Having control of your placement of rhythm is crucial to so many areas of music, not just the obvious rhythmical passages – good time will improve your phrasing, melodic playing, improvisation, accompaniment; as well as your groove and overall feel. As a beginner musician, it doesn’t take long before you are told that you should be practising using a metronome. Unfortunately, the discussion of how and why to use a metronome can easily get lost along the way: there is often an assumption that simply putting on the metronome when you practise your pieces and scales will lead you to musical mastery much more quickly. Instead, consider the follow ways of actually using your metronome to really get the most out of your practice sessions:
1) Listen to the metronome
Let’s first think about what the metronome is for: it is for – among other things – improving your rhythmic accuracy, and what a lot of muso pop-and-jazzers would call your ‘time’. So, we’re trying to gain greater control of where we place our notes in relation to the metric clock provided by the metronome. In order to do this, we therefore need to compare where we are with where the metronome is. Assess this by actively listeningto your notes and registering whether they hit bang on the beat of the metronome, ahead of it or behind it. Aim for the centre and use your ears in real time, or record yourself and listen back.
2) Put the beats of the metronome in different parts of the bar
Making the metronome hit on all the beats in the bar is a pretty good place to start. Making it hit in different parts of the bar is even better once you are comfortable with a particular tempo. This will probably vary depending on the style or genre you prefer, but loosely speaking, try this: if you’re a jazz or pop player, put the metronome on beats 2 and 4 (after all, you wouldn’t want to be one of those people who claps on beats 1 and 3, would you!?) This will mean you are linking-up with the backbeat of the piece. For Classical pieces, try putting the metronome on 1 and 3. This will be easier at faster tempos, but particularly tricky when you slow things down – playing slowly and in time is a huge skill to master, and something that can be often overlooked.
3) Fewer beats
Continuing from the above, being able to sync up with a pulse which is occurring every beat is all well and good – and a useful challenge in itself – but playing longer phrases that have to link up with less frequent beats is an even greater challenge. Your ‘internal clock’ has to do more legwork in keeping the pulse steady between each hit of the metronome, so your sense of time over longer periods will improve through doing this. Try putting the metronome on the downbeat of each bar, then the second, third or fourth beats of the bar, etc. Then, have the metronome click only in two bar intervals, 3 bar intervals and so on. Explore the possibilities and as always, really listen to how successful you are in getting accurate with the metronome
4) Use a different metric grid
Normally, we set our metronome to the rhythmic pulse as defined in the key signature: so, 4 beats per bar in 4/4, 6 quavers per bar in 6/8 etc. It can be a good idea to change this up and set your metronome to either fewer or more beats in the bar. You might set your metronome to hit the 2nd quaver of a 6/8 pattern, or on the ‘&’ of beat 3 in 4/4. The idea is to link up to a part of the bar that isn’t the obvious downbeat. Your ability to syncopate and get with a part of the overall rhythmic feel (that isn’t squarely on every beat) will no doubt improve.
The most important thing is to focus on playing music and making a good sound when practising with your metronome; practising is only as dry as you make it! Experiment, and have fun with it!
By golly after reading this you may have an inexplicable urge to get on Musicroom and purchase some metronomes – here’s some: