How To Use A Metronome For Beginners
So you’ve gone and got this thing, and now you want to know how to use a metronome.
This thing with funny numbers and buttons that’s supposedly able to help you with your music.
The thing is… what do you do with it?
Maybe your music teacher told you to get one so he could show you how to use a metronome in the next lesson, but you want to explore it NOW. Or maybe you saw someone talking about it and decided today was the day you would take action and download the machine of time onto your phone, but good lord knows what it does; it looks like a timer but acts nothing like a timer…
…and it’s all a bit much, really.
Well, gather round my confused brethren, because in this article I will explain how to use a metronome, as well as 5 tips to take your metronome playing to the next level.
You may be wondering… what is a metronome?
I’m going to be really straightforward here as I think it’s a good way to help you understand the metronome definition quickly and thoroughly, as well as how to use a metronome. Then it’s back to business.
A metronome is a tool used by musicians to help play in time, so the music they play follows a steady beat. It repeats an even pattern of clicks to play along to and can either be bought as a physical item or downloaded as an app.
To learn how to use a metronome, you need to know two things:
- the bpm (beats per minute
- the time signature
When you first turn on the metronome, it will usually play 4 clicks at a certain speed, or tempo. The amount of clicks is determined by the time signature. These are the little numbers 4/4 on the side.
There is a number which has the letters BPM next to it, standing for ‘beats per minute’.
This is the number of beats played within a minute, and increasing or decreasing this number makes the metronome go faster or slower. The more beats there are per minute, the faster the metronome goes to fit those beats within that minute.
Try turning on the metronome, counting the clicks out loud and tapping your foot at the same time. Usually, there will be 4 clicks, so you would count 1, 2, 3, 4, tapping your foot on each number.
Each round of counting signifies the end of a bar. A bar is a space of time in which you play music. It helps to organise notes into patterns across time.
Each click of the metronome represents a beat, which is a moment in time we use as a reference. Here we have 4 beats per bar, which is the standard.
The 4 beats are represented by the numbers 4/4, also called a time signature. If you want to have 3 beats per bar, you would select 3/4 as your time signature. If you want to find out more about 4/4 time signature, click here.
If not, then you now know the metronome definition and how to use a metronome. Congrats!
My Experience Using A Metronome
I remember how frustrating it was trying to play with the click.
I remember hours spent sitting there, getting a lick wrong again and again, only to give up out of annoyance, do something else, then come back to it later to rinse and repeat the same path.
It was through lots of practise that I finally nailed my timing issues. But today, after years of developing a better relationship with Mr. Metronome, we worked our rhythm differences out to create 5 tips for playing with a metronome. We present these to you in hopes that you will experience less stress and more enjoyment in using this tenacious tool.
Let the magic begin.
1. Mr. Metronomes No.1 Rule: Play in time.
Although I never had an actual conversation with the metronome app I use, the feedback it provided taught me a valuable insight;
For everything you play that has a beat, make sure you always play in time.
Fairly obvious, right? Why even bother bringing it up?
Basically, it means starting off from where you can play in time, then adventuring from there, not from where you should be able to.
Because being in time means you are casting a musical flow with which your music enchants and draws people in. It all starts with the momentum of a steady rhythm. Even if it’s just one strum, then for the other 3 beats you’re changing chords.
A rule you can follow is to practise a tempo until you can play that piece 10 times over without any unintentional notes. Then increase the strength by either 5 or 10bpm for adjustments and practise there. Play with what works for you. The journey is travelling towards your desired tempo speed, and pushing yourself too hard on the road, ignoring the current level of your abilities, only hinders your quest, not help it.
Have you ever had it when you’re increasing speed, and you feel unstable, i.e. making too many mistakes one after the other?
This is common for many musical heroes wondering how to use a metronome for guitar and is another obstacle on your travels. The way forward is to reduce the tempo and practise there again until you feel stable. As a wise entrepreneur says, “One step back, two steps forward.”
And those steps lead us to step 2.
2. Counting, Tapping Your Foot & Breathing With The Metronome
“Breathing?!”, I hear you cry. “I’m a Master of breathing – I do it all day!”
Don’t we all! However, there is a difference between breathing unconsciously – like you’re doing reading this post – and breathing with awareness like you’re doing now I’ve made you aware of your silent breathing technique.
But before we breathe, let’s start playing in time by counting and tapping our feet.
Exercise 1: Counting & Tapping foot
First, set the metronome to 60bpm, and tap your foot to each beat whilst counting them out loud; 1, 2, 3, 4.
Exercise 2: Breathing
You counted to 4? Well done, here’s a gold star. Now try to ignore that very sarcastic comment and repeat the above exercise whilst breathing. You’ve done the dual wield; now let’s make it a triple impact. Count in your head, tap your foot and breathe at the same time.
For executing the breath technique, either;
- breathe in for each bar and out it or the next bar, or
- breathe in for 2 beats and out for 2 beats.
Generally, breathe in for 2 – 3 seconds and out for the same length of time. For a visual metronome, watch this video.
3. Practising in chunks
When you’re practising with Mr.Metronome, he will often present you with the same puzzle; getting the chord/ phrase changes in time.
This can be a pain; practising in a way where you become very skilled in playing one part of the music, but cannot successfully link it to the other parts, so you only really stay good at that part. That is, until you realise the superpower of chunking.
Oh yeah. Get that cape on, Chunkman. #TheIncredibleChunk
But what is Chunkmans superpower, you wonder?
Chunking, of course.
Chunking is where you use a spell of alteration to split the music into chunks, practising one bar at a time. After you’ve got one bar down, practise another bar, then play both together with a reverse alteration spell, memorising it from your spellbook so you don’t fluff up the space-time continuum.
Chunkman would NOT approve if that happened. In fact, he probably wouldn’t exist, so no one would give a dang if he approved or not.
Do the same process for the next two bars, then combine all 4 bars together. This is a method of forging phrases together. Craft the whole song this way, and you can then play the whole thing in time with, you guessed it, Mr. Metronome.
Before we end this section, Chunkman has one more tip before he flies away back to Funky Town.
Chunkmans Chunkiest Tip
For each part, play a few of the notes in the next chunk before stopping so each chunk overlaps. This makes it easier to join chunks together.
4. The 1 Bar / 2 Seconds Rule
Let’s say you’ve been playing continuously with the metronome for a short while, maybe after practising a particular phrase or even a whole song.
You notice your performance start to go down. Your notes get sloppy, you hit incorrect strings, and what do you know; you’re playing out of time. In this case you notice you need to repeat to correct yourself. So you do. With no gaps in between repeats of the clicks.
Mr. Metronome definitely does not approve. And this time, you need to give a shit, space-time continuum fluff up or not.
More practically speaking, you need to take a break, because you don’t want harmful metronome practice habits setting in.
The recommended tip here is each time you stop playing with the metronome, wait for either one bar – one time round the metronome beats – or for two seconds, if you’re practising at a very slow tempo like 40bpm. In this space, don’t play anything before you start playing again. Also, don’t check your phones messages or anything similar – muster your energy and focus on strengthening your rhythm skills.
This small breather helps build your momentum, whilst at the same time giving you a fresh restart so you can refocus your efforts. This is based on the fact that your energy level is usually reduced after playing with no breaks for a while, so you need to give yourself room to breathe frequently.
5. When to Increase/ Reduce tempo
We’re onto the final tip! Huzzah! Do you want to read more? I hope so, because that way I know if I’m doing my job correctly. Let me know if you’re engaged with this post or straight up bored in the comments below. Either way, I find your comments incredibly valuable to helping me write better posts in the future, so I can provide you with more value.
Now we’ve learned all the aspects leading to playing with a metronome, let’s look at the final tip:
If you feel confident playing at a set tempo, or you can play your selected phrase 10x over with no mistakes, then it’s time to increase the tempo.
On the other hand, when you’re regularly making mistakes, or you feel on edge and unsettled when playing at a set tempo, reduce it.
Let’s be clear here – no tempo speed is better than another. Music isn’t a competition to see who can play the fastest, and just because you can’t play at your desired speed doesn’t mean you’re any less of a musical hero than those that can do it.
Music is a form of self-expression and accepting where you’re at is the best way to improve. Making the process more enjoyable is the most beneficial goal to travel towards in music – to enjoy oneself when playing.
So drop your ego and practise humility when increasing or reducing tempo. The art of practise will take up the bulk of your musical journey, so learn to enjoy where you’re at now. Music can be very fun to do; but only if you put in the effort to make it that way.
Reduce notes: bonus strategy
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how this is a bonus; it just didn’t fit anywhere else but here, so that’s where it’s staying.
When dealing with a tricky phrase, you can either practise at a slower tempo, or create an easier version of the passage by taking out every other note.
When you can play one chord per bar well enough in time near your desired speed, increase the amount of notes.
Build Your Own Relationship with Mr. Metronome
I’m not the only person with a friendship with Mr. Metronome.
There are hundreds of thousands of musicians with whom he speaks to. But they all have one thing in common…
They each have a unique relationship with him.
Heroes have learned to understand his feedback by honing their skills against Mr. Metronomes relentlessly perfect timing, repeating phrases, giving themselves breathers and creating their inner metronome by counting, tapping their feet and breathing.
And they’ve learned when it’s necessary to let go of any of the three in order to cast a more fluent flow of music, and when it’s necessary to use those combos again.
They know it takes time.
But most of all…
They know it’s possible for anyone.
And today I encourage you to better your relationship with Mr. Metronome.
Your playing will be spell binding once you do.
Farewell, fellow travellers. Until next time,