How to Practice With a Metronome – Part 1
By Jeff Vivrette
One of the benefits of knowing how to practice correctly is the confidence you have in knowing you CAN learn anything. You know that you have the tools you need to work through any problems or issues to get to the final result. You know that no matter how much (or how little) time you have to practice, you can accomplish forward progress with your playing.
Knowing this makes practicing much more fun and exciting. You know you will be accomplishing something and not just spinning your wheels. You’ll know that you’re not wasting your time wondering if you’re doing the right thing to get you closer to your goal of becoming a better guitar player.
No longer do you wrestle with the anxiety of picking up the guitar and playing for an hour or more only to find you’re really no better of a player than you were yesterday. The only difference is now you’re warmed up.
So what is the correct way to practice, you ask?
Before you get started on your practice session you must first understand one very fundamental fact that most guitar players never grasp. As a result they spend many hours, days, months and years trying to improve their playing but never really get very far.
The fact is, most guitar players play their guitar not practice their guitar.
Regardless of your current skill level, if you didn’t understand this until now, get ready to see your progress dramatically improve!
If you are a student of mine, you know from our very first lesson together that I give you specific instructions on how to play the things I teach you. I never give you a scale, song or chords to play and just say play it!
I provide you with instructions on how to hold your pick and what your hands and fingers should be doing. I instruct you to practice playing slowly and concentrating on certain things. I instruct you on what to look for while you’re practicing and what to do when you see something happening that shouldn’t be. This is one the most important aspects of practicing!
If I were to give you something to play and just say, “play this 5 times each day and we’ll see how you’re doing next week”, I would be asking you to just play something for a certain time and see what happens! Unfortunately, this is what most guitar players call practicing!
Once you understand how to practice correctly it’s time to turn up the heat and focus your efforts on getting the most out of your practice time and get the most positive results possible with the time you have. One of the most important tools at your disposal to help achieve this goal is the metronome.
It’s important to understand that you can get 2 different kinds of results out of your practice efforts: GOOD results and BAD results.
When you practice incorrectly you will be reinforcing incorrect technique. Keep practicing this way and you’ll get really good at being really bad! For more information on this, please refer to my article titled “The Art of Practicing – Repetition and Muscle Memory – Part 1”.
When you practice with a metronome, as instructed, it forces you to slow down (and sometimes speed up…. More on that in another article) and play correctly. This enables you to see where mistakes occur and isolate those areas to resolve any problems with your playing. It allows you to be very aware of each finger movement and see where you may have a problem switching from one note to another, for example.
We’ll dig deeper into the details of this process later. For now, let’s get going on using your metronome.
Step 1: The first thing you need to do is select a piece of material that you can play fairly well. Ideally by memory. This will allow you to focus on your right and left hands without looking at the music or tab.
Step 2: Now you are going to start at a very slow tempo. Let’s say 60 BPM for this discussion. It may need to be slower or it could be faster. The important thing is that you select a tempo that is slow enough to play the piece without making mistakes.
Keep in mind that it takes time to get used to playing with a metronome. Your mind automatically wants to get a rhythm going and it’s usually at a tempo that is faster than slow metronome speeds. This alone can cause you to make mistakes. Give it some time. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to get adjusted to the tempo.
Also, depending on the difficulty of the piece we are trying to practice, 60 BPM could mean we play one note for every click of the metronome or it could mean you will play one note for every four clicks of the metronome. The decision is made by asking yourself, “do I need to slow down to play this correctly”?
Step 3: Once you start playing through the piece at this tempo you must remain focused. It is real easy to let your mind wander. Stay focused and think about what you are doing. You may need to begin by tapping your foot to the tempo for a while until you get the feel of it. Once you start, stay focused and watch for mistakes. When you notice yourself making mistakes, STOP!
Step 4: If you noticed yourself making mistakes and stopped you then need to ask why you were making those mistakes. Was it because you were playing too fast? Was it because you had to look away from the guitar and look at the music and it caused you to stumble? Or was it because your fingers were having a hard time hitting or picking the notes when you reached a certain point in the piece?
You must answer these questions honestly and determine what needs to be done next.
Step 5: Let’s assume you answered that you stumbled when you reached a certain point in the piece. You were able to play everything else very well until your hit this place in the piece. What do you do now? Turn the metronome off and analyze the notes and fingering at the point your problems popped up. Play it very slowly without the urge to keep up with a tempo by playing each note for a 4 count in your head. Repeat this over and over until you are able to play it very slowly.
Step 6: Adjust the tempo of the metronome to a slower speed. If you are already at the slowest speed then begin playing one note for every 4 clicks instead of one note per click. Whatever method you use to slow down, play slow enough that you can play it correctly. Play through the problem area several times to reinforce the proper technique.
Step 7: As you become comfortable playing through the problem area, begin to add the rest of the piece back into your practice. Play through the piece and through the problem area at the same tempo, slowly increasing your tempo to the speed you had started at before finding the problem area.
Step 8: Slowly increase your tempo by one increment (usually 1, 2 or 4BPM) until you reach the desired speed. Do this very slowly. When you notice yourself making mistakes, back off one increment and practice at that speed for a while until you can increase your speed again without making mistakes. You may need to repeat steps 4-8 several times until you get all the bugs worked out.
This is the foundation of using a metronome and is just one example of its use in our practice. In future articles I will get into greater detail and show you how to use the metronome in other ways to achieve other goals. For now, follow the principles outlined here and stay focused. It’s not easy, but if you stick with it your playing will reach new levels and continue to improve at a much faster pace than if you didn’t.
You must trust me on this!
Until next time, take care and don’t let anything keep your from your dreams!