Metronome Techniques Part 3

In part 2 of this series I outlined four methods for using the metronome to build speed. There’s nothing wrong with giving your technique a workout, but the metronome is much more than a musical speedometer! I’ve often heard students brag about how fast they could play their scales or a particularly challenging lick. To which I might reply: “That’s great! But can you play it in time?”

You see, no matter how fast you can play, you’re simply not going to sound convincing unless you can play in time. Often musicians practicing for sheer speed lose focus on the element of the groove. A player who plays as fast as possible without locking into the beat will usually sound as if they’re skating recklessly through their solos. While they may be technically impressive, their music will lack rhythmic intensity and impact.

A guitarist who is an excellent example of combining ferocious speed and flawless in-the-pocket timing is Frank Gambale. Frank is the master of the sweep-picking technique and can play as fast as anyone on the scene today, but take one of his blistering solos and slow it down and you’ll hear that his phrases are usually made up of perfect little duplet and triplet combinations – it’s just that he may be playing 8 or 12 notes per beat rather than 4 or 3 during those fast passages!

4 Groove Building Techniques

When I talk about “groove-building techniques” what I mean is that these methods are designed to help you internalize the pulse of a steady beat. Playing fast is not the object here. Our goal is learning to maintain a tempo with minimal cues from an outside source.

1. The Usual Method Revisited
The easiest way to make sure you’re keeping a steady tempo throughout a piece of music is to simply set the metronome to the desired speed and play along making sure not to rush or drag the beat as you play. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but there are a few more interesting and challenging methods available.

The following two methods were taught by jazz guitarist Emily Remler. Instead of relying on the metronome, you’ll be forced to internalize where beat one happens. You can see Emily demonstrate them on her Hot Licks instructional videos Bebop and Swing Guitar and Advanced Latin & Jazz Improvisation. (These titles are currently out of print but keep your eyes open at ebay and on file-sharing networks and you might just get lucky – they’re worth checking out!)

2. Accenting Two and Four
Rather than have the metronome ticking away on every beat, set the metronome to half of your intended tempo and think of the click as falling on beats two and four. For example if you are practicing a piece that has an intended tempo of quarter=120, set the metronome to 60 BMP.

This might take a little getting used to, since we usually think of the metronome as falling on beat one. If you have trouble getting into the swing of it, begin by counting along with the metronome “2, 4, 2, 4…” and then sneak counts 1 and 3 into the spaces between the clicks. You should end up counting: “1, 2, 3, 4…” with the metronome accenting beats two and four. You supply beats 1 and 3 and any subdivisions of the beat with your own internal sense of time. Imagine the click as the drummer’s snare or hi-hat pattern and you’ll get it. Once you’re grooving, you’ll actually have a lot of fun playing with the metronome!

Edit: Here are a couple of great examples of the technique as demonstrated by Pat Metheny.

3. Accenting One and Three
Accenting two and four works especially well for music with a strong emphasis on the back beat such as jazz, blues, or rock, but what happens if you are working on a classical or Latin piece, styles which tend not to emphasize the backbeat? In this case, simply set the metronome to half of your intended tempo as in method 2, but think of the metronome as accenting beats one and three. This method may be slightly easier to get the hang of than Method 2 because the downbeat of each measure is marked by the metronome, however it still requires you to internalize the missing beats and it offers a more musically correct feel for the aforementioned styles.

4. One Only
Using this method, set the metronome to click at a very slow tempo and think of that click as representing beat one of each measure. Unless you have a metronome that is capable of some unusually low settings this technique will only work at tempos of 160 BPM (or 120 BPM in 3/4 time) and higher as the lowest setting on a standard metronome is 40 BPM. This method forces you to feel the beat using only the downbeat of each measure as a reference point. This is the most difficult method outlined here as you only get one click per measure to evaluate your timing. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself speeding up and slowing down for a while before finally locking in.

In Practice

As with the the speed-building techniques, you can use these these methods with either single note or rhythm parts, or even complete solo guitar arrangements. While the speed-builders may feel like and aerobic workout, pushing the limits of your ability, the groove-builders are actually easy and fun to play with after a while. One thing thats interesting about these methods is that they get usually more difficult the slower you play.

Here’s one last challenge: as you learn new pieces, always make a notation of the tempo. You can test your recollection of the correct tempos each day by tapping the beat or playing a few bars without the metronome and then turning on the metronome to see how close you were. Soon you should be able to recall the correct tempos with accuracy!

As usual, please feel free to share any additional techniques you’ve found useful!

Metronome Techniques Part 4 Coming Soon…

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