Do you think that using a metronome is important for improving your guitar playing?
On this issue, guitar players tend to fall into one of the following groups:
- Some guitarists almost never use a metronome in their guitar playing.
- Others always (or almost always) practice and play guitar with a metronome.
When asked about why they practice guitar the way they do (without a
metronome), guitarists in the first group often say that they want
to avoid having to stick to a rigid tempo while playing guitar. They
claim that learning to play guitar without a metronome helps their
guitar playing to be more expressive and musical. Others in this
group just don’t think much about the metronome.
The guitarists in the second group (those who play guitar with a
metronome almost all the time) argue that the metronome is key to
improving their guitar playing. Therefore, the guitarists in this
group believe it is essential to practice everything to a metronome
to develop tight rhythm guitar playing skills, increase guitar
speed and track guitar playing progress.
Which Group Of Guitar Players Are You In?
Fact is both of the above belief systems are incomplete and
misleading ways to approach the process of learning to play guitar. Here
You need to alternate between practicing and playing guitar both
with and without the metronome, but to be effective you need to do
this in a strategic way, not a random one. You must have a diverse
set of targeted guitar practice techniques (and know when and how to
apply each one) to successfully overcome every guitar playing
challenge you face. When it comes to practicing guitar with a
metronome, there are times when using it is necessary and there are
other times when the metronome will distract you from improving in
the areas you need to master.
There are multiple ways of using a metronome in your guitar
practice routines.(Consciously choosing "not" to use a metronome
"sometimes" is one type of such strategy.) It is NOT enough to simply
decide to practice guitar with a metronome a certain % of the
practice time (such as 50% on and 50% off). To get the most benefit
from using a metronome, you need to know when, how and why to use it
(or not use it) depending on what goals you are trying to achieve in
a given practice session.
Although the complete list of strategies for using a metronome
when learning to play guitar is beyond the scope of this article, I
want to share with you several of the most important roles that the
metronome should play in your guitar playing (and also explain
when/why to avoid using it). These ideas will help you to improve
your guitar playing much faster.
How To Use A Metronome To "Test" Your Guitar Playing
Contrary to popular belief, practicing guitar with a metronome does
NOT help you to "improve" your guitar technique or "increase" your
guitar speed. As I discuss in this free mini course on how to develop guitar speed,
there are specific elements that go into guitar speed that must be
trained and refined, often at super slow speeds without the
metronome. The metronome is then used mainly as a TEST to establish
how well you have mastered these elements. The speed at which you
can play will indicate whether or not you need to do additional
practicing (without using the metronome) to overcome the technical
flaws preventing you from playing guitar as fast as you want.
So, before you start using a metronome to "measure your improvement"
in speed, you need to spend a substantial amount of time refining
the fundamental technical components that make guitar speed possible
(without using the metronome). This goes totally against the
conventional wisdom of practicing everything to a metronome in order to
improve your guitar technique, but is a much more effective way of
developing this skill (check out the free mini course above to fully
understand why this is true and how you should practice to build
guitar speed).In fact, it is this belief (that more work with the
metronome is the key to overcoming one's guitar speed/technique
plateau) that keeps many guitarists frustrated with their lack of
guitar playing progress.
How To Use A Metronome To Improve Your Rhythm Guitar Playing
The guitar players who never (or very rarely) practice guitar using a
metronome say that they want to have the freedom of not having to
stick to a rigid tempo in order to be more expressive with the music
they are playing. Although this style of guitar playing has its
place in music (more on this below), most people who only practice
guitar without the metronome typically struggle whenever they do
have to play in strict time. It is important to be able to play by
varying the tempo, dynamics and other musical elements for
expressive reasons, but it is equally as important to be able to
lock perfectly in time with a particular tempo (for "different"
expressive goals). If you have always stayed away from practicing
playing guitar to a metronome for the reasons mentioned above,
chances are that your timing needs improvement.
Unlike the concept of guitar speed, practicing guitar with a
metronome is a very critical part of what actually "develops" your
ability to play guitar tight (in time). As you play, you can tell
easily if your guitar playing is in time if you can make the sound of
the metronome click "disappear" on most (or all) of the strong beats
of the music. If you are playing in perfect time, the notes you
are playing will line up precisely on top of the metronome click,
creating an illusion that the click has become silent
(disappeared). If you can achieve this goal, you are making
How (And Why) To Practice Guitar Without A Metronome To Improve Your Guitar Phrasing
One problem that guitarists who use a metronome often run into, is a
tendency to come up with melodies and lead guitar phrases mostly in
"straight" divisions of the beat (such as long streams of sixteenth
notes, triplets and quarter notes). Even though the playing may
sound good and be in time, the phrasing can begin to sound somewhat
robotic and predictable (even if you use different scales). One
solution to this problem is to practice a guitar phrasing technique
known as "rubato". This soloing technique refers to intentionally
playing lead guitar melodies without a clear rhythm by expanding and
suddenly contracting the duration of pitches. Note: there is a BIG
(and easily noticeable) difference between playing in the style of
rubato and the playing "not being in time" (one is a cool guitar
phrasing technique and the other is a result of poor rhythmic
control). When you play using rubato, it is obvious that the notes
of the phrase "intentionally" do not stick to any predetermined
rhythm (and the phrasing sounds very cool and expressive as a
result). In contrast, if you attempt to play notes that ARE (or
should be) in a strict rhythmic pattern but are not able to play in
time, the music then has no sense of rubato and simply sounds "out
To learn more about rubato technique and hear exactly how you should practice it, watch this free guitar soloing lesson.
As you can see, always practicing guitar ‘with’ a metronome or
always practicing ‘without’ a metronome will limit your ability to
reach your full potential as a guitar player. You now know that there
are specific times when you should be using it and other specific
times when you shouldn’t.
Ultimately, the metronome is only one of many guitar practice tools
that should be used "when necessary" to overcome specific guitar
playing problems. The way each tool is to be used depends on the
musical goals you are trying to reach and the specific problems you
are trying to overcome. If you lack experience in knowing which
guitar practice strategies and tools to use, work with a proven guitar
teacher who can guide you towards making your guitar practicing
To learn more about how to practice guitar effectively, download this free 110 page eBook on how to become a better guitarist.
About the author:
Tom Hess is a highly successful online guitar teacher, professional
touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches guitar players
around the world in his online guitar lessons. Visit www.tomhess.net to receive free guitar playing tips, assessments, surveys, mini courses, and to read more guitar playing articles.