By Jason Wilford
A question that I’ve received from many students over the years is whether or not they should be practicing with a metronome. Practicing to a metronome can definitely help your playing in many areas, but the answer to this question is a little more complicated than just saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Whether or not you should practice to a metronome depends on individual circumstances, the level of the player, what they are working on, and much more — so in this short article I want to lay out the reasons why you would — and wouldn’t — want to practice to a metronome.
First off, if you don’t know what a metronome is, the short answer is that it’s a device that produces an audible beat at specific intervals of time. If you’ve never heard of one before, it’s a good idea to search for ‘metronome’ online and watch a video about what this can do for you. You can get standalone metronomes, apps for your computer/phone/tablet, as well as online webpages that will act as a metronome for you.
First off, let’s go over some reasons why you’d want to practice with a metronome. This is just a starting point, so feel free to add your own reasons of when using a metronome can help you achieve your individual guitar playing goals.
- When you want to build speed — using a metronome can help you slowly push your speed higher and higher, provided that you ensure you’re staying in time with the metronome.
- When you want to track your progress - Keeping a log that tracks your top speed of specific scales, arpeggios, or exercises can really help you see how much you’re coming along in specific areas.
- When you want to improve your timing for a exercise or song - it’s great to have something to help you keep your timing in place when you’re working on a piece that you’ve already memorized. Record yourself as you play along, and listen back: you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn by doing this
- If you’re going to be recording - playing to a metronome is essential if you’re going to be recording. Nowadays most recording is done to a ‘click track’ using recording software. Being able to stay in time with the metronome should be your number 1 priority when preparing to record.
- When you want to get better at note divisions
- being able to divide a beat into 2,3,4,6 etc is really important if you want to make your playing as interesting as possible. Practice playing to a metronome at 60bpm, and pick a single string. Practice dividing it into groups of 2, then 3, then 4, and finally 6. There are many other divisions you can work on, but this is a good start.
Now let’s go over some reasons why you would want to practice without a metronome.
- When you are first learning a song, exercise, or piece of music - At this point you don’t know what you’re playing that well yet, so playing with a metronome will only add frustration. Wait until you have memorized the piece until you start using the metronome.
- When practicing for a gig - you should balance playing with a metronome vs. not playing with a metronome so that you’re comfortable with both situations. Odds are that you don’t want that metronome clicking when you’re up on stage playing with a band, or performing a solo gig. The metronome can help you practice staying in consistent time, but ultimately you want to be able to stay consistently in time without a metronome as well.
- When playing for fun - playing the guitar isn’t all about practicing every minute of the day! You need to have fun too, so make sure to set aside some time where you just playing the guitar without anything else playing.
- When playing with a band or along to a recording - This should be self explanatory, but if you’re practicing with a band or playing along to a song, you don’t need that metronome on!
- In the end, there are many reasons to play with or not to play along with a metronome. In my experience, it’s best to practice in as many ways as possible. Play with a metronome, play completely solo with no backing at all, practice along with backing tracks, practice with other musicians, and play along with recordings of actual songs. The best way to be a well-rounded guitarist is to practice in a well-rounded way, so as you can see, the answer to the question ’should I practice with a metronome?’ doesn’t have just one answer — the answer is to practice with and without a metronome.
About the Author:
Jason Wilford is a musician and guitar instructor in Mississauga (Ontario, Canada).