Most musicians and students have a love/hate relationship with the metronome. On one hand, the metronome can be a tool of gratification when one successfully masters a particular exercise at a particular speed. Yet, on the other hand, the metronome can be a tool for exposing the weaknesses of a player at particular points. In both cases, it is still a very useful tool. Some musicians criticize the use of a metronome altogether arguing that no musical piece is designed to be played so rigidly as sticking to a metronome click. While there is some truth to this criticism, nevertheless, the metronome serves as a tool to teach the player to keep tempo, to play with accuracy, and to increase skill in playing with others.
Here is what the NPR Classical Music Companion says:
“Because its beat is perfectly steady, the metronome is an excellent practice tool for musicians. Practicing with a metronome is extremely useful for developing and maintaining rhythmic precision, for learning to keep consistent tempos, for countering tendencies to slow down or speed up in specific passages, and for developing evenness and accuracy in rapid passages. Most music teachers consider the metronome indispensable, and most professional musicians, in fact, continue to practice with a metronome throughout their careers.”
For the guitar student, the metronome serves as a valuable tool in building technique, precision, and accuracy with the use of the guitar. I use a metronome regularly for my own practice and also with all of my students. Regular use of the metronome for various purposes will contribute to the health of your guitar playing in the long run. It’s part of the vegetable diet of any good guitarist. One has to have the vegetables in order to feast on the sweets ultimately. One has to build the technique and precision to be able to play expressively and accurately in the long run. That is why I recommend the use of a metronome.
How should you be using a metronome? There are of course a number of ways but here are some that I recommend:
- Regularly play the chromatic scale on different positions on the neck. Use a metronome at varying speeds. The goal is accuracy and speed. Start slow and build up to a higher speed. You should be setting the metronome at different speeds and playing 2 notes per click, 3 notes per click, and eventually 4 notes per click.
- Practice other types of scales. The practice of major/minor scales, pentatonic scales, and modes are particularly useful. This approach has two advantages: (1) you increase your familiarity with these important scales, and (2) you build your accuracy and speed.
- Play songs with the metronome. Whether it be chords only or a solo fingerstyle piece, set the metronome at the speed indicated (if indicated) and try playing along with the metronome. Then, bring the speed down and bring the speed up testing your ability to move up and down in tempo. Ultimately, the goal is to play songs accurately without the use of a metronome, but the metronome is helpful in attaining that goal. Once basic mastery has been achieved, the guitarist can then become more expressive with the tempo.