Kevin’s Advice on How to Use Your Metronome -

Time waits for no man (or woman.)

There is no greater tool than a musician can use than a metronome. It is like a personal trainer, standing over you on the bench press, egging you on, One more! You can do it! Watch that form! It keeps us honest in our interpretation of tempo and time feel and it gives us a true measure of out technical abilities. I've often said that if I was trapped on a desert island with just my guitar and one other thing, I would chose a metronome (but in retrospect, a satelite phone might be a better choice.)

Use it:

I often say that if you don't feel like smashing your metronome against the wall, then you're not using it enough.

Don't pratice too fast:

The metronome can be a wonderful tool for developing speed, but don't forget about perfection — how the music sounds is far more important than how fast it is. Speed will come in time, but worry more about precision, relaxation, and effeciancy. You should only practice at the speed that you can execute it perfectly and in a relaxed, controlled manner. Remember: relaxation, precission, efficiancy. With that as a base line, you can try and edge up the speed, but don't do it so fast that you loose control. This will ensure that when you finally have the speed, it will sound great.

Put the metronome on beats 2 and 4:

All music that comes from the twentieth century United States — blues, jazz, rock, country — puts the beat on beats 2 and 4. That is where we count, that is where we clap, that is where we tap our foot, and that is where the drummer puts the accents on the high-hat or snare. We must learn to feel the beat on beats 2 and 4. The danger of only practicing with the beat on 1 and 3 is that you will learn to feel the beat that way and then when you hear the drums accenting on 2 and 4, you may (if not paying attention) get confused and think that his 2 and 4 is your 1 and 3 and get off by a beat — we call that "turning the beat around" and it is one of the worst things that can happen on the bandstand. (I should note that if it is latin jazz or a very fast swing I tap my foot on 1 and 3.)

But there is a simple remedy — practice with the metronome on 2 and 4. True, I have met people who feel differently — that you don't have to practice this way. While I will conceed that many of these people do fine, I would also say that nearly all the people who have problems with "turning the bear around" are people who don't practice with metronome on 2 and 4 — they just don't know how to feel the beat that way.

So, if you want to practice a song that is at 120bpm, you have to set the metronome at 60bpm. Then comes the hard part, starting. It takes a little bit of practice to feel those beats as 2 and 4. In the beginning, I would just count, "1, 2, 3, 4, etc," with 1 and 3 on the clicks and then add and extra "1" to purposely turn the beat around. Eventually you just get used to the feel and you can just start with the "1" in between the beats and go from there. I know it is difficult, but it is sooooo worth it in the long run.

Another side benefit is that this will improve your time feel. By setting the metronome to only click on half of the beats, you have to go longer without the reinforcement of the metronome to make sure you are on track. Once you get comfortable with the putting it on 2 and 4, you can up the ante by doing it only on beat 4. So, if you want to practice a song at 200bpm, then set your metronome at 50bpm. Now, this time it is really hard to get started. For a while (when I was working on the cruise ship and had lots of free time) I worked on putting the click on beat 4 of every other measure (I had to use my computer because my metronome wouldn't go that low.) It was hard but I had rock solid time for a while.

For jazzers, work "laying back":

In jazz (especially with swing), it is common to not put the notes directly on the beat but put them slightly late; we call this "laying back." Don't confuse this with playing slow — then you would be getting a little later with each beat. With "laying back," you are playing at the same tempo, just slightly later than the metronome/band. This creates a very loose and relaxed feel that is common to the jazz idiom and some blues.

Pick a tempo and start the metronome. Play some simple lick, I like to just play up a scale — up a 6th and back down works nicely since you always end up at the begining at the start of the measure. Now try and play slightly late. This will be very difficult at first — it will feel painful and wrong. You just have to stick with it. See how far you can stretch the time back and then bring it safely back. Really, stretch it waaaay back for a few measures, then bring it back. Now get ahead of the beat for a few measures. Work on really getting complete control.

A more advanced technique jazz players is to learn to play completely out of time — this was taught to me by Johannes Wallmann. You may be familiar with "playing outside" harmonically, but you can also do it rhythmically. Set the metronome and play a scale at a steady slow beat, like half-notes. Then gradually speed it up. Understand, don't "quantize" the beat by going from half notes, to half note triplets, to quarter notes, to quarter note triplets, etc. Gradually speed it up without any reference to the metronome and then gradually slow it back down. But now the extremely difficult part — you must keep your foot tapping with the metronome and keep track of where you are in the measure. This is very, very difficult and it takes lots of practice, but it can be an awsome effect in your solo, or at the very least will prove that you have complete and utter mastery over your time feel.

For Pete's sake, put down the metronome:

Music is not a math equation. It should breath and flow and a strict, fanatical obsession with a metronomic beat can choke the life out of it. This especially true in classical music and to some extent jazz. The point is that the music should ebb and flow because that is how you want it to feel and you have such mastery that you can bring it out — it shouldn't happen just because you don't know any better and you can't control it.