Metronome: Friend or Foe

“What’s a metronome?” An online dictionary defines it as a device used to mark time by means of regularly recurring ticks or flashes at adjustable intervals….. but I like to simply refer to it as “your new best friend or your new worst enemy.”

I strongly encourage my students to play along to a metronome when they are working on a new piece. Not just when working on picking exercises or scales, but their favorite songs as well. I didn’t practice to a metronome until I started studying music in CEGEP and it changed my playing completely!

Now, when starting with a metronome, try to avoid the temptation to throw it across the room and scream, “ I hate you Metronome! I HATE YOU!!!” It will take a little time to get used to it but you can do it, show some self-control!

The main reason people get frustrated when starting to work with a metronome is because they are now being shown their rhythmic inaccuracies in a way they never heard them before. Face it, the metronome’s timing is perfect, and ours isn’t. Whether you want to believe it or not, about 99.9% of popular music recorded nowadays is recorded to a click. What’s a click?….A metronome!

When working on something new, find the metronome speed where you can play the most difficult part of the song properly, and play the entire song at that speed. It might sound like you’re playing in slow motion but you have to learn how to walk before you can run. Now slowly bring up the speed 4 or 5 beats per minute (bpm) until you reach the song’s original tempo. I also recommend to play CLEAN and then later add distortion if the song calls for it.

There are situations where I rather not use a metronome, for instance, when playing live. It depends on the band situation, but usually, I like the freedom to pull and push the tempo with the band. Also, to play to a metronome live requires everyone to have in ear monitors (expensive), be dead on, and have a sound guy who likes you. These are not things we find too often when playing live.

Just keep an open mind, and the metronome will make your playing cleaner, improve your timing and increase your speed on the guitar, piano, bass, drums, violin, etc. It’s what the pro’s do!

Joel Ovadia, Director, West Island Music Academy