments. Looking forward to hearing from you!

For your convenience, you can get this guide as pdf, just subscribe below:

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9 Responses to How to practice with a metronome : The Quick Guide to Improving your Rhythm and Inner Sense of Time

  1. Freddie November 5, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    This is one of the most detailed and informative tutorials on using the metronome I’ve read so far on the internet.

    • Lukas Kyska November 6, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      Glad that you like it! My intention was to make it as good as possible, so hopefully I’ve accomplished that.

      Thanks for you comment!

  2. Greg November 6, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    Great write up Lukas. This needs to be in every major guitar magazine now! Most articles and tutorials just explain how the metronome will help you playing and then they usually do the old start slow, accent first note and gradually build your speed. The problem is this is morning for those who have not experienced any results on s metronome before.

    By using the examples you did with changing beat placement and describing the similarities and differences of each exercise, it stays fresh so you can try something new every time. Also thanks for the software recommendations. That Reaper program looks killer!

    Greg

    • Lukas Kyska November 7, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

      Really glad that you like it Greg! If you can help me to get to any major guitar magazine, let’s do that 🙂

      As always, thank you for taking time to leaving a thoughtful comment!

      Lukas

  3. felipe November 6, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

    THANK YOU!
    I will be using this a lot.

    About the first exercise, do you have any tips for nailing the last 16th note? I feel like I don’t have a problem with any of the other beats, but I’m kind of lost with this one

    • Lukas Kyska November 7, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      Felipe, if the last 16th note is bugging you, try to play all of the 16th notes first and then gradually leave the first, second and third until you are only left with the fourth. Also make sure that you are constantly moving your picking hand in 16th note subdivision. Does it make sense?

      • felipe November 10, 2014 at 1:10 am #

        great Lukas! I’ll try it, but I feel like it’s gonna help a lot!

  4. Carlo January 2, 2017 at 4:10 pm #

    Thank you so much Lucas, y our guide has been precious for me. Well done. Carlo

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