4 August 2008

Guitarists, Do You Make These Metronome Mistakes?

An Essential Practice Tool

Good timing is essential to your guitar playing. The three ingredients of music are rhythm, melody, and harmony. A lot of attention is often given by beginner guitarists to playing chords and notes (the harmony and melody). But the third ingredient, rhythm, is often neglected.

This is unfortuante as rhythm is arguably the most important of the three. Just think of a carnaval with its loud percussion groups, or tom-tom drums beating out in the African brush. These exciting rhythms create great music that really connects with people, but there is almost no melody or harmony.

To practice rhythm successfully on the guitar you need to use a metronome... the right way.

A Bad Experience

The first reaction of many players is to set the metronome to the speed of the piece they're learning and then play catch up. Usually they'll get hopelessly lost and make many mistakes.

Making repeated mistakes like this is a great way to train your fingers to make even more of them. But luckily, most of these players give up the metronome in disgust before they do that. They do lose a great chance to develop good, fast technique and timing, though.

Get the Most From Your Metronome

You can get the most out of your metronome by following a few simple rules that you'll find explained below.


First, the basics. Set your metronome to click once on each beat, that's once each quarter note in 4:4 time.

When you get a little more familiar with working with a metronome you should try setting the metronome to click on beats 2 and 4 only; set the tempo to half the speed to do this.

The click on beats 2 and 4 replaces the drummer's snare drum, and get's you used to using those drum beats to keep your place. It also makes the clicking noise a whole lot less annoying, which is no small advantage.


Start out at a **very** slow tempo when you learn a new piece. You should aim to play the piece without any mistakes, using the metronome to keep you in time. It is very unlikely that the tempo you use at this point is anywhere near the normal tempo of the piece.

When you can play the piece with no errors increase the tempo a step or two. Now practice at the new, faster, tempo until you can play without error again.

One Step at a Time

Repeat this process, going up one or two steps at a time until you get to the tempo you want to play at. Don't worry if you can't get to the real tempo of the piece at first. It can take you a while, playing correctly and in rhythm is more important.

If you find yourself making many mistakes at any tempo, back down one step and work at a slower speed. Focus on playing accurately and with good timing, speed will come later.

At the end of your practice session note the final tempo you successfully played at. You should be able to start your next session with a tempo two to six steps below this.

Don't worry if you have to slow down more. Just find a comfortable speed and work your way slowly up again. With time your speed will improve and you'll develop better technique in the longer run by taking your time. Remember, learning guitar is not a race.

Follow these simple rules and your metronome will be a trusty ally who helps you to learn more quickly and develop good technique at the same time.

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