Most students initially react to the metronome the way Captain Hook reacts to tick-tock crocodile. First, they look around to see where the imminent attack is coming from, and then run in fear of the constant ticking. Working with the metronome is really a requirement if you want to take your playing to the next level. And, when you make it big, recording in a studio, you’ll have a click track to keep everyone playing together. So it’s better to start working with the metronome when you start playing an instrument. Just make it part of your routine.
I ask my students to get a metronome (I use TE Tuner -It really is much more than a tuner and metronome) to help them make chord changes in sync with time. I’d been saying, you don’t need to set the time fast, just set it to 40bpm and do four beats per chord. WHOOPS, this was a big mistake. At 40bpm, the space between the beats is, speaking figuratively, infinite and makes it really hard to learn and feel the rhythm. The 40 bpm setting came up in a recent lesson when a student said, “I really hate the metronome.” I asked why. The student responded, I can’t find the beat, I can’t get my fingers to the next chord on time and it’s just frustrating. That was when it hit me that my direction on using the metronome was wrong.
Over the years various teachers have had me use the metronome in different ways. As a beginner, my teacher would have me set the metronome to something between 80 and 100 bpm, and let each click be an eighth note. So there would be two clicks for each quarter note. Using this method the space between the beats is filled with a click and time begins to make more sense. I have had another teacher tell me to set the bpm to 70-80 but only enable the clicks on beats 2 and 4. The challenge here is to keep time and set up a groove. It actually becomes fun being locked in with the rhythm, leads to rhythmic creativity and slipping into the pocket of the grove.
I wrote out the exercise below for beginners. I don’t really intend for the student to play a B note, rather just use the note as a beat with the strings muted with your left hand. On the bass, just thump a muted string like to you’re keeping time with the kick drum. If you’re playing guitar, strike the strings with the pick. Beginning guitar players, really hold the pick firmly because ultimately, your trying to produce a single beat while hitting 4 or 5 strings simultaneously. If you're hearing a tick-tick-tick of individual strings, you're not holding the pick with the right amount of pressure. Holding the pick correctly really helps you produce quality sound. Set the metronome to something between 80 and 100 bpm. Each beat will be an eighth note and each quarter note will get two beats. Repeat these patterns until you’re locked in with the click. Try them with slower and faster metronome settings too. Ultimately, you’ll find yourself naturally hitting all the beats. When you mastered the eighth note rhythm, take out the two beat per quarter note pattern and use the metronome as a quarter note for each beat. Notice how much easier staying in time is.
Guitar players can also try to mix up down and up strokes with the pick. For example down on Beats 1 and 3 and up strokes on 2 and 4.Working with the metronome can be frustrating but give yourself time and words of encouragement. You can do it. It will all come together with practice.